Tour de Force

Published December 5, 2012

Liability concerns led the Sheboygan County Humane Society to refuse an unscheduled guided tour of the shelter for a group of disabled children and their caregivers.

The group, from Paragon Community Services in nearby Plymouth, Wisconsin, consisted of five disabled students – two wheelchair-bound – and their four caregivers. They arrived unannounced 30 minutes before the shelter was to close, while staffers were feeding the animals and cleaning the facility. The group got a five-minute visit but not a full tour.

The incident became “an online flame war” after Paragon accused the shelter of discrimination in a Facebook posting. The organization says it’s part of its mission to raise awareness of the treatment of the disabled in society.

“I just did not feel welcome,” said one Paragon instructor. “It was extremely disrespectful and discriminatory.”

“We were literally back in the bus five minutes later,” she added. “For the five minutes, [the students] loved it. They were all smiling; … meanwhile, all of us staff were fuming.”

The humane society executive director said it goes out of its way to accommodate group visits, but only by appointment. “We have a whole program set up where we have goodie bags … a person who takes care of that, giving a little presentation,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a child, an elderly person, a Boy Scout, a disabled person, it doesn’t matter. We want to create the safest, most enriched experience for everyone, and that includes our animals.”

But, she added, “This story would have taken on a whole different aspect had they walked in and one of their clients slipped on a wet floor. We would have been at fault for not having protected them.

“If people believe that we’re not entitled to have visits by appointment, if people believe we’re a bad place to take care of animals and to welcome guests because we could not accommodate an unscheduled visit, that’s very harsh,” she said.

Source: Janet Ortegon, “Sheboygan County Humane Society director responds to accusations of turning away disabled students,” Sheboygan Press, November, 19, 2012