RSH Limited apologises to guide dog owner Cassandra Chiu for commotion at Zara

SINGAPORE - RSH Limited, Singapore's distribution and retail arm for clothing and accessories chain Zara, has apologised to a blind woman who was turned away by a security guard at the Zara store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre on Friday.

Counsellor Cassandra Chiu had tried to enter with her guide dog Esme, but claims that the security guard at the shop stopped her and verbally abused her. The security guard, contracted through a third party security firm, has been removed from his position at the store, RSH said.

"We sincerely apologise for the unpleasantness, disappointment and anger caused to Ms Cassandra Chiu, as well as members of the public," RSH said in a statement on Monday.

It also confirmed that the store welcomes guide dogs and their owners. The incident was caused by an "unintentional misunderstanding regarding courtesy rules at our stores", RSH said.

The company was responding to queries from The Straits Times on Ms Chiu's post about the incident at Takashimaya Shopping Centre.

It has received more than 1,500 likes since it was posted on Saturday.

Writing as her guide dog Esme on Facebook, Ms Chiu, 36, said she was extremely upset about the guard's behaviour.

"He refused any explanations and insisted 'no animals'," Ms Chiu wrote in her post.

A woman claiming to be the store manager eventually confirmed that guide dogs were not allowed and called the police, she said.

Takashimaya Shopping Centre's security management were also called in to resolve the matter.

Ms Chiu said that she was more upset about the security guard's rudeness, not so much about being turned away.

"It was not a low volume. I asked him to lower his volume and think about it," she said.

"I said his behaviour is no different from an animal."

People who wrote online saying they had seen what happened, however, had pointed out that a man who was with Ms Chiu had also talked to the security guard in an "aggressive, threatening manner".

Administrator Carol Tan, 32, was among the many who weighed in.

"It is up to both parties to maintain mutual courtesy," she said.

"But retail stores must also ensure their staff are up to speed with their guide dog policy."

RSH said that its human resources team had already informed Zara staff members about its guide dog policy. Efforts to educate staff on conflict management will be stepped up.

Takashimaya Shopping Centre also confirmed that it was a guide-dog friendly mall, which means guide dogs can be in shared mall spaces. But it is up to individual tenants to apply the policy as they see fit, the mall added.

Singapore's transport and food place hygiene legislations have been changed across the years to accommodate guide dogs, as they play an important role in guiding the blind.

Ms Chiu has often been vocal about being rejected at local establishments because her guide dog was not allowed in.

Last November, Ms Chiu and Esme were also not allowed to board a taxi. The driver had allegedly driven off when she was standing near the vehicle, and she fell and hurt her knee.

Additional reporting by Linette Lai