Friday, August 12, 2011

Philadelphia doctor evicts patient's guide dog from office

From Fox News:

PHILADELPHIA - A suburban Philadelphia doctor is being criticized for evicting a patient's guide dog from her office.

Guide dogs are as important to the blind as eyes are to the seeing. And yet the doctor in Lower Southampton Township, Bucks County, would not allow a guide dog and his owner to remain in her waiting room.

The incident happened at the Bridgetown Family Practice run by Dr. Priya Punjabi.

The Americans With Disabilities Act says you have to allow guide dogs to go wherever the public is allowed to go. And that includes doctors' offices.

But Dr. Punjabi apparently didn't realize that:

Joe Cichonski can't see much at all and is legally blind.

"I have some light perception in my left eye and I see shadows. I have nothing in my right."

And yet he walks Street Road in Bensalem like he's got 20-20 vision.

"I know the neighborhood backwards and forwards. And now he does. I can just walk out of the house and say, hero let's go to church."

Hero (pictured) is Cichonski's guide dog, his best friend, and so much more.

That relationship is protected by federal law. These two are allowed to go anywhere together, including church, hospitals, and doctors' offices. And yet when they arrived here last week, Cichonski' said Dr. Punjabi told him, "the dog is not allowed in the office, it is a pet."

"She came in and told me we had a problem," Crystal Cichonski said about the incident involving her husband. "She said is that your husband, I said yes. She said well I asked him to leave because no pets are allowed in here."

"it just floored me. I said you gotta be kidding me!" added Joe Cichonski.

Crystal Cichonski also had applied for social security benefits, and needed a doctor's exam to qualify. But she says when Dr. Punjabi saw Hero in the waiting room, she said there was another problem.

"She said I refuse to examine you, and I'll call social security. So I just got up and left and went outside."

Hero is no ordinary dog. He spent the first two years of his life training for this job, only to be denied access by a physician, of all people.

"Any service dog has a right to be there. They are a part of our body. He's my eyes,'" said Joe Cichonski.

Fox 29 try to talk to Dr. Punjabi. But her office assistant told us the doctor would have no comment now or in the future.

Joe Cichonski says Dr. Punjabi did tell a police officer looking into the matter that she has a phobia about dogs.

But under federal law, that's not a good enough reason to ban a guide dog.