I Need Your Help, Please (Updated)
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 ADA.gov 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.
**edited to add: Chauncey was wearing his service vest that evening. It is a Digital ACU (army uniform) print with two large patches that say “Service Dog” as well as other patches.
**PLEASE READ** I want to thank everyone for taking the time to share this blog and to voice your opinions and support. However, it has been brought to my attention that some people are leveling threats through the phone and email toward this business. It was NEVER my intent for any threats to be made against this man or his business. I am truly sorry that some people took this to an extreme. For those who have acted honorably, thank you. For those who haven’t, please stop immediately!
Mr. Robilio published an appology on his facebook page. I appreciate the appology. I will not, however, be leaving this issue. While it may no longer focus on what happened to me specifically…this is something that has been happening again and again, nationwide. There is a lot of work to do to help make sure no other Service Dog Team, civillian or veteran, whether their disability is visible or invisible, has to endure what we have dealt with these past few days.
There have also been two news stories done locally. Basically, one telling his side of the incident on WMC-TV (I will warn you, there are factual inaccuracies), and WREG’s story that tries to tell both sides. I would like to thank both news agencies for covering this story and bringing this to light (though for obvious reasons, I’m a little more biased to one than the other).
At this point, I urge you to use this entire situation as an educational tool. Help others to learn from it so that other veterans (and the disabled in general) don’t have to go through what we endured. Leave Mr. Robilio alone…he doesn’t need our help anymore.