Today we dealt with someone who had appointed herself “service dog police”. It was my worst access challenge that I’ve had in years.
I had to go to the podiatrist about my foot. I had been there before with little issue. They only allow the patient in the room, so Brad was out in the car with Alice. It was just Hestia and me.
I checked in and sat down. When my name was called, the nurse stopped in the doorway and demanded my papers. I said that papers are not required by law, but that I am disabled and my dog warns me before I get sick. She said that wasn’t enough, that I had to have papers. I explained that papers legally do not exist—there is no definition of papers for a service dog, and while some dogs have them, they are not required.
She said “well, you didn’t bring your dog last time” and I said that I had. Then she said she must not have been working that day.
She said her brother has a diabetic alert dog so she knows all about service dogs, and he has papers that he has to show whenever he goes into any business.
I again said that service dogs do not need to show papers under the ADA.
She showed me back to the exam room, all the while explaining how she knows everything about service dogs since her brother has one, and telling me multiple times about all of his papers that he always shows.
Then she said that she saw in my file that I had showed papers last time, and she just needed to verify that I still had them for some reason?
Luckily I am 16 years into this journey of working with a service dog. If I had been new to the lifestyle, I probably would have run out of the place crying by then. But I was just laughing inside at this oddness.
I sat in the chair, and before going over what I was there for, she again laid into me. This time she started asking me if I had papers at home, but just not with me. I said no, that papers are not legally defined nor required under the ADA. When she said again about her brother, I said that it is illegal for people to ask for his papers. I tried explaining that some places do give out papers, especially programs, but that they are not required. I told her if the dog is misbehaving, they can kick the dog out.
She tut tutted me, and started doing something on her computer, so I pulled out the Department of Justice’s FAQ about service dogs that I carry with me. I pointed to question 17 which states that documentation is not required.
She then informed me that since they are a medical establishment, they don’t have to follow the ADA. Instead they have to follow OSHA?!?! I tried to let her know that they do have to abide by ADA but she wouldn’t have any of it.
Finally I told her that I know the laws—that I am a service dog advocate, that I have helped the Department of Transportation with flying laws, that I am a service dog expert witness, and I am president of a service dog nonprofit. She still didn’t believe me, and repeated that her brother has a diabetic alert dog, and he always shows his papers.
We argued about whether or not I had to show papers for about 15 minutes before she finally started assessing me for the reason I came to the office. Then she said she didn’t feel like arguing about this anymore, and left to get the doctor.
He was very professional and treated me just fine. He said that it’s clear the boot at this point is hurting rather than helping. He wants me to use the wheelchair for another week, and gradually start using my foot more and more every day. So yay, no boot!
I am very glad I don’t have to go back to that office and deal with the service dog police anymore. I plan to write up my experience and contact the person in charge of the office. This time I won’t just write a letter and leave it at that. I will demand to know exactly what action they have taken to educate this employee and all their staff about service dogs. This serious of an access challenge would have broken me when I started out. Heck, it would have broken me 10 years ago, and maybe even 5 years ago! I’m glad I could handle it today, but I don’t want any other teams to have to deal with this harassment!