Three-year-old Lele Wisler has autism and needs her service dog, Scooby, to calm her down during meltdowns and help her be more independent when she goes out in public places.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are allowed to enter all public spaces that a human would be allowed to enter, and it’s illegal for a business to deny them access. Interfering with the work of a service animal is a class A misdemeanor, and requesting that the service animal leave the premises is legal only if the animal is not behaving well.
“They are allowed to ask the dog to leave if the pet is not acting appropriately,” says Sean Diamond, Director of Training for Indiana Canine Assistance Network.
But the Wisler family didn’t even have a chance to prove that Scooby could behave himself as a service animal should when they visited the Night Stalkers Pet Emporium, because they were never allowed in the building.
“We get to the door and open it, and they’re saying that a service dog cannot come in,” says Lele’s mother, Nicole Wisler. “I was mad, because the dog is there to help my daughter so that she can be more independent.”
There’s even a sign posted on the door of the shop, which states, in large black letters, “No personal pets allowed, service animals included!”
When questioned about the incident, sales clerk Stacie Miller said, “I feel bad if that would have happened, but it didn’t happen here. We did not do that.”
Miller says Lele and Scooby would not have been turned away from the shop. But all the same, she claims that service dogs are not allowed in the store without their paperwork. She claims that the rule is in place to protect the animals at the store from being harassed by people’s personal pets.
“We have had a couple people come in just bringing personal dogs with vests on them that terrorized our animals and ran around and made them jump,” she says.
However, asking a for a service animal’s documentation is illegal, according to ADA guidelines. Staff is only allowed to ask two questions: 1) Is the dog a service animal required for a disability? And 2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
But Miller maintains that she needs to see documentation in order to allow an animal into the shop. When confronted with the illegality of that idea, she said, “Well, that’s something we would require so that we know that it’s not going to terrorize our animals. They shouldn’t have a problem with presenting it if it’s an actual service animal.”
Wisler has filed a complaint against the shop and is hoping to prompt a change in the store’s policy soon.
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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?