Veteran's traumatising visit to Mackay business

AN ARMY veteran is crusading for better service dog awareness after a run in at a Mackay news agency left him shocked.

Post traumatic stress disorder service dog Leroy gives Ashley Smith "the will to get out of bed".

The black lab provides unparalleled support for the 11-year East Timor veteran, who has battled the daily challenges of PSTD since 2005.

Mr Smith said he was "dumbfounded" by an altercation at North Mackay News, which prompted him to campaign for better service dog awareness.

While visiting the agent near his home, Mr Smith claimed a staff member told him to get out and that the fully-certified dog was not allowed inside the store.

He said he explained the dog was a psychiatric service dog and claimed the staff member told him she didn't care because "these dogs are only for blind people and you are not blind".

East Timor Veteran Ashley Smith is raising awareness about services dogs and their importance after he was discriminated against at a Mackay newsagent.
East Timor Veteran Ashley Smith is raising awareness about services dogs and their importance after he was discriminated against at a Mackay newsagent. Ashley Pillhofer

Mr Smith said he was confused because both he and Leroy had visited the store before.

"She said to me 'the next time you come in, he can sit at the front door'. I said to her that is not happening ... he goes everywhere I go," he said.

"He gives me grounding. Instead of focusing on what is affecting you, you focus instead on him and he can pick up my anxiety issues.

"He wakes me up from nightmares as well. His job is to be with you 24/7."

North Mackay News was contacted but declined to comment.

Anyone who separates an approved handler from their certified dog can face heavy penalties imposed by the State Government.

Mr Smith said the attitude from the staff member was confronting considering how serious the ramifications could be if a service dog and its handler were separated.

"I believe there needs to be more education- the dogs are not just for people who are blind," he said

Dogs can be used to support individuals with mobility issues, blindness or hearing loss, epilepsy, cancer, autism and more.

For Mr Smith, getting Leroy in 2017 helped him regain his life after he had lived with PTSD for 12 years.

"He is the reason I get out of the house," he said.

"It is a huge change, being able to get out and do things.

"We work together and that is very important. I don't like people coming up from behind so if we go to a counter, normally he sits and faces back and can tell me if people come up."

Mr Smith said he had reported the incident.



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