A disabled Scots woman was devastated after being asked to leave a Greggs store because staff did not recognize her chihuahua as an assistance dog.

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Laila Hepburn and Marley (Image: Supplied)

Laila Hepburn visited her local store in Granton, Edinburgh. To buy food on her way home and brought her assistance dog, Marley.

The 35-year-old has autism and suffers from anxiety. And Marley has been trained to recognize when his owner has a meltdown or panic attack.

Marley wears a special vest when he accompanies Laila on outings to let members of the public know he is an assistance dog.

Laila claims staff didn’t notice she had a dog until she was at the till paying and bent down to clap Marley when he made a choking sound.

The staff member behind the till spotted him and asked Laila to leave, telling her that the store “only allowed seeing dogs in.”

Devastated, Laila said she argued her case but was asked to leave.

She says the incident left her feeling humiliated and judged for having a hidden disability.

The Equalities Act 2010 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Says people with an assistance dog must be given access to services as everyone else.

She told the Record: “I am autistic, which means that even small things like leaving my house make me anxious, and I struggle.

“Leaving my house is a terrifying ordeal for me. I usually only leave it for appointments once a week or to pick up my medication. And I can get easily stressed out by small tasks.

“Too many people say I ‘look normal,’ and the fact my assistance dog is a chihuahua means people typically don’t recognize the disability. Usually, I explain the situation, and everything is fine.

She continued: “On this occasion, the staff member told me straight, ‘only seeing eye dogs are allowed in.’

“People must realize that disability are not always visible – they exist. Businesses need to follow the law and let anyone who has an assistance dog on the premises.

“I won’t return to that store again because I felt humiliated.”

Laila, who lives in Edinburgh, believes that the breed of her assistance dog significantly contributed to the treatment she received from Greggs.

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However clever, Marley is trained to recognize his owners’ behavior and snaps into action when she becomes anxious in public places.

Rather than get another dog, Laila decided to have Marley train as her assistance dog because he was already her pet, and the pair shared a special bond.

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Marley, the assistance dog (Image: Supplied)

She said: “I taught him to respond to meltdowns. I used to have a permanent bruise on my leg because I used to sit and punch myself when I was stressed.

“If I start doing this, he jumps on my hands and pins them recognize, and I realize to stop.

“He is alerted to things like, e.g., shaking if I’m in a stressful situation and showing signs of being overwhelmed.

“He has also been taught how to circle me when I’m in a queue so that people don’t stand so close to me as that can countdowns too.

“I trained Ma to rely upon myself. But I had help from Assistance Dogs UK to make sure everything was legal.

“Marley has the perfect temperament for the job. He’s happy to sit by my feet and be quiet. He’s got the right personality but the wrong size in some people’s eyes.”

Laila hopes talking about the incident will help raise awareness about the treatment of people with hidden disabilities.

She added: “A lot of people have invisible problems- autism, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, etc., and need some assistance.

“It would be great if employees for big companies and members of the public treated them with the same respect.”

Laila complained to Greggs about the incident,

Which occurred on August 28 at about 2.40 pm, and received an apology and a £15 credit code.

A Greggs spokesperson apologized for the incident and said: At Greggs, we welcome both guide dogs. And assistance dogs in all of our shops and are sorry that on this occasion, something went wrong.

“We have been in regular contact with the customer to investigate further. So we can work with our colleagues to prevent it from happening again.”

Rob Holland, External Affairs Manager at National Autistic Society Scotland, urged businesses to be understanding of those with autism.

He said: “There are 56,000 autistic people in Scotland, and for many social situations can be challenging and even overwhelming. Particularly the sensory overload that busy shops, cafes, and restaurants can create.

While not for everyone, we know that for some people, assistance dogs can make a real difference and help to reduce anxiety.

“It’s important, therefore, that those working in hospitality and retail understand the difficulties that autistic. Customers might face and how they can make their business as welcoming as possible to everyone.”

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