PHOTO: Henry Doan with his parents, Erin and Mike. (Submitted by Erin Doan)
Erin Doan of Listowel, Ont., was told in March that her family wouldn’t be able to adopt a dog from Kismutt Rescue because her nine-year-old son has autism.
On Wednesday, the family filed a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario complaint against the non-profit.
“It’s not just a complaint on my son’s behalf, but it’s a complaint on behalf of the entire autism community as well as their families,” said Doan, who was disheartened to learn the St. Marys-area dog rescue has a blanket policy that bans families with autism from adopting dogs.
Erin’s son, Henry, is non-verbal and recently started communicating with the help of special software installed on an iPad. One of the first things he asked for was a dog, she said.
“Making a blanket policy … in general is not appropriate,” she said. “[People with autism] deserve the love of an animal just as anyone else does.”
At the time, Kismutt Rescue wrote a lengthy Facebook post about its policy, detailing two separate occasions where the organization adopted a dog out to a family who had a child with autism: In one case, a child bit a dog. In the other, a child hit a dog with a fan.
“After the second incident with the second dog, I made a policy that NO dog will be adopted into homes with Autistic children,” the post says.
It goes on to suggest 99 per cent of students with autism “have outbursts and can be aggressive and violent.”
“That’s not only incorrect, but it’s based on junk science,” Michael Cnudde of Autism Ontario said about the comment in the non-profit’s post.
“The reality of the situation is that the risk of violent behaviour of folks on the spectrum is no different than the general population.”
Cnudde is happy Doan has filed the human rights complaint, and called Kismutt’s policy discriminatory and ableist (amounting to prejudice against people with disabilities).
Doan’s lawyer, Christopher Achkar of Toronto, also commented on the role of the human rights tribunal.
“The tribunal’s job is to … evaluate if Erin and her son were treated adversely because of her son’s disability or perceived disability.”
A business or organization has the right to deny someone service, but not if the reason is protected by the human rights code, said Achkar.
“Any company can decide if their requirement to accommodate someone is causing them undue hardship, or too much for that business to handle,” he added.
However, Kismutt Rescue never met Doan’s son and didn’t have a conversation about accommodation.
“We’ll hopefully have discussions about what a resolution could look like,” said Achkar.
If that doesn’t work, and mediation also fails, the case would go to a hearing, he said.
It’s not often the tribunal asks an organization to change its policy, but it has done so in the past, and there’s a good chance it may do so in this case, said Achkar.
The Doan family ended up adopting a dog from another non-profit, Misfits Rescue, in Wingham.
“The rescue owner, her brother has autism and he helps her with the rescue,” said Erin. “Henry and Chico get along really well. It’s wonderful. He was so excited.
“The day he came home, he was typing into his talker. ‘I get dog,’ and ‘Chico. Chico.’ He can actually verbalize the name.”
Erin is hopeful her human rights complaint prompts a different approach from Kismutt.
“The best turnout would be awareness and admitting that they, while intentions may have been good, it was done in the wrong way.”
CBC News reached out to Kismutt Rescue on Tuesday, but had not yet heard back at time of publication.
Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 20 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.