Skip to main content

Assistance animals such as guide dogs are embedded in our culture and although there are still service refusals they generally don’t raise an eyebrow and in many circumstances, dogs are allowed in places that other animals are not. Certainly where I live, there are more pet dogs in the local pubs than service dogs. That is about attitudes rather than reason.

Ian & Chloe the Cat

Ian Fenn is a remarkable man, taking on a bold challenge to persuade us all not to think of assistance animals as being ‘just dog’. He has a fantastic website at Cat Friendly. Chloe assists in managing Ian’s autism and his depression and anxiety.

In August 2017 Ian adopted a black cat called Chloe. He began leash training with her and has since trained her to act as an assistance cat to him. She has been trained to suit his needs. Ian has conducted extensive research into training and also into allergens to ensure that he does as much as possible to understand the risks of allergens and to minimise them so that he can engage in everyday life.

Ian takes Chloe with him everywhere, including on train journeys, where she is permitted to travel on a leash rather than in a carrier as an adjustment, in hotels and to supermarkets, to his routine hospital appointments, when he gives blood, and to entertainment venues.

Life with Chloe makes Ian less anxious and he has fewer “shutdowns” when he is with her. She reduces Ian’s sensory overload and enables him to feel more independent.  For example, he has been to the cinema with Chloe more times between January 2022 and May 2022 than he had been without her in the previous 33 years.

However, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd won’t let Chloe in to their stores.

I am instructed by Ian to challenge Sainsbury’s and help Ian and Chloe avoid access refusals, and in that I am again assisted by Catherine Casserley at Cloisters Chambers.

The case has been covered by the BBC:

Ian’s case is important to him, and other people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, depression and anxiety, but also encourages the Courts to provide guidance for service providers, employers and landlords. It has potential to remove conflict from everyday situations for disabled customers and for staff alike.

Whilst hoping that this case will be resolved by Mediation rather than litigation, it is also an opportunity to provide judicial clarity about what an assistance animal is, and other questions such as:

  • Does it matter whether it is a particular size or shape?
  • Does it have to be trained to do a specific task?
  • Does it have to wear a vest, or a leash?
  • Does it need to be trained and/or treated to a particular standard for safety and hygiene standards?
  • Does the Handler need to be trained to a particular standard?
  • What information should the Handler be expected to provide to the Service Provider?

What do I say the answer is?

In Law:

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of certain protected characteristics. Disability is one of those protected characteristics. It is defined in s.6 as being a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect upon the ability to carry out normal day to day activities. The definition is supplemented by Schedule 1 so that for example, long term means has lasted 12 months, is likely to last 12 months, or for the rest of the person’s life if less than 12 months.

The Equality Act requires that an organisation providing goods or services to the public should make “reasonable adjustments” to their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities.

Organisations which have a “no animals” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities. A policy amendment permitting ‘dogs only’ delivers a service in a different manner or standard to disabled people who rely upon different species of animal, which is discriminatory.

Discrimination takes the form of direct (s.13), indirect (s.19) failure to make reasonable adjustments (s.20/21) and discrimination because of something arising in consequence of disability (s.15) – the latter two types applicable only to a claim of disability discrimination. In Ian’s claim sections 15, 19 and 20/21 are relevant.

The Court has the power to make an Order to compel a service provider to change an unlawful policy or practice if the case is made out, and that is a remedy we are seeking here if negotiations are unsuccessful.

In Practice:

Service Providers. Employers and Landlords should be prepared to look at outcomes. If a person can demonstrate that they are disabled, and that the animal is trained, and they are a competent handler then justifications for refusal will be less and less likely to be lawful.

Further Reading on the subject, and how these issues have been addressed in the United States can be found here:

In the UK, the EHRC has provided guidance on Assistance Dogs which can be found here:

Subscribe in a reader

Connect with us: Facebook – Inspire Legal Group Twitter – @InspireLegal_ Instagram – inspirelegalgroup LinkedIn – Inspire Legal Group

Visit our website: