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Bid to Put Guide Dog in Hold Made Master Feel Like Scum Cta Orders Policy Change

Editor's Note: Editors Note: The following is reprinted from the National Post, Monday, September 13, 1999.

The federal government has ordered British Airways to change its baggage policy and allow guide dogs to accompany their masters inside the passenger cabin.

The Canadian Transportation Agency decision, handed down last week, stems from a human rights complaint filed last October by Ewe Harders, a Kitchener, Ont., man, after airline officials told him his seeing-eye Labrador retriever, Rocky, must travel in the cargo hold like other pets.

I've travelled on flights with dogs for 22 years, I've been all over the country and I've never had a problem, Mr. Harders said in an interview yesterday. [British Airways] just doesn't understand the intense training these dogs go through ... A dog with that much on his mind isn't going to bite anybody.

Mr. Harders, who has been legally blind since birth, had booked two return flights from Toronto to New York as a surprise birthday gift for his wife who is sighted, but has a physical disability instructing the travel agent to inform British Airways of his special needs. But when the massage therapist contacted the airline to confirm his seats a few days before his scheduled Oct. 6 departure, he was told that Rocky would have to be crated and stowed in the belly of the plane due to the United Kingdoms strict animal quarantine rules, even though the flight terminated in the United States.

When Mr. Harders expressed concern about how he would make his way around the airport and the plane without the aid of his canine companion, the airline offered to provide a flight attendant to guide him.

Its like saying you cant bring your wheelchair, but we have two big burly guys to carry you wherever you want to go, he said yesterday.

Worried that the noisy cargo hold would traumatise his $25,000 dog, Mr. Harders turned down British Airways proposal. The airline arranged passage for him and his wife to New York, via Canadian Airlines, which accepts guide dogs, at no additional cost, and offered to pay for the couples ground transportation.

Mr. Harders said the whole experience left a bad taste in his mouth, and said he felt insulted by the airlines attitude.

It made me feel like scum, especially when I thought about their ads boasting about how they treat business people, he said, noting that both he and his wife are self-employed. Its against the law ... They just didn't get it.

He immediately filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which forwarded his file to the CTA.

After investigating, the transport regulator determined that British Airways had violated section 172 of the Canada Transportation Act by creating an undue obstacle to passengers with disabilities. The airline has been given 30 days to amend its guide-dog policy, and do away with its requirement that the animals wear muzzles while aboard their planes.

It appears, however, the mandated changes will have no real effect as British Airways no longer operates flights between Canada and the United States. Flights going to Britain are still subject to the country's tough anti-rabies quarantine laws.

A spokesman for British Airways said the airline intends to comply with the ruling, if and when it begins to again serve American destinations.

Apparently, we were not aware of Canadian law on this subject, Honour Verrier said.

Caption under photo: Ewe Harders, who has been legally blind since birth, with Rocky, his $25,000 seeing-eye Labrador retriever, was told by British Airways that Rocky would have to travel in the cargo hold like other pets.