(8) Public Access Challenges

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly:

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)

Public Access: Am I violating the rights of others by taking my service dog into public places? 

Businesses often do not know or understand the rights of the disabled and the service dog, which is why the Department of Justice (DOJ) prepared a summary of those rights for us to share. The general public possesses a greater challenge, however, with misconceptions about disabilities and lack of understanding about the requirements of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Molly accompanied us on a brief out-of-state vacation. She slept in the back seat from the start of the ignition until we reached our destination. Whenever we stopped and walked her, she attracted the awe of children and adults with her size and disposition—until we arrived at our out-of-state motel.

Molly sitting on William's lap

How do you stuff this pup under a table?

Eating at the only coffee shop in town, Molly barely fit under the table. We stuffed her tail underneath her body to avoid tripping other guests. Despite our efforts, she did not go unnoticed.

While William paid the bill, I took her to the car. She managed the entire visit without one misdeed. She graced the restaurant as a perfect lady.

When William got to the car, his white, sweaty complexion and slurred words told me something happened in the few minutes it took him to pay the bill. Working through his panic attack, he relayed that a couple in line behind him angered him with their conversation.

“Gee, I’m going to bring my dog to the restaurant next time,” said the man.

“Oh, honey, look. I’m blind. I need to bring my dog.” The man’s wife mocked William in front of other guests by covering her eyes and waiving her hands from side-to-side.

We drove to the corner market to buy him a bottle of water—something that helps his cotton-mouth when having an attack. While in the store, I waited with Molly in the car. A young woman knocked on our car window after spotting Molly in the backseat. She told me her son has a Saint Bernard as a service dog for his seizures. When I shared with her what happened moments earlier in the restaurant, she explained she no longer uses her son’s service dog outside the home for the same reason.

“I got tired with the ridicule and rudeness towards my son for having a dog in public places. After all, you can’t see his disability most of the time.”

In his book, Until Tuesday, Luis Carlos Montalvan tells of a time when a bus driver denied him access in New York because he did not use a service harness—something his disability could not accommodate.

Interestingly, the law does not require a disability to be visible nor that a dog wears a service collar, harness, or any other identifying equipment. When William takes Molly in public, he dresses her in her service vest. Molly’s picture and identification as a trained service dog show clearly so there is no question about her role.

Ignorance and discrimination abound in our world. Even though your disability may not be visible, such as with PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury), it is real. Do not let the ridicule of others discourage you from getting the help you need.

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Do you have a fear of taking your service dog to a restaurant? Please post your comments below.

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.