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Distressed patient speaks out after emotional support dog banned from Felixstowe surgery

PUBLISHED: 17:21 08 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:21 08 May 2018

Elaine Arnold with her service dog, Holly.   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Elaine Arnold with her service dog, Holly. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A woman from Felixstowe has spoken about her distress after her support dog was banned from her doctor’s surgery.

Holly helps Mrs Arnold cope with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHolly helps Mrs Arnold cope with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Elaine Arnold received a letter last weekend to say that her dog Holly, who helps her cope with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), would no longer be allowed into Haven Health surgery due to bad behaviour.

Mrs Arnold, who attends the surgery every other week to receive therapy, denies that Holly behaved in a threatening way.

On the day of the alleged incident Mrs Arnold was waiting for an appointment with Holly by her side, when a woman approached the pair and asked to pet the dog.

Mrs Arnold claims that she politely refused on the grounds that Holly was working, however the woman continued to reach out towards her, causing the dog to back off and bark.

Elaine Arnold with her service dog, Holly.   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNElaine Arnold with her service dog, Holly. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

She said on no occasion did Holly act in a threatening manner.

“She has never been aggressive,” Mrs Arnold said. “She barks to alert me that something isn’t right. She is trained to bark if she feels I am being threatened.”

Mrs Arnold presented the pratice manager at Haven Heath with a letter from her previous doctor, stating that Holly was an Emotional Support Dog and should be allowed to accompany her owner where possible.

However she was informed just days later that the dog would be refused access to the surgery on the grounds that she caused some ‘distress’ to other patients.

Mrs Arnold said there was no chance that she could continue the therapy without her dog by her side.

“I’m not going to be able to get well,” she said.

“They should have known. You don’t send a message like that to people who have mental health problems.”

Holly, who is a Patterdale Terrier, does not technically qualify as an assistance dog because she is not trained by an accredited member organisation of Assistance Dogs International (ADI).

This means that she is not entitled to the same legal privileges as registered assistance dogs, such as undisputed access to hospitals, restaurants or aeroplanes.

However, according to Assistance Dogs UK, there are no accredited charities that train dogs for people with mental health issues “where this is the only disability” – meaning there is no alternative to support dogs with limited legal privileges in the UK.

Despite this, Holly has been allowed access to a number of restricted places in the past – and so far she has never encountered a problem.

Mrs Arnold added: “She’s allowed into Ipswich Hospital and an ambulance. She’s allowed onto a plane. She’s allowed into any supermarket.”

She added that she is determined to clear Holly’s name.

“I might be ill but I am not a person to be trifled with,” she said.

The letter, dated May 2, states: “I am very sorry to inform you that I am unable to permit you to bring the dog into the surgery on any further visits.

“This is on the basis that I have concerns regarding the dog barking and being aggressive towards other patients in the waiting room, which has caused some distress to these patients.

“We are happy to permit assistance dogs on the surgery premises that have undergone suitable training or those that do not cause alarm to other patients on the premises.”

Mrs Arnold added that she would like to start a campaign to get Emotional Support Dogs recognised in the same way as Assistance Dogs in the UK.

A spokesperson for Suffolk Primary Care, said: “We are happy to allow assistance dogs on to our premises that have undergone suitable training or those that do not cause distress or alarm to other patients.

“On this occasion, we were alerted to a situation where a dog had shown aggression towards patients.

“We have spoken to the patient involved who was unable to provide evidence to suggest that the dog has had suitable training and therefore we identified this as a potential risk to the health and safety of our patients.”

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