TJ Maxx Store Orders Customer To Put Service Dog In Cart Or Leave

girl_dog_snuggleA woman was shopping at a New Hampshire TJ Maxx with her service dog when the store manager asked her to put the animal in a shopping cart instead of allowing it to walk on the floor. She refused, saying that the dog wouldn’t fit in the cart, and was asked to leave the store. Now she’s taken her story to the media, and TJ Maxx has apologized.

“The store manager came over to me and said to me, ‘If you want to keep your dog in the store, you have to put him in the carriage,” she told Boston TV station WCVB. This was of interest to a Boston TV station not just because it’s local news, but because the 19-year-old was injured in the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last year, receiving shrapnel wounds, and still experiences post-traumatic stress disorder. Her mother was injured badly enough that her legs were amputated. She says that the dog has been her “lifeline” and furry support system. But should he be allowed in public places?

The definition of a service dog is very clear, and after many incidents involving abuse of laws allowing service dogs in public, the federal government recently clarified this definition.

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

None of the stories on this incident have specified that the dog has received training specific to stopping post-traumatic stress reactions. To meet the newly revised definition of a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an animal needs to have training to perform some kind of physical task for its owner. While being a companion and providing comfort is an important task, that’s not the legal definition of a “service animal.”

In any case, TJ Maxx says that the manager didn’t follow the chain’s own guidelines in this situation, and has apologized to the shopper.

We are taking this customer matter very seriously. Customers with disabilities who are accompanied by their service animals are welcome in our stores at any time. We have looked into the particulars regarding this customer’s experience and deeply regret that our procedures were not appropriately followed in this instance. We are taking actions which we believe are appropriate, including working with our stores to reinforce the acceptance of service animals.

Marathon bombing survivor says service dog got her kicked out of store [WCVB] (WARNING: AUTO-PLAY VIDEO.) (Thanks, Marcus!)

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  1. webalias says:

    Whether or not the dog meets the legal definition of a service animal, it appears the manager didn’t have a clue how to handle the situation. It makes you wonder: if managers at TJMaxx aren’t trained to understand something as basic to operating a retail store as accommodating customers with disabilities, then what else don’t they know about dealing with customers and their obligations under the law? I’d ask the same question about the managers of hotels, restaurants, and other retail establishments that seem to have never heard of the ADA, which has been on the books since 1990. If they aren’t trained to understand the ADA, do they understand how to safeguard customer credit and financial data? If their business includes food service, do they understand health and sanitation codes? If part of their job as a manager is loss prevention, do they understand what they can and can’t do if they suspect someone is stealing? (Hint: racial profiling is a no-no, and you shouldn’t detain a customer without probable cause unless you want a lawsuit — unless it’s me, because I can use the money.)

  2. careycat says:

    I just Facebooked the National Retail Federation on this, but I think there has to be an awareness education campaign for retailers whether it begins at the store level, landlord level (mall companies and strip plazas), etc – the Federal Government is, for a change, doing it’s part to clarify. But we need a massive education campaign as more autistic kids are using service dogs, our brave men and women are coming home from the middle east with President Obama vowing to bring everyone home, etc. There will be more and more incidents like this until we get some education under our retailers belts.

  3. furiousd says:

    It’s one thing to require hundreds of millions of people to be educated in sensitivity (which would be fantastic, but impractical) but wouldn’t it be much easier to have an ADA ID card to be held in the service animal’s vest? Much less likely for people to fake, highly visible so store personnel only need to know to look for the card when a situation arises. Seems the simpler of the two solutions to accommodating those with special needs.

    • CzarChasm says:

      Which is exactly why it will never happen.

    • careycat says:

      I agree but sadly it won’t happen. In my thinking with the National Retail Federation, even if t was just a tag line in the bottom of a newsletter or a special alert email, it opens up the dialogue for a retailer to have conversations w/it’s employees. Walgreens is a repeat offender when it comes to being insensitive to special needs customers so they’d be a great place to start. I’m just thinking in terms of getting the word out, not necessarily something comprehensive and binding I think military cities like Clarksville, TN need to be ahead of the curve on this stuff.