People and dogs have been cooperating for thousands of years now. It’s our thing. In the modern world, it’s generally not okay to take your dog shopping, on a plane, or to Starbucks unless it’s a service dog trained to perform some kind of function other than being a fun pet. Not everyone knows this, which leads to some unfortunate situations…like the experience that a man had at a Houston Starbucks when he and his service dog were questioned at the door.
The man, an Iraq War veteran, had a leg amputated below the knee due to bone cancer. He has a service dog that helps him perform everyday tasks and physically supports him. The pair had been together for three and a half months, and were in town to speak about the awesomeness of the service dog training program.
A Starbucks employee tried to stop them at the door, though, insisting that dogs aren’t allowed inside. There’s one thing that businesses specifically aren’t allowed to do when someone with a service dog wants to enter their establishment, and that’s quiz the person about their disability and what the dog does.
Employees of a business can ask whether the dog is a service animal, and ask what tasks the dog performs. Updated guidelines for service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act spell this out very specifically.
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Saying “You’re not blind” and “Why can’t you [pick things up from the ground] yourself?” as the employee of this Houston Starbucks allegedly did? Not allowed.
In a statement to TV station KHOU, Starbucks assured the world that service dogs are welcome in its stores, and are not subject to interrogation.
Starbucks always welcomes service animals to our stores, and this customer’s experience is not consistent with the welcoming and friendly environment we strive to create for everyone. We have spoken with this customer to apologize for his experience, and we hope to have the opportunity to serve him again. We have also spoken with our store partner about this situation and used this as a coaching opportunity for the future.