WOODBINE — Sam Pierce doesn’t go anywhere without his dog, Mira. He can’t.
Pierce suffered a massive stroke, and Mira is a service dog specially trained to detect an oncoming seizure.
“I take her everywhere. I don’t have a choice,” he said.
But he said not every business owner knows the current Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows him and others like him to legally enter privately owned businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, sports facilities, theaters and cabs.
Now, Pierce has filed a civil complaint in federal court for a violation of his civil rights. In his complaint, Pierce said he was denied entrance into Jay’s Fish & Chicken, a restaurant on U.S. 82 off east of Interstate 95. He is asking for $50,000 in damages.
Monica Washington, a co-owner of the restaurant and one of the people named in the complaint, said she remembers Pierce, his dog and the circumstances that led to her refusing to allow him into her business. And she said it had nothing to do with the sign on the door saying management has the right to refuse service to anyone.
Washington said customers complained about Pierce’s service dog when he came into the restaurant to eat. She said the dog was not on a leash and kept going under customers’ tables.
“He has no control over that dog. We saw that several times,” she said.
Pierce said his dog did leave his table one time while he was eating lunch at the restaurant, but she came back immediately when he called her. He said it was a one-time incident and it never happened again.
“My dog doesn’t move,” he said.
In his complaint, Pierce said he was told Mira has to have a blanket identifying her as a service dog, and tried, unsuccessfully to explain it is not required. He also has documentation proving Mira is a service dog and her purpose.
Pierce said a few other business owners in the region have questioned him when he enters with his dog, but there are only two questions they can legally ask according to federal law: Is this a service dog? And what tasks does the service animal perform?
Owners are not allowed to ask for special identification for the animal, the person’s disability, charge additional fees because of the animal or refuse admittance, isolate, segregate or treat the person less favorably than other patrons.
A person with a disability can only be asked to remove a service animal if it is out of control and the owner does not take effective action to control it, or if the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
“They don’t know the law,” Pierce said. “They don’t know what she (Mira) does for me.”