A Marine veteran in Texas says he hopes his experience at a local restaurant can serve as a learning experience for others about the importance and legal protections of service animals.
According to David Floyd, he recently entered the Harlingen establishment with his dog, Bella, and his son, only to be turned away by a staff member.
He told KRGV that the animal was wearing a designated vest at the time and performing an important task.
“She helps a lot with my PTSD and when I get around big groups of people,” he said.
Floyd described feeling “bothered” and “uncomfortable” in certain situations since returning to civilian life from two tours in Iraq and a third at sea in Afghanistan.
Despite her clear designation as a service animal, however, he said an employee of the fast-food establishment told him that Bella was not welcome.
“She said, ‘Sir, your dog is not allowed to come in here. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave,'” Floyd told local reporters.
After attempting to explain to her the dog’s purpose, he said his party opted to just leave. With this experience fresh in his mind, though, he is now hoping to spread some awareness.
“When she has the vest on, she knows she’s working,” Floyd said. “She follows me wherever I go.”
Not only is he certain of his dog’s behavior in public places like the restaurant, he described service dogs as family members to those they assist.
“Having the dog there, someone to look down and pet someone next to you,” he said of his companion. “She always stays next to me like this. It helps out.”
Furthermore, businesses are required under provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act to permit service animals. The law supersedes policies prohibiting the admission of pets.
Business owners have a narrow legal route through which to determine whether an animal is performing a legitimate function.
“When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed,” the ADA dictates. “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.”
No additional follow-up questions about about a handler’s disability or the animal’s training are allowed.
The policy further stipulates that service dogs can only be forcibly removed from an establishment under similarly limited circumstances.
“A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken,” the ADA policy states.
Even in those cases, only the animal is to be removed if its owner is willing to continue the transaction without it.
The topic of service animals has sparked similar disputes in the past, and Floyd said he hopes sharing his story will help someone else avoid such a situation.
“So, that’s why I would like to get this out there,” he said. “Just so this doesn’t happen again.”
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