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Autistic boy (9) in bus stand-off over helper dog

AN investigation at Dublin Bus is under way after an autistic nine-year-old boy was blocked from travelling with his special assistance dog.

The driver of the number 13 bus refused to continue on the journey after Michael McQuillan and his sister and mother boarded with the dog.

However, the family were allowed to continue on their journey after management at Dublin Bus radioed the driver and ordered him to start the engine and continue with his route.

Passengers backed the schoolboy while the stand-off continued.

The drama unfolded last Friday when nine-year-old Michael boarded the bus with his black Labrador on his way home from school.

His mother, Mary, told the Herald: "When we sat down the driver said he was not allowing the dog to travel and he switched off the engine.

"The dog was wearing his special jacket which has a written message that it is an Autism Ireland assistance dog."

She said other passengers also expressed unhappiness about the driver's refusal.

It was the second upsetting incident involving the dog on Dublin Bus, she said.

"Michael has been bringing his dog, Vegas, on the bus every day on his way home from school with no problems," said Mrs McQuillan.

"But he was very upset after this happened and said he didn't want to go to school again."

The situation occurred shortly after noon when Michael was being taken home from Our Lady of Victories primary school in Ballymun.

"I want to highlight the need for all bus drivers to realise that autistic assistance dogs are allowed to travel on public transport," said his mother.

A spokesperson for Dublin Bus said a full investigation into what happened is not yet complete.

"It does appear the driver did not realise it was a special assistance dog. Once he realised it was, he proceeded on his journey," said the spokesperson.

"We have put up notices in all our depots to advise drivers regarding passengers travelling with assistance dogs."

Mrs McQuillan, speaking at her home in Ballymun, said Vegas has been a wonderful help to Michael and to all the family.

Michael is hyperactive, but the loving Labrador helps to calm him.

"Before we got the dog last Halloween, my life was very stressful as I found it very difficult to bring Michael anywhere because he is very, very energetic and hyper and would run off on me," said Mrs McQuillan.

"The dog is attached to him and he keeps Michael calm and safe.

"Michael doesn't have good social skills. He talks to Vegas a lot."

Mrs McQuillan walks along with Michael and the dog on his way to school and then she brings Vegas home. She takes the dog to school when she is collecting Michael and they return home by bus.

She said the incident last Friday was also very upsetting for her because it brought back memories of another incident after Christmas in the city centre where another driver refused to allow Vegas on a bus.

That driver consented after a long delay and being instructed to proceed.

Dublin Bus management had apologised to the family for that incident.

"I just don't want this to happen again as it's very upsetting for Michael and the family," said Mrs McQuillan.