For the third time in as many weeks, a disabled veteran has been kicked out of a Houston-area establishment for trying to enter (legally) with a service dog. Aryeh Ohayon served with the U.S. special forces in Afghanistan and relies on a service dog to cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder. When he and his dog, Bandit, were denied entry to a local restaurant, Ohayon called Houston police in hopes that an officer would vouch for his rights. On the contrary, the officer who arrived at the scene not only failed to speak with restaurant management, but also asserted that Ohayon was in the wrong.
"The officer said to me, ‘You're not blind, you don't need a dog,'" Ohayon told the Houston Chronicle. "It's frustrating and a let down. We put our lives on the line, we want to be treated like normal people."
Earlier this month, two other veterans experienced similar discrimination, when each was illegally questioned about his disability then denied entry to a Houston establishment, on the grounds that neither was blind. Managers' assumptions in both cases were that these disabled people did not need the assistance of their support dogs.
Federal law, however, requires that service dogs be allowed into any public establishment, and moreover it prohibits staff at such establishments from questioning any patron about his or her disability. Additionally, the Texas legislature has also opted to take further action to prevent service dog discrimination on a state level. Last June, Governor Rick Perry signed a bill that makes it a misdemeanor to refuse entry to service dogs. The law, which went into effect in January, makes service dog discrimination punishable by a minimum $300 ticket and 30 days community service. In each of the three recent cases, however, no police action has been taken.
Texas isn't the only place where disabled people who rely on service dogs face discrimination. Just this week, a New York City resident named Chris Bassat, who is partially blind and has had a service dog for nearly a decade, was kicked out of a Brooklyn post office after a postal worker announced over a microphone that no dogs were allowed. According to a U.S. Postal Service spokesperson, Bassat was not refused service because of his canine assistant. Bassat, however, told the New York Daily News that video footage will prove that isn't the case.
"I'm still reeling from the whole thing -- it was horrible," Bassat said. "I hope no one else has to ever encounter this."
INFORMATION GUIDE: Service Dogs
Service dogs are assistance animals that are trained to help disabled people perform a number of different tasks. Just as there is a range of disabilities that qualify a person to have a service dog, there is also a range of functions that canine assistants are trained to perform. The dogs can help people in wheelchairs with their mobility issues, wake people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder from their nightmares, or alert the hearing impaired to sounds they cannot hear, in addition to a number of other unique functions. Service dogs and their guardians are federally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates that assistance animals be allowed into any public establishment so long as they are leashed or harnessed, calm and under control. The law also prohibits establishments from asking about the nature of a person's disability, though they are allowed to inquire about the functions a service dog has been trained to perform. No establishment may deny a person service just because they have a service dog. For more information about service dogs, you can visit Assistance Dogs International or the United States Dog Registry. If you have experienced or witnessed a violation of the service dog mandate, you can call the ADA hotline at 800-514-0301 or alert local law enforcement.