Ian Fenn takes Chloe the rescue cat out with him to help with his anxiety (Picture: PA)
An autistic man who was told he and his assistance cat had to leave a Sainsbury’s store has started legal action against the supermarket chain.
Ian Fenn said Chloe sits on his shoulder when he’s out and about to stop him feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
The 51-year-old web designer was asked to leave a South London branch in March after staff spotted his feline companion.
Sainsbury’s bosses say cats pose a food hygiene risk and are not allowed in stores, unlike assistance dogs.
Now he looks set for a court showdown with the retail giant which could set a new legal precedent around assistance animals.
Mr Fenn, of Tooting, south London, says he has been taking the rescue cat out with him for about a year.
He has had Chloe for five years after adopting her and estimates she is 12 or 13.
The web designer says he rarely encounters problems with his cat and takes it on the Tube (Picture: PA)
Recounting being thrown out of the Clapham Common store, he said: ‘In the end I was so upset I left the store and went home.
‘Essentially, I shut down. I became overwhelmed. I was very upset as well and that would have happened much sooner had Chloe not been there.
‘I did lose confidence because… these kind of things happen so often to disabled people they have a name, which is access refusals.
‘Chloe does not affect anyone else. I just want to go to a supermarket, get my stuff and go.
‘I had plans for the following day and I cancelled them because I didn’t have the confidence to leave the house.
‘Because having a cat like this is unusual I’m pragmatic about it so I email or contact every business I visit in advance, if I possibly can. I have done that with over 200 places.’
The court case could establish a new legal precedent around assistance animal rights (Picture: PA)
Mr Fenn said he contacted Sainsbury’s ahead of his visit in March and was told it should be fine.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: ‘We want to be an inclusive retailer where people love to work and shop, and understand that some of our colleagues and customers may need support in our stores.
‘At the same time, safety is our highest priority and our colleagues are trained to balance maintaining our high food hygiene standards with supporting all our customers who shop with us.
‘We are in contact with the local environmental health team to see if there are ways we can help Mr Fenn to visit our store without compromising this.’
Chris Fry, a leading disability rights lawyer representing Mr Fenn, said he has issued proceedings against Sainsbury’s after failing to find a ‘compromise’ with the company.
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