Two recent news reports highlight some challenges that people with service dogs face, and some of the controversies that exist.
In one report, a Winnipeg woman was kicked out of a McDonald’s restaurant because staff did not want her seeing-eye dog in the restaurant. McDonald’s head office has apologized profusely, probably an indication both of damage control and a disconnect between the awareness of service animals among corporate personnel and front-line employees.
The woman involved isn’t looking for apologies or a lawsuit, just increased awareness and fewer hassles for her and others that depend on service animals. This situation is therefore being handled from a standpoint of "let’s try to improve the situation." The Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association has contacted the CNIB for help raising awareness among restaurant staff of the rights of people with disabilities and their service animals.
A different situation has occurred in Wisconsin, where a man is threatening to sue the Oshkosh Area School District unless it fires a teacher. The man got into an encounter with the teacher while picking up his girlfriend’s daughter from school. He has a dog that he takes everywhere because he’s at risk of seizures (although it’s not clear whether this is truly a service dog, i.e. specially trained for such situations). Anyway, as the man was approaching the school on the sidewalk, he was confronted by the teacher. The teacher eventually called the police, claiming she was threatened by the man after telling him to stay away with the dog. There’s reportedly a history of conflicts between the man and the school staff, which has evidently spiraled into this confrontational situation. In addition to wanting the teacher fired, he intends to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for "damages," although he claims he’s not interested in receiving money.
This is a very different case from the woman in Winnipeg, and there may be many underlying factors that are not being reported. It seems like a combination of a lack of understanding of where service animals can go and some major personality conflicts.
People with service animals not uncommonly (although inappropriately) get asked about their animals, particularly why they have them. They may also be (inappropriately) asked to take them away. There are also situations where people have questionable (or basically fake) service animals, something that creates problems for people with real service animals (see some examples in our "service animal" archives). A little patience, tact and education can go a long way, with education being the key component. Ignorance shouldn’t be an excuse, but it’s not realistic for everyone on the planet to be fully aware of service animal issues and regulations.
People in service industries (e.g. restaurants, retail) need to have better knowledge about service animals than average, and there needs to be a clear understanding that these animals should be allowed to go wherever customers go. At the same time, there needs to be scrutiny of existing service animal regulations (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act) because the vague nature of many of these regulations lead to abuses that ultimately hurt the people who truly need these animals.
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