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Dealing with a service break

Citizen Staff Writer



Tucsonan Bob Clark would be lost without his dog Mikey.

After suffering a pair of heart attacks followed by a stroke, Vietnam veteran Clark often has his leg lock up or loses his balance.

Mikey, a 100-pound Newfoundland mix, takes care of all that, as any effective service dog should.

But, said 64-year-old Clark, not every local business is as helpful as Mikey.

Some have even violated federal law.

He said the duo have been kicked out of places ranging from restaurants to movie theaters to the whirlpool bath at a local community center.

“Mikey wasn’t even in the water,” Clark said, “just on the side of the pool.

“I’ve had about 500 complaints,” said Clark, in the two years he’s been with Mikey. “Most people don’t have any idea what the law is.”

The law is pretty clear.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that places that serve the public must allow a service animal to go anywhere customers are normally allowed to go, the U.S. Department of Justice Web site said.

This includes restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, taxis, grocery stores, health clubs, medical offices and, yes, even on the side of a whirlpool bath.

“A service dog is considered a medical device,” said Joanie Mauger, executive director of the service dog training company Handi-Dogs Inc. “You wouldn’t ask people to leave their wheelchair outside.”

There are only a couple of exceptions, said Department of Justice spokeswoman Jodi Bobb.

One is if the animal causes a disruption or is not under control, such as barking during a movie.

The other is if an animal’s presence disrupts a “fragile” environment, such as an operating room.

Clark wasn’t getting surgery in any of his situations, nor was Mikey causing a fuss, he said.

“When the dogs are in a restaurant, they are taught to be under the table or completely out of the way,” Mauger said. “They get no treats, no food, no nothing while they are there because they are working.”

The disabilities act does not require service animals to undergo any type of certification or special training.

Clark, retired from his career as a dog trainer, trained Mikey himself and has Mikey wear a vest when the dog is working.

Tucson’s Handi-Dogs, 75 S. Montego Drive, and Top Dogs Service Dog Training, 5049 E. Broadway, also provide vests to dogs certified through their programs.

The vests, or any type of identification, are not a requirement under the disabilities act. The person only needs to tell the establishment the dog is a service animal.

“You can look at how the dog is behaving,” Mauger said of identifying a service animal. “You see if the dog is attuned to its owner, if it’s following directions.”

Mauger still helps past clients who had problems with establishments allowing service animals, especially restaurants.

She directs them to the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity Program or, for county complaints, to the state attorney general’s Tucson office.

Top Dogs executive director Lynn Baker also continues to help past clients, such as the woman who got kicked of out a dentist’s office when she tried to come in with her service dog to pick up her dentures.

Baker helps her clients write a letter directly to the establishment that gave them a hard time.

Mauger and Baker said their tactics have worked.

People may also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice if they and their service dogs have been discriminated against.

Where to get help:

• For city complaints: Office of Equal Opportunity Program, 100 N. Stone Ave., Suite 610, 791-4593

• For county complaints: Tucson office of the Arizona Attorney General, 400 W. Congress St., South Building Suite 315, 628-6504

• Write to the U.S. Department of Justice at 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001

• Or call the ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TDD)

For more about service animals in businesses visit: www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

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