Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Myrtle Beach, SC. restaurant owner arrested for refusing to serve woman with service dog

From Carolina Alive:

A Myrtle Beach restaurant owner was arrested May 27 after police say he refused to serve a woman who was accompanied by a service animal.

Hrachya Avagyan, 28, was arrested by Myrtle Beach police at Seafood World at 411 N. Kings Highway and charged with interfering with the rights of a blind or disabled person.

A police report says the woman called police after Avagyan refused to serve her on grounds the restaurant is private property and has a sign posted that says 'No Dogs'. Upon arrival, she told police she attempted to give Avagyan the dog's paperwork, but he refused to look at it. The dog had a 'Service Animal' vest on and was properly certified.

Grand Strand service dog advocates say the Americans with Disabilities Act is well understood by most business owners today, as it relates to disabled people with service animals.

Marianna Thompson of Surfside Beach (pictured) has been a trainer for Carolina Canines, a non-profit group based in Wilmington, NC that places service dogs with disabled people in the Carolinas.

Thompson said it's rare to see business owners who resist allowing dogs on their premises.

"As service dogs became more used and there was more information about service dogs, it's happened less and less."

But Thompson, who used a service dog herself for many years due to debilitating muscle diseases that weakened her body, said on rare occassions, she was confronted by a restaurant or hotel owner ignorant of the law.

"Sometimes, they will ask and say to me, you don't look disabled, in which case I say thank you, and I say that this is a dog to assist me with my disability and that's as far as you're allowed to ask."

The law doesn't require a disabled person to reveal his or her disability and the service animal is not required to wear a vest or any other identification.

Thompson said some business owners refuse service dogs simply because they don't like animals.

"Not everyone feels that an animal should be in a restaurant and it's something that it's just going to take time to change. Most of us keep our animals extremely clean and I would dare say a lot cleaner than a lot of children."

There is at least one exception to the ADA law, according to Rick Kaplan of North Myrtle Beach, president of Canine Angels, Inc., which provides free service dogs to disabled veterans.

"If your dog misbehaves in any way, you can be asked to leave," Kaplan said, though he said that's rare, because service dogs are usually well-trained and well-behaved.

Kaplan said he's taken his service dogs to many different businesses and venues, including symphony concerts in New York, with few problems. Kaplan said the federal ADA law supercedes any other state or local laws that business owners may cite.

"The way I read it is, if you have a service dog, that dog has every right you have," to enter a business, Kaplan said.

Thompson said she tries to be an ambassador for service dogs, to make compliance with the ADA law easier for business owners and the disabled.

"I always wanted my dog to be well-behaved, well-groomed, so that everyone else has it easier who goes behind me," Thompson said.