I am in the process of obtaining a service dog to assist me because I am disabled. Federal law gives me the right to take my service dog almost everywhere I go. However, from time to time I come across stories of people with disabilities that, despite the federal law, were not allowed to enter certain business places with their service dogs. I’m always troubled when I hear of businesses violating the law to discriminate against disabled customers.
One such story is that of Rosa Holowka of Johnson City, Tennessee, who recently went shopping at her local Goodwill store. At least, she tried to shop at the Goodwill store. According to Ms. Holowka, the manager refused to allow her to enter the store. You see, Ms. Holowka has a disability and relies on a service dog to assist her when she experiences severe seizures. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses must allow her to take her service dog with her into all areas open to the general public. When the manager of Goodwill refused to allow her service dog to enter the store, he effectively prevented Ms. Holowka from shopping there, a direct violation federal law.
According to Ms. Holowka, the manager of the store asked to see some sort of certification or documentation proving her dog is in fact a service dog. Since such certification is not required by law and since there is no national certification process for service dogs, Ms. Holowka did not have the requested documentation.
There are some companies that offer to certify service dogs for a fee and that type of certification can be purchased online by anyone, whether or not they are disabled, whether or not their dog is actually a trained service dog. That kind of certification is essentially meaningless. Some people that just want to be permitted to take their pets into stores and restaurants purchase such certificates and use them to trick business owners into allowing them to bring their pets into the business. People with legitimate service dogs rarely spend money on meaningless certification paperwork, however.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, business owners cannot refuse to allow people with disabilities to bring service dogs into establishments if they don’t have some sort of documentation. In fact, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, business owners should not ask to see documentation. They may ask if a dog is a service and they may ask what tasks the dog is trained to perform to mitigate the handler’s disability. Those are the only questions they are legally permitted to ask.
Apparently Goodwill does not intend to comply with federal law, however. When a representative of Goodwill was interviewed by WCYB, a television station based in Bristol, Virginia, the representative stated that without the “right paperwork,” service dogs would not be permitted in the store. The representative did not explain what was meant by the “right paperwork,” and as explained above, businesses may not legally require people with service dogs to present any type of paperwork whatsoever.
WCYB. http://www.wcyb.com/news/31182541/detail.html. Service Dog Owner Claims Discrimination.
U.S Department of Justice. http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm. Service Animals.
Service Dog Central. http://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/node/566. Certification and Vests.