Three women who are legally blind have been left shocked and disgusted after they were turned away from a Melbourne restaurant because they had their guide dogs with them.
The group was asked to sit outside at La Four Seasons restaurant in Moonee Ponds first by a waitress and then by the owner.
Kathryn Beaton, 28, who was blind from birth, said the women were there to host a fundraising dinner, but were told the dogs were barred because they would upset the customers.
"A lady came up to us and said quite aggressively 'no dogs'," Kathryn said.
Victorian laws permit owners of guide dogs to enter any restaurant and it is illegal to refuse entry.
"We told her they were guide dogs and were allowed in, but she said 'no, we don't care, they're dogs'," Kathryn added.
"It's something that is always a risk when you go out with a guide dog, which is a sad fact as it's 2012."
At the height of the dispute the restaurant owners called the police to resolve the issue.
However, the officers that attended also appeared to be unsure of Victoria's equal opportunity laws in relation to guide dogs, Kathryn said.
"The officer said 'I think they are allowed to stay here, but I can't ask them to leave and I can't ask the restaurant to serve you'.
"We decided to leave because there's no point in arguing with police."
She said the group was unlawfully discriminated against, but the experience left them feeling like criminals.
"It was devastating," Kathryn said. "We felt completely unwanted...I felt like I was a lesser person because I have a disability."
The group is now calling on business owners to have a better awareness of the rights of guide dog owners.
"I just want them to be aware of the law, and to be accepting of future service dog teams because we are people too and all we wanted was a meal," she said.
"We're just like everyone else, and once we get seated you won't know the dogs are there."
The women today bravely confronted the restaurant staff who rejected them, but there was no apology.
Defending the actions of his staff, La Four Seasons owner Tony said the group was offered a table outside because customers were complaining about dogs being inside while they were eating.
"We said to them we can offer you a table outside," he said. "We have a lot of customers come in here, children also. If they see the dogs they're not going to come inside."
He accused the women of disruptive behaviour, claiming they blocked the door of the restaurant and refused to allow customers to pass.
"We didn't say we're not going to serve you, just not inside," he said.
Tony said staff were unsure of the discrimination laws in relation to guide dogs and called police for clarification.
He said he would allow guide dogs into the restaurant in the future.