01/13/2014 05:40 EST | Updated 03/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Air Canada Apologizes After Shirley Jew, Soldier With PTSD, Asked To Pay For Service Dog

EDMONTON - An Alberta soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder says she's disappointed Air Canada wouldn't allow her dog on board a plane as a service animal.

Sgt. Shirley Jew said the airline told her PTSD isn't recognized as a disability that requires a service dog. Staff told her she'd have to travel with her pug-schnauzer-terrier Snoopy as a pet - for a $50 fee.

"I never thought I would be treated like a third-class citizen like I was with them. It was a slap in the face," Jew said Monday after taking a different flight from Edmonton to Toronto on WestJet.

She said WestJet let Snoopy fly for free.

Air Canada refunded Jew's ticket and, in a statement, apologized, calling the matter a "misunderstanding."

"Air Canada does have a policy in place to accept service animals of passengers with disabilities. These disabilities are not limited to physical disabilities,'' said the statement.

The airline said it allows trained service animals for customers with disabilities, if they are confirmed by a doctor's note.

"In this particular case, we have invited the customer to provide us with more complete information to allow the customer to travel on Air Canada with her service animal."

Jew said she doesn't understand what went wrong because, after she booked her ticket, she emailed Air Canada copies of letters from her doctor and the agency that trained her dog. When she was later on the phone with the airline's medical desk, she said she was asked prying questions about her health and her dog.

The 48-year-old woman, based at the 4 Wing base in Cold Lake northwest of Edmonton, said she was diagnosed with PTSD in 2012, after serving three tours overseas. She got Snoopy last spring and the dog helps calm her down when she gets anxious or angry.

"She's always got my back," said Jew. "She's my angel."

The little black and white dog will pull on the leash wrapped around Jew's waist if it senses the woman is getting upset. When she's sleeping and having a bad dream, the dog will wake her up before it blows up into a nightmare.

"People think 'Oh, she's your pet!' No, no. She keeps me so that I can actually function semi-normal in society."

Jew flew on Air Canada last November to attend a conference in Ottawa about service dogs. The airline didn't question her then about the dog, she said. Snoopy sat quietly by her feet on the flight.

Her flight on Saturday was booked after her grandmother suddenly died in Toronto.

Mehgan Search and Rescue, the group that trained the animal, as well as the agency's lawyer, called the airline. But they also had no luck convincing staff they were making a mistake, said Jew.

She believes more public education is needed to better acknowledge PTSD as a real disability.

"It's a huge stigma ... The only way people are going to understand what soldiers go through is sit and talk to us," said Jew.

"I don't want you to treat me like I'm special or I'm a superstar.

"I just want to get on the plane."

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