Earlier this week, a Houston-area restaurant refused to seat a disabled veteran because he was accompanied by a service dog. The restaurant's manager forced Don Brown, who has suffered from post-traumatic disorder for two decades following his service in the Gulf War, to exit the establishment after invasively -- and illegally -- asking Brown if he was able to see. When Brown answered that he was not blind, the manager told him that he and his dog, Truman, could not come inside together.
The manager's discriminatory practice is a regular occurrence -- earlier this month, another veteran, Yancy Baer, was denied entry to a Starbucks because an employee did not believe Baer's service dog, Verbena, should be allowed into the coffee shop. As happened with Brown, Baer was told that because he is not blind, he could not be accompanied by a service dog. Yet another veteran, Charles Hernandez, sued a KFC in New York City for kicking out him and his canine companion, after having taken McDonald's to court in a similar lawsuit several years earlier.
Veterans and their service dogs are not the only targets of such discrimination; many disabled people rely on their canine companions to assist with problems that aren't readily apparent to uninformed strangers. By law, though, it doesn't matter if a person's disability is "hidden" or not: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows service dogs to accompany their disabled owners to any establishment that serves the public, and it bans staff at such establishments from inquiring into the nature of a person's disability. Unless a service dog is unruly, out of control or hasn't been housebroken, public establishments cannot demand that a canine companion be removed from their premises.
Some of the disabled veterans who have spoken out about their discrimination are inspiring other service dog owners to do the same. In the wake of his experience, Baer, the vet who was kicked out of Starbucks, has launched a national campaign called You Don't Know Beanz, to raise awareness about the different ways service dogs can assist people. "You can't always see [people's] disabilities," Baer said. "You never know what a service dog is for."