A disabled army veteran and his service dog received an unexpected and upsetting greeting when they stopped for coffee at a Houston Starbucks over the weekend. Yancy Baer, a U.S. Army veteran, had his left leg amputated after being diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He attempted to bring his dog, Verbena, into the coffee shop with him when an employee met the two at the door and refused to allow them inside.
Baer, who received Verbena just three-and-a-half months ago through an organization called Canine Companions for Independence, was in Houston to speak about his experience working with a service dog. He attempted to explain to the Starbucks employee -- in front of a shop full of other customers -- that Verbena assists him with a physical disability, to little avail.
"He stated, 'you're not blind,'" Baer told a local ABC affiliate. "It was in your face, loud and bold. I got really nervous. I was shaking because I was being confronted... I explained what all [Verbena] does, and his next comment was, 'Why can't you do that yourself?'"
After explaining his situation to another employee, Baer and his canine companion were both welcomed into the store and served. The confrontational employee later apologized to Baer, and Starbucks issued a statement affirming their commitment to allowing service dogs in stores:
Starbucks always welcomes service animals to our stores, and this customer's experience is not consistent with the welcoming and friendly environment we strive to create for everyone. We have spoken with this customer to apologize for his experience, and we hope to have the opportunity to serve him again. We have also spoken with our store partner about this situation and used this as a coaching opportunity for the future.
Baer told KVUE that he hopes the incident will be a learning experience for everyone -- including onlookers -- and that it will remind people how many different ways service dogs can be of help. "People with disabilities, you can't always see those disabilities," he said. "You never know what a service dog is for."