– by Molly Neher
This past week, one of our clients “Lucie” was aggressively sent out of a store while she was browsing the aisles with her service dog. She was quickly confronted by a man working there who told her that there were no dogs allowed. Having been a service dog handler for five years, she had been told this many times and knew how to manage the situation. Typically, it is a matter of saying the words “he’s my service dog” and she is left alone from there. This time was different.
The man raised his tone and told her he didn’t care, no dogs. Standing her ground, Lucie repeated that her service dog had the right to be there with her. The man then yelled across the room to a woman sitting at the counter that there was a dog in the store. The woman (who owns the store) aggressively yelled at Lucie to “get that dog out”! The interaction became increasingly confrontational and the woman’s tone of voice grew louder and more aggressive. She yelled at Lucie telling her that she’s allergic to dogs so “get it the hell out”.
At this point, Lucie describes getting upset herself. She was feeling attacked and humiliated. Though she knew she had every legal right to remain in that store, she no longer wanted to. As she walked out, she told the woman that she was breaking the law and was discriminating against a person with a disability.
The ADA is clear:
“Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. If employees, fellow travelers, or customers are afraid of service animals, a solution may be to allow enough space for that person to avoid getting close to the service animal.
Most allergies to animals are caused by direct contact with the animal. A separated space might be adequate to avoid allergic reactions.
If a person is at risk of a significant allergic reaction to an animal, it is the responsibility of the business or government entity to find a way to accommodate both the individual using the service animal and the individual with the allergy.”
Lucie’s experience is a reminder of why education is needed. Of course, we do not want to cause harm to anyone with allergies. However, as a business owner, the woman from the store should have been knowledgeable about this aspect of the law. She will no doubt be confronted with more service dog handlers entering her shop and this type of aggressive behavior towards them is unacceptable and illegal. There are always solutions to be found in order to accommodate both parties without causing any harm to the persons involved, or to the business.
Lucie has taken action and filed a complaint with the Department of Justice as well as with the Bureau of Labor and Industries. She hopes not for retaliation, but for the store owner to gain an understanding of the ADA and the rights of service dog handlers. She hopes that from this, the store will be able to come up with viable solutions which will accommodate the woman’s dog allergies all while providing access to service dog handlers wanting to enter the store.
Lucie’s experience also reminds us how important it is for service dog handlers to understand their rights and know how to fight for them. She could have left the store immediately, but she chose to stand her ground. She describes this experience as extremely upsetting, humiliating, and shocking. Though she has been challenged about her service dog before, she had never been confronted in such a manner:
“I’ve always known that situations like this happen to service dog handlers, but I really never thought I would have to deal with anything like this personally. I feel like all the more minor encounters I have had in the past prepared me for this. Though if this had happened within the first year of having my dog, I don’t know what I would have done. I definitely would not have managed to remain as calm, and I probably would have run out of the store very quickly without even trying to do the right thing. As it is, I eventually did run out of there, but I think that by then, I was all out of options, and the fight just wasn’t worth it. I was getting upset, everyone was looking at us, and the longer I stayed in there, the more of a negative impact it would have had on me.
I recovered fairly quickly from the situation but who knows, the next person that goes in with their service dog might have more difficulties standing up for themselves, they might be a less experienced handler, or they might suffer from PTSD, anxiety etc. If they were to be treated in the same way I was, that could have a seriously negative impact on them as individuals and as service dog handlers. I really want this woman to learn how to treat people and their service dogs with respect and dignity and for her to find ways to make her place of business safe for everyone.”