Of Shakespeare And Dog Guides

by Dr. Elizabeth Browne

Copyright © 1995
National Federation of the Blind

          Monitor readers with long memories will remember the name of Dr. Elizabeth Browne (see the Braille Monitors for January, 1980 and February, 1981.) Dr. Browne is a balanced, moderate, rational woman; but woe betide the business person who is unwilling to allow her dog guide entrance into a place of public accommodation. Recently she wrote to the Braille Monitor to recount the latest of her adventures. Though Dr. Browne is a resident of Chicago, she and her husband went to Stratford, Ontario, in the spring of 1990 for a short vacation. This is the way she tells the story:

          "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."

          Vacations for me are far more than lying about on a warm beach and absorbing the lethal rays of sun. Vacations which include the thrill of theater and stimulating discussion along with the warm, sunny sands of a beach are what I long for.

          So early in the spring my husband and I, and dog guide Candide, made plans for another trip to the Stratford Festival in Canada to enjoy the drama and talks and to wander through the charming, quiet town with its myriad of excellent restaurants and antique shops. All was planned ahead. Accommodations reserved and tickets purchased in advance, we drove north into Ontario.

          At the door of the quaint, picturesque motel we were stopped, refused entrance despite our reservation, and abruptly told that no dogs would be allowed. "No pets," the angry proprietor snapped, and his equally outraged wife joined in with her rendition of Canadian law: "No pets!"

          "Let me have men (motel owners) about me who are fat (who know the law). Yon proprietor had a lean and hungry look!"

          What to do? A long drive from Chicago, tickets in hand, but nowhere to stay.

          We retraced our steps to the Festival Information Center and told our story. The sweet and friendly clerks were sympathetic and, after having checked with all the local motels, hotels, and inns, informed us that no place would allow the dog. "No pets," they said and felt very sad but finally placed us for one night only in another motel.

          In the morning we began to check out local laws, and we started making phone calls. Pilot Dog School in Columbus, Ohio, read Ontario's law to me over the long distance line, while the mayor's office attempted to mediate the unpleasant situation by phoning the obdurate owner of the motel. Nothing doing.

          Next the director of Stratford Tourism was called in, and she too attempted mediation with the motel owner, but all in vain.

          Now a city attorney was phoned and advised us that there are two laws on their books: the Blind Persons' Rights Act, enforced by the local constabulary and magistrates, and a provincial law about public accommodations. He suggested that we contact the Human Rights Division in London, Ontario, to file a complaint, which we did, but also advised that we could lay a charge before the local magistrate, which we also said we were quite willing to do.

          Our own version of the Berlin Wall was now firmly in place, and from each side we dug in for battle. On one side the intransigent motel owners; on the other, my husband, my dog guide, and I.

          When they sensed that we were not about to be cajoled out of our well-planned vacation, we were directed to the police station to "lay a charge." The police were polite but seemed bewildered as they deposited us to wait in an "interrogation room," frigidly cold and windowless, perhaps in hopes that it would freeze us out and we would take leave. We sat and shivered and waited.

          "There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries."

          Finally, a provincial officer arrived. I imagined I could hear a military firmness as he marched into the cold room to interrogate me about what exactly I wanted.

          "Simple; my accommodations, my vacation, my rights, justice!" "Well," he said, "do you want to press charges? Are you willing to return to Canada when this comes before the judge?" "Absolutely!" "Follow me," he said, and off we went to the motel, following the squad car and noting happy guests picnicking on the lawn, puzzled about the new arrivals with their police escort.

          We were finally invited in to meet the suddenly complaisant owners of the motel, who explained that it was all a misunderstanding. If only we had told them what a dog guide was, and so on and on we went as they attempted to save face.

          We moved in for the rest of our stay and received an invitation from the City of Stratford to be wined and dined at its most exclusive restaurant, The Old Prune, where we were warmly welcomed and treated with the elegance and charm that this delightful Shakespearian town offers.

          The motel owner did not charge us for one night's stay and apologized for the inconvenience he had caused us.

          Oh yes, we are planning our next trip there this fall. (The following is a copy of the thank you-note I sent to acknowledge their official concern and apology.)

Barbara Quarry
Department of Tourism
August 27, 1990
The Stratford Festival
Stratford, Ontario, Canada

          Thank you once again for making our Stratford trip a delightful and enriching experience. The theater was excellent, the dining splendid, and the accommodations most suitable and even charming.

          But, most of all, thank you for helping tear down the walls of misunderstanding and unfriendliness and restoring hospitality and dignity to a regrettable situation.

          Please convey my sincerest gratitude to all those who were concerned and helpful: our host at the Swan, Judy Purcell at the Mayor's Office, Gerry Cullerton for clarifying the legal situation, Officer William Kreps of Sebringville, and most especially to the Old Prune and its charming hostess and its sumptuously delicious and artistically presented fare.

          It was an experience we shall long remember and frequently share with friends.

          Looking forward to our next Stratford trip, hopefully this fall.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Elizabeth Browne

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