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The Globe and Mail

Police settle PTSD service dog suit with veteran

This photo taken Feb. 18, 2014 shows Lexy, a therapy dog at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Lolita Baldor/AP

A military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who was removed from a bar in western Manitoba for having a dog at his side has reached a settlement with the local police force.

The confidential settlement – a payment by the Brandon Police Service to Billy-Jo Nachuk – is one of several cases where veterans with PTSD have been questioned about why they need a service dog.

"It's often misunderstood when people have an invisible disability," Patricia Knipe, spokeswoman for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, said Tuesday. "People have a little bit of education to go through to recognize that not everybody with a service dog has a physical disability."

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Mr. Nachuk filed a complaint with the commission after an encounter with police at the Keystone Motor Inn Lounge on April 16, 2011.

He said he and a friend were in the bar along with Mr. Nachuk's service dog, Gambler, when an employee told him he had to leave. Mr. Nachuk said he had certification papers proving that his dog was needed as part of his PTSD treatment to help him cope with anxiety in public situations, but three police officers refused to listen to him.

"Mr. Nachuk alleges that one officer asked, 'So what's with the dog?' to which he replied: 'It is a service dog.' Mr. Nachuk describes the officer as responding… 'Why? You're not blind.'" reads a report from an independent adjudicator appointed to hear the matter.

Mr. Nachuk left and, according to the report, later said he felt "totally degraded."

The Brandon Police Service denied the allegations, but offered $5,500 earlier this year to settle the matter. Mr. Nachuk rejected the offer and it was deemed too low by the commission. A new offer was put forward and accepted, but the amount is confidential.

The police force said Tuesday the settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing.

"From the outset, Brandon Police Service denied the allegations made by Mr. Nachuk, and continues to maintain the position that there was no merit to the complaint," the police force said in a news release.

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"Because of the time and expense involved with a contested adjudication, and recognizing there is no ability to seek reimbursement for legal expenses, Brandon Police Service made a practical decision, and proposed an offer of settlement to the complainant."

There have been similar cases recently involving members of the military.

In March, veteran Michael Sharron was turned away from a restaurant in Prince Albert, Sask. Mr. Sharron also has post-traumatic stress disorder and said he needs the dog, Rylie, with him for medical reasons. The restaurant owner in that case said Mr. Sharron did not say he was a veteran or indicate why he needed a service dog.

In January, an Alberta soldier with PTSD was told by Air Canada she would not be able to bring her dog on board the plane as a service animal. Sergeant Shirley Jew said the airline told her PTSD wasn't recognized as a disability that requires a service dog, so her animal would have to travel as a pet for a $50 fee. Air Canada refunded the ticket and apologized.

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