Vet with service dog denied access to public places

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Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 6:29 pm | Updated: 9:13 pm, Thu Sep 19, 2013.

BRADENTON, Fla. - Thousands of men and women across the country have answered the call to serve in our armed forces.  And for many the transition back to civilian life can be a rough one.

US Veteran Anthony Driscoll says a service dog has helped him make that process easier. Anthony was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and like many veterans, he suffers with post traumatic stress disorder. 

"I have extreme anxiety, extreme anger issues," said Anthony.

So Anthony decided to get a service dog to help relieve some of his stress.  "He basically is a buffer when I go out into the community.  He alleviates my anxiety.  When we're out he either stands behind me or in front of me. He'll also helps me out with my nightmares at night and wake me up," added Anthony.

But despite being trained and properly certified, Anthony says he and his service dog Onyx are constantly denied access to public locations -- with the most recent incidents happening at his church.

"One of the security guys walked up and basically told me that I wasn't going to bring Onyx into the sanctuary," said Anthony.

Onyx has been to the church before and despite have the proper documentation they were still being denied access.  "Basically he told me I'm not blind, so why do I have a service dog?  And there's no reason why he should be coming in," said Anthony.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, established back in 1990, allows service dogs in all public places. However, churches and their activities are exempt under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and have the right to refuse service dogs.

And the services the dogs provide expands beyond helping just the blind.  "You don't have to see the disability.  That why I called them invisible disabilities", said Mike Halley from K-9'S For Veterans, the organizations that trained and certified Onyx.  "You don't see seizure, you don see heart attacks, you don't see post traumatic stress disorder" Halley added.  

But despite service dogs' many purposes, Anthony and his wife Mary are constantly being told they are not welcomed.

"The dog is suppose to help alleviate anxiety.  A lot of times, because of those circumstances, it creates anxiety.  If people were more aware and understood that there are other purposes for service animals except seeing eye dogs, it would make things a lot easier," said Mary.

The Driscoll's were able to resolve the problem with their church and they are now allowed in.  But they want to get the word out about service dogs so other people aren't treated the way he and his family have been.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • KirstenRichards posted at 1:01 pm on Tue, Jun 4, 2013.

    KirstenRichards Posts: 3

    From Federal ADA regulations: "28 CFR Sec.36.102(e) Exemptions and exclusions. This part does not apply to ... any religious entity...."

    Churches, and some other places, are exempt from the requirements of the ADA. Again, a legitimate program would know this and would educate their clients accordingly. It costs money to file lawsuits in federal court even if you don't hire an attorney (which you should, because they would tell you this kind of filing against a church under the ADA has no chance in court). Proceeding with a case like this in federal court would cost the person with the service dog thousands of dollars with no chance of winning because they are flat out in the wrong. On top of that, federal courts are ALSO exempt, meaning the judge would not have to permit the person to bring their service dog with them to court.

    There are a number of places where a service dog can legally be denied entrance:

  • winterbeachgal posted at 6:19 pm on Mon, Jun 3, 2013.

    winterbeachgal Posts: 2

    What I have a problem is, anyone (little old ladies especially) asking their Dr. to give them a letter stating they have to have a service dog just because they are lonely and don't want to sit alone in a restaurant or go shopping alone. We actually confronted a woman and the restaurant staff when she brought her tiny dog in to Bonefish Grill and sat him ON the table. The manager said he couldn't refuse her because she had a letter from her Dr. stating that she had emotional issues and had to have her dog with her at all times. That woman and her dog should eat at home. We got up and left and didn't pay for our meal either. Let the lady and her dog pay for our meal I told the manager.

  • Yvonne Mason posted at 10:09 pm on Sat, Jun 1, 2013.

    Yvonne Mason Posts: 2

    I so agree. We have a service dog and they must be well behaved and one must always have not only their vest, mine also has a photo ID. We also have the cards that talk about his job. We have never been denied entry. It would be a bad day if we were.

  • Yvonne Mason posted at 10:07 pm on Sat, Jun 1, 2013.

    Yvonne Mason Posts: 2

    Under the Federal AdA law anyone who is denied entry with their dog is subject to a federal lawsuit this young man needs to get an attorney and file that lawsuit against every place that has denied him entry. This will cost those businesses a lot of money including the church.

  • BJH posted at 1:43 pm on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    BJH Posts: 1

    Get a new church. The reason they are able to have a church is because of the sacrifice you have given. I guess they forget that... Sorry this is happening to you. Thank you for your service. And for protecting my freedom.

  • Kelly M posted at 8:58 am on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    Kelly M Posts: 3

    Federal law does not protect the right of people people to take service dogs to churches or tribal councils. Churches and tribal councils can choose to allow service dogs, but the law does not say they have to. Federal law does allow require them to be allowed on trains, though.

  • Kelly M posted at 8:56 am on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    Kelly M Posts: 3

    There is no such thing as a "certified vest." Anyone can buy a vest that says "service dog" on it and it doesn't automatically mean a dog is a service dog. I agree that it's wrong for businesses to deny access to someone with a service dog, and so does the Department of Justice. However, a church is not a business, and the law says they can deny access to people with service dogs if they want to.

  • Kelly M posted at 8:33 am on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    Kelly M Posts: 3

    The ADA does not apply to churches. I think it's sad when a church refuses to allow a disabled person to attend, but legally they have the right to prohibit service dogs. Also, there is no such thing as certification for service dogs, so the writer of this article really failed to do his research on this issue.

  • ChristiAnne posted at 7:54 am on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    ChristiAnne Posts: 2

    Alphastarr -- I don't doubt that you have seen service animals in and around tribal council, but Native American owned property is, in fact exempt. While handlers hope that they would be welcome, it does not always happen. As far as food service/prep, that is also exempt, as well as operating rooms, and other "sterile environments."

    for further information I suggest this website - which has one of the most comprehensive databases of information regarding service dogs out there:

  • RavensUrsa posted at 12:57 am on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    RavensUrsa Posts: 1

    I'm sorry Scuba but you are incorrect. Psychiatric Service dogs are protected under the ADA, and was reiterated and confirmed in the 2010 ruling by Congress. A psychiatric service dog is trained to perform individual tasks for their user, such as assuming a "protective" circle (this IS NOT to be confused with a guard dog! It is the space that one with anxiety needs to remain anxiety free) and to wake up their handler from nightmares. There are other tasks that psychiatric service dogs can do, such as get medication, alert to panic/anxiety attacks and MANY other tasks. This animal IS a service dog under the ADA.

    However you certainly are correct on the poor research! You are 100% correct that the ADA does not cover churches, though EMPLOYMENT by a church organization is. It also does not apply to Native American owned and operated places of business, etc as long as they are on tribal land (they OFTEN do treat their disabled patrons well, and sometimes better than non tribal businesses, etc.) You are also correct in that therapy and/or companion animals are not protected under the ADA. Companion animals are covered under fair housing however, and Airline's Carrier Access. I hope that this clarifies things for everyone. :)

  • KirstenRichards posted at 12:02 am on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    KirstenRichards Posts: 3

    I did not say they weren't permitted in churches or Native American Council chambers, I said those places, and some others, are exempt from the ADA.

    A church can decide to permit service animals if it wants to, but it is not required to by the ADA.

    This particular program did not teach this client about his actual rights the ADA or he would not be making a stink in the press about rights he doesn't have. Apparently they believe that "bonding showers" with the dog are not only a substitute for training, but for knowing the regulations that govern them as well.

  • greythearts posted at 7:59 pm on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    greythearts Posts: 1

    I have used a Service Dog since 1985 - I always carry a copy of the ADA Service Dog Regulations...they explain the Law clearly and I will demand that they all the Police if there is an issue....
    His Church must be staffed by morons...and where was the Minister?!

  • Melinda posted at 7:56 pm on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    Melinda Posts: 1

    Those who have and rely on Service Dogs find them to be just as essential to their emotional and mental wellbeing as do the blind who rely on Seeing Eye dogs. However, the ignorant and inconsiderate are everywhere, and sadly even those who have certainly been through the fire of military service or disability with which the dogs help them, are not immune to being subjected to ill-considered remarks, or even to being outright banned from entrance into places which are clearly under the auspices of the federal laws allowing them. It may well be true that churches are exempted from these laws, but I find it ironic that in a place where one should be able to find Christian (I assume) kindness and compassion in abundance, Mr. Driscoll found exactly the opposite, with a large dose of ignorance and callousness thrown in for good measure.

  • AngieC posted at 7:56 pm on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    AngieC Posts: 1

    What gets me are the people who fly with show dogs disguised as service animals. I flew to NYC in February and the plane was loaded with "service animals". It happened to be the week of a huge dog show. They all had vests on, but the owners admitted they weren't legit service dogs. They just didn't want their dogs in the cargo hold. One dog was growling and snapping at the other passengers. That person should have been removed from the plane and the owner fined. Service dogs DO NOT act like that. It is jerks like that make it so hard for the people with real disabilities. [angry]

  • alphastarr7 posted at 5:55 pm on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    alphastarr7 Posts: 1

    I don't know anyone who would take a Service Dog to a food prep area, but being Native, i have seen those dogs welcomed even in a tribal council, Kirsten, especially when everyone is aware of why that dog is there for its human. Federal law protects them and these dogs are highly trained to behave in situations where other dogs would not behave. People, please educate yourselves. A Service Dog is not a threat to the health and safety of others unless YOU stupidly threaten the person he/she is with. Yes, there can be exceptions, but Federal law protects them. Somebody had better educate themselves because this is discrimination. NY State law is much tougher on those who violate the law where Service Dogs are concerned and I see them here even on the trains. They are clearly identified as such and never have I seen one behave inappropriately. Programs where Service Dogs are trained do educate the individual who has one.

  • ChristiAnne posted at 9:30 am on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    ChristiAnne Posts: 2

    As a service dog handler myself, I understand the gentleman's frustration with the lack of understanding on the part of the general public when it comes to service dogs. However, in this case, he is very mistaken when it comes to access to Churches.

    Churches are, in fact, exempt from the ADA, and any place with an association to a religious entity, such as religious supported hospitals and treatment centers. As Kirsten pointed out there are a number of other exceptions to the ADA and access regarding service dogs. The organization that he received his dog from, while his program does very good work in assisting our soldiers to transition back home, they need to learn how the ADA actually reads.

    As I said, I am myself a service dog handler, and I have spent the better part of the last 5 years learning about the nuances within the laws covering disabled citizens. I am also the mother and sister of United States Army soldiers. My brother served in Desert Storm and my son is currently serving our Country. And I would hope that both of them, along with all other service men and women are treated with the respect they deserve. But in this case, the gentleman in this article was incorrect. And I would encourage him to speak to the Department of Justice Hotline if he has any questions.

    And, I thank him greatly for his service and sacrifice so that those of us with disabiltiies, visible and not visible, do have the choice to have a service dog to mitigate those disabilities.

  • Scuba posted at 8:57 am on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    Scuba Posts: 1

    The reporter did a poor job of research. Besides what others pointed out that the ADA doesn't cover churches, it sounds like this is a therapy dog and not a service animal. Therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA and are not allowed in places where service animals are permitted.

  • KirstenRichards posted at 1:06 am on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    KirstenRichards Posts: 3

    The ADA doesn't give the person with a service dog access rights to everywhere--there are exceptions. One such exception is churches. That exception comes from the First Amendment, the separation of church and state. Other exceptions include: any area to which the public are not regularly admitted or area where special clothing is required, such as a food preparation area or sterile area, a private club, Native American Tribal Councils, anywhere the presence of the animal would constitute a fundamental alteration or undue burden, or anywhere the animal might be a direct threat to the health and safety of others.

    His program should have taught him about these exceptions and how to approach churches to ask for access.

  • Carole posted at 8:02 pm on Tue, May 28, 2013.

    Carole Posts: 1

    Service dogs come in many shapes and sizes and are used for many purposes. To be denied access to a business because you have a dog with you and you don't look "disabled" is absolutely wrong. If the dog, or even a pony, is wearing a certified vest, that is animal is trained to be in all the places that its handler is.


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