This morning Hestia and I picked Scarlet up and we all went to the food pantry. Since the pandemic food stamps assistance ended, our food stamps have been nearly cut in half. So we need to seek other sources of food, especially as prices are rising drastically.
We arrived 15 minutes before they opened because I’ve been told there is a line and you need to get there early. They only help 30 families a day. It was below freezing, so I put Hestia in her winter coat which doesn’t have any service dog markings on it. She does have a service dog leash slide on at all times, and I carried her vest with me in case it was warm enough inside that I wanted to change her into it.
The other people in line were nice, and eventually it was our turn. We got inside and immediately the people working there started grumbling about a dog in the building. One lady passed by and said “No animals allowed”. So I said Hestia was a service dog. She didn’t seem happy about it, but she went on her way.
Then a man came out of one of the offices and started yelling at me about Hestia. First he started with the same line that animals aren’t allowed. Scarlet and I both tried explaining that she is a service dog. Next he demanded to see her papers. We told him that is not legally allowed. So then he starts saying that she’s not wearing a vest.
Even though she had a leash slide on and I had her vest in my hand, I didn’t want to let him think he could require vesting for every service dog that came in. So I said that vests aren’t required. I answered the two questions, but he didn’t care. He only wanted to see her in a vest. For about 5 minutes we argued. I explained several times that federal law doesn’t allow him to require a vest, and he told me several times that he didn’t care about that, their policy was they only allowed dogs who had a vest on.
Eventually Scarlet pointed out that Hestia had a leash slide and I was holding her vest in my hand. Then he gave in and let us be. I am going to be writing a letter to the food pantry telling them how horrible this made my very first time seeking assistance with them. I did NOT feel welcome by him at all. I felt harassed and attacked.
Luckily everyone else there was super nice and didn’t bat an eye about Hestia. They got us checked in, and then let us pick out some home supplies from their home supply section.
The only problem was that to get to the home supply section in a wheelchair, you had to move the chair that people getting checked in sit in. So I was able to move it for Scarlet to get into the section. When we wanted to leave, though, they were blocked in! We had to ask people to get up and move to let us out.
Then we had to drive our car around the back to get our food. I wanted my food in the trunk and Scarlet’s in the side of the van to keep it separate. That meant I had to deploy the ramp. So I pulled up and deployed the ramp. They asked me to move forward several feet. I told them that the ramp was deployed, and they said that’s OK, just pull up! Um, no can do—for good reason, the van won’t move with the ramp down! So I retracted the ramp, but the door didn’t shut automatically so I had to get out and shut the door.
I pulled up, but where they wanted me to stop there was no space to deploy the ramp! So I parked a little differently and got the ramp out, all the while they are saying they can just reach over the ramp. Big no to that, as they can put stress on the ramp and break it doing that!
I had to stand outside to be ready to shut the door when the ramp went up. They needed signatures from the people getting the food saying we had gotten ours. So I signed mine. They they said that I could sign Scarlet’s, too. I said that they could sign their own form. The guy said “Oh wow, really?” As if being a wheelchair user automatically means you can’t sign for yourself!
Eventually we were done, so we drove to the Mercantile where there is a community fridge. Due to Scarlet’s and my food restrictions, we knew we wouldn’t be able to eat everything they gave us. So we sorted through our bags, traded with each other a lot of stuff, and had only a couple bags of food left over to put in the community fridge.
We got lots of really good food from the food pantry, and it will help us out a LOT! We got 47 cans of vegetables and 8 cans of things with meat (some of that is Scarlet’s veggies and meat) plus lots of other little things. We even got some special stuff like nice nuts and cashew yogurt for Brad! And we got some beyond meat, too! So it wasn’t a total bust. I got treated horribly by the man, but at least we got lots of helpful food to take home.
Edited to add that below the pictures I am copying and pasting the letter I wrote to the food pantry.
Below are two pictures I took of Hestia outside while we were waiting. She is a black and white Japanese Chin wearing a turquoise coat.
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Veronica Morris, PhD. I visited your facility today for the first time to receive food assistance. I am disabled and require the use of a service animal.
We were told to arrive before HOPE opened to wait in line. As it was approximately 30 degrees at that time, I put a coat on my service dog for the 15-minute wait. She had a leash slide on her leash stating that she was a service dog, and I had her vest in my hand. However, neither of these things is required under federal law.
Before telling you what happened, I think you might want to familiarize yourself with what the Department of Justice has to say about service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The below link is an extensive FAQ about service animals, and I have quoted two of their answers below. https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.pdf
“What questions can a covered entity’s employees ask to determine if a dog is a service animal?A: In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.
”Do service animals have to wear a vest or patch or special harness identifying them as service animals?
A: No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.”
I came in from the cold when called, and a woman told me rudely “No animals!”. I replied that my dog was a service dog. She did not seem pleased, but continued with her business.
Then a man came out from an office and started yelling at me about my service dog. At first he was saying that dogs aren’t allowed in the building. When I replied that she was a service dog, he demanded to see her papers.
This is illegal under federal law, and I informed him of that. I went ahead and answered the two questions that a place of business can ask—that I have a disability and my dog warns me before I get sick. This did not satisfy him.
For approximately five minutes he yelled at me about my service dog. Most of that time was spent discussing the fact that my dog did not have her vest on. I and the person I was with informed him that vests are not required. We explained again that it was federal law.
Several times he stated that he didn’t have to follow federal law, that he was following HOPE’s policies.
Eventually my friend (it was also their first time seeking assistance at HOPE) pointed out that my dog had a leash slide that said “service dog” and that I was carrying her vest in my hand. Even though these are not required items, he was satisfied and allowed us to continue to check in.
Everyone else that we interacted with was very kind and did not mind that I had my service dog with me. However, being greeted as soon as I stepped in the door the way I was left me feeling humiliated, attacked, and mistreated.
It was my very first time seeking assistance with HOPE, and I have to say that with the way I was treated, I will be hard pressed to feel comfortable enough to return. Is this how you want your clients to feel? It is difficult enough to admit that I need help and seek it out. To then be accosted because of my disability-mitigating service dog who was quietly standing by my side made this visit traumatic.
I experienced a flare of my symptoms upon returning home due to this individual’s treatment.
I want to prevent anyone else with a service dog from experiencing this treatment, regardless of whether their dog is vested or not.
I am no stranger to the world of advocating for service dogs. I volunteer as President of Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, a leading nonprofit that advocates for service dogs of all types. Our organization has been involved with creating federal service dog laws. We have even been consulted by multiple attorneys to assist with their court cases.
I am writing this letter in the hopes that we can come to a resolution that is easy and benefits everyone. I am requesting that within 2 weeks time, you contact me with timelines for completing the following steps:
1. Talking with the individual who accosted me about what can and cannot be required of service animals visiting your premises.
2. Educating your entire staff and volunteer force on service animal laws—particularly the two questions that can be asked and the fact that IDs, papers, and special vests or harnesses can not be required.
3. Providing me with a copy of HOPE’s policies regarding service animals including any changes that need to be made to them to bring them in line with federal law and disability rights.
I understand that not everyone gets service animal laws right on the first try, which is why this is a great opportunity to improve without negativity. If I do not hear from you with a timeline for completing these activities in two weeks, I will simply follow what DOJ advises and put it in the hands of the attorneys at the Department of Justice through their complaint procedure.
Thank you for your time,
Veronica Morris, PhD