Restaurant Says ‘No Pets,’ Tries To Make Iraq Vet And Her Service Dog Leave

Image courtesy of (K9s for Warriors)

Melissa is a war veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder and is able to function with the help of a service dog trained to help vets like her. She and her husband were recently strongly encouraged to leave a restaurant where they had dined with the dog before. No matter what kinds of documents or federal government websites she showed, the waitress, manager, and owner all insisted that the dog needed to leave…without actually telling the couple to get out of the establishment.

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are allowed to go anywhere that their owner does. Stores, restaurants, work, public restrooms, taxis, everywhere. “But Consumerist,” you might say. “This is a dog for post-traumatic stress disorder, and I thought that emotional support animals weren’t allowed under the ADA requirements for service animals that were revised in 2011.” Well, imaginary yet very knowledgeable reader, that’s true, but the ADA revisions allow dogs trained to perform a specific function for their owners, and specifically mention dogs trained to help calm people with PTSD.

Melissa wrote a post about the incident for the blog Fighting PTSD. This incident happened in Tennessee, but that isn’t important: this happens routinely all over the country.

We had our first access issue on 19 October, 2012. My husband and I had gone out for a date to one of our favorite restaurants. We had been there before with Chauncey without issue. It started when my husband and I entered through the patio and a waitress stopped us and said ‘no pets’. I calmly told her that Chauncey was not a pet, he was a service dog and by federal law he is allowed to accompany me. She obviously didn’t believe me, but told us we could take a seat anywhere. Our waitress brought us menus and got our drink orders just before one of the managers came out to our table with the same line “I’m sorry, we don’t allow pets”. Once again, I explained that Chauncey is not a pet; he is a service dog and tried to explain that he was allowed by federal law. She smiled and walked away. As our server brought out our drinks, I noticed that the manager and a couple other staff members were staring at us through the door. A few minutes later, the owner came out.

Now, mind you, I chose a table in the corner, away from the other guests which I often do so we can eat in peace without the other guests fawning over Chauncey, as well as to keep the staff from having to navigate around him. I also chose this table because it was the only one where I could have my back to a wall (PTSD). So, here we are, sitting away from the other guests (inside was packed, another reason we chose to sit outside), and he comes out with the exact same argument. He starts trying to say that the Health Department doesn’t allow animals. I tried to tell him that by federal law, he is allowed.

Every time I tried to speak, he cut me off. He was trying to make it obvious that he wanted us to leave without actually telling us to leave; however I was NOT about to leave, at this point I had lost my appetite but was going to eat out of pure spite. Every time I tried to tell him about the ADA laws, he kept going on and on about how he has to follow local laws. My husband tried to explain that federal trumps state and local but he didn’t want to hear any of it. He told me that since I didn’t have an obvious disability (“you’re obviously not blind”) and didn’t have any documentation to prove he was a service dog that Chauncey couldn’t be there. I told him that by federal law, he couldn’t require documentation. Then he asked me “well, what do you need him for anyway”. I tried to explain that he couldn’t ask me that question and that’s when he started getting even more rude.

I told him he is violating my rights and his response was “yea, and I’m a democrat, but that’s neither here nor there”. He was extremely condescending to everything I tried to say to him. He tried to make the argument about liability “if your dog bit someone”, continued with the health inspector malarkey, and just went out of his way to interrupt me every time I tried to speak. Finally, when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to be able to bully us to tuck tail and leave, he says “well, since its quiet out here, I’ll let it slide this time”.

As this is going on, my husband was pulling up the ADA access page from the website. He tried showing the owner but he said “I’ll look that stuff up on Monday, but I’m going to go by the local laws, not that stuff”.

I had the president of K9s for Warriors (where Chauncey and I graduated) call the owner and he was apparently just as condescending to her.

By the time we finished our dinner, I was still shaking and my husband was livid. By the way, the entire time this was going on…Chauncey was lying at my feet, he never moved and never did anything to draw attention to himself. By the time we left, there were several other customers sitting around us…none of them had a problem with Chauncey being there.

K9s for Warriors will be sending him a certified letter on Monday explaining the laws. We’re hoping this (and his own research, if he actually does it) will cause him to do the right thing…which at this point would be a sincere apology and retraining for his staff. If not, we are prepared to contact the ADA as well as the local news media.

The ADA is a law, not a government agency: complaints about violations of that law go to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Perhaps the restaurant owner chatted with his attorney or the local health department today (Monday) and has already learned that he can’t throw service dogs out or quiz people on why they need one. Then we’re just posting this as a public service announcement for business owners and consumers alike: service dogs are allowed everywhere and will just sit peacefully on the floor when they’re “working” but not needed.

I Need Your Help, Please [Fighting PTSD]

(Thanks, Wonderkitty!)

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