Autistic mum suffered '˜prejudice' when travelling with assistance dog

A Scottish woman with autism claims she experienced 'severe prejudice' when struggling to travel back to the UK with her assistance dog.

Esther Gooch's guide dog J

Esther Gooch, from Aboyne, a village on the edge of the Highlands in Aberdeenshire, was travelling home from a break in Italy last month with her husband, three children and cocker spaniel J.

During a stopover in Vienna en route to Heathrow, Mrs Gooch, 45, was forced to remain behind after confusion over the registration documents required for J to travel with her.

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She had to wait while it was decided whether J could travel with her – a process which caused her great distress and resulted in her having two panic attacks.

“By this point I was incredibly distressed and was finding it difficult to communicate...I was very emotional and tearful,” she said. “J has always been well behaved and many airport and airline staff, as well as members of the public, have commented on her excellent behaviour and her support for me.”

Whilst her and J were allowed to go home together, the process has inspired her to find a permanent change in what she describes as “discrimination” of certain airports towards assistance dogs registered with differing organisations.

Currently the law states that assistance dogs which are not trained by an organisation accredited by Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation are assessed case by case. Mrs Gooch said a change in legislation “would enable both myself and others to avoid such prejudice in the future” and she has written to West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie.

Mr Bowie said: “This was clearly an extremely distressing experience for this woman and her family.

“My office is in contact with Heathrow Airport where officials are already looking into the case as a matter of urgency.”