Opinion

Dog Rescue Discrimination Highlights Stigmas of Autism

Katie Anthony | The PhoenixA Canadian dog rescue's decision to refuse adoption to children with autism perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about people with autism, Frank Zawrazky says.

In 1972, the Autism Society of America started the first National Autistic Children’s week, which is now Autism Acceptance Month every April. While great strides have been made to raise awareness and acceptance for Autistic people, a recent story out of Saint Mary’s, Ontario has proven there’s still a long way to go.

Recently, it came to light that Kismutt Dog Rescue has been actively discriminating against children and families on the Autism Spectrum for the better part of 10 years, Canadian Television (CTV) reported March 24. Kismutt and their ableist policies refused to allow a family with an Autistic son to adopt a pet dog because of his diagnosis. 

Kismutt’s owner doubled down in a Facebook post sharing unfounded claims from a teacher friend who she said told her that “99% of her autistic students have outbursts and can be aggressive and violent.”

Kismutt also defended its actions to Kitchener City News in a statement released the following day.

“We adopt dogs out to people with a whole host of different disabilities. Example: Blind, deaf, Downs Syndrome, Parkinson Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, the elderly, Spinal Cord Injuries, just to name a few. Our dogs are adopted out strictly as pets. They are not trained service dogs,” said Kismutt’s owner March 25.

Having been diagnosed in fourth grade with Asperger’s Syndrome, now under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder, I was told by my psychologist Genevieve Thornton, Psy. D. “Frank, when you know one person on the spectrum, you have met one person on the spectrum.”

As an Autistic person and a journalist, I have a whole host of problems with Kismutt. By portraying all people with autism as violent, the rescue is perpetuating the stereotypes that Autistic people are not only all the same, but a danger to society. Kismutt also infantilizes and dehumanizes Autistic children by implying they aren’t capable of having pets, rather only service dogs.

The Facebook post above and other statements to the media are a direct slap in the face to all those who have worked to give autistic people the voice and dignity that they deserve.

This ignorant mentality shared by Kismutt is part of the global stigmas surrounding autism, that all of us are the same, always dependent on others, and worst of all dangerous— none of which are true.  

Most damaging of all, Kismutt, whether intentional or not, chose to put out a statement close to April 1, the start of Autism Acceptance Month. The timing couldn’t have been worse to show the organization’s ableism. 

If Kismutt wants any hope of regaining its dignity as an ethical animal shelter, it must immediately reverse its discriminatory ban. I am not alone in this sentiment. Autism Ontario issued a statement regarding the dangerous message being sent to people by Kismutt.

Dr. Thornton’s words on the Autism Spectrum are much needed here, especially for the obviously ignorant owners of Kismutt. However, beyond that, let’s treat Autistic people with dignity always, but especially during Autism Acceptance Months for years to come. 

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