Aide dog questioned at grad

Chelsea Powrie

Hannah MacIntyre has had her medical service dog at her side every day throughout high school, so it was a shock on Friday when her vice principal told her the dog wouldn't be allowed to walk across the stage with her for convocation. 

While at a rehearsal for the Penticton Secondary graduation ceremony, Hannah was told she hadn't informed anyone the dog would be with her and therefore it would not be allowed — a requirement she had never heard of and found absurd. 

"They said that I hadn't let them know, and I said I shouldn't have to let them know, because she's a medical service dog," Hannah said. "She comes with me everywhere and every day to school, so why wouldn't I bring her with me?"

Hannah has autism and high anxiety, and Coco has been her constant helper for around five years. Administration, teachers and other students are all familiar with Coco, so it came as a shock that any heads up would be required from her ahead of the ceremony. 

She called her mom, who was proud of how her daughter was handling the situation. 

"Hannah, who has been quite an advocate for herself, said 'Would I have to tell you if I was visually impaired and bringing my guide dog, or my oxygen tank, or my wheelchair?'" Nicole MacIntyre said. "To be told the day of is just upsetting."

Nicole called School District 67 administration and got everything sorted out in time for Coco to walk across the stage, but was frustrated by the way the incident was framed. Hannah was too. 

"They were saying it was a miscommunication, but I really don't like saying it like that, since that kind of implies error on both sides," Hannah said. "Whereas I shouldn't have to communicate that I was bringing Coco."

Shelley Clarke, board chair for SD67, said administration at the school may have considered it an expected  courtesy for the family to let them know Coco was going to attend, since grad ceremonies involve outside parties and take place off campus. 

Wendy Hyer, superintendent for the district, said in an email "the district does not comment on situations involving individual students."

Hannah thinks Coco's presence should have been a given. She has always been an advocate for students with invisible disabilities like hers.

"I was the first student in School District 67 to have a service dog, so there were a few hurdles to get over in the first place, which was frustrating, but I didn't mind because it means that the path would be easier for other students," Hannah said.

"I get oftentimes stopped by store owners and restaurant owners saying that I'm not allowed to bring her, and I just have to explain that she is a medical service dog and that I know my rights and I'm allowed to bring her anywhere that I go."

Both she and her mother hope her story will raise awareness about invisible disabilities in schools and in public. 

"A lot of times, people just aren't educated," Hannah said. "I just really hope that other people who have service dogs or therapy dogs, they won't have to go through the same struggles that I faced with the admin."

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