There are real consequences when people try to pass off their pets as service dogs. What happened this week in a Florida restaurant is an excellent example.
A married couple, Dr. Richard Davis and Lior Sher, went into Maggie Mae’s restaurant in Clearwater, Florida, for a meal, and they were almost immediately told to leave because of their service dogs. Davis, a former naval surgeon who lost 70 percent of his hearing, uses the dog to alert him of things that he might otherwise miss as a result of his disability. Sher declined to talk to the press about her disability.
“Within 10 minutes after we were seated, we had this woman that literately almost flew into our table with a rage and said unless you present documentations you can’t stay here,” Sher told television station WFLA.
The restaurant called the police, saying that it had a couple who wouldn’t leave, and that its staff members believed the couple’s service dogs were fake. When police arrived, Davis and Sher believed that they would tell the restaurant that service dogs were allowed by law in public places. Instead, they say, the police told them to leave.
Police officers deny that they asked the couple to leave, however. On Monday, Clearwater police spokesman Rob Shaw made a statement to WFLA, claiming: “When Clearwater police officers arrived at the restaurant, the two people were done eating and getting ready to leave. The officers asked if they could talk to them outside after they paid the bill. At no time were the two ever told to leave by the officers. The conversation outside the restaurant did take place with the officers.”
So what did happen, and why did the restaurant staff members believe that the dogs were fake? Right now, it’s hard to say, especially because the owners of Maggie Mae’s and the restaurant’s staff members have refused to make any statement.
This fact, however, is clear: The situation illustrates the consequences that naturally arise when perfectly able-bodied people claim that their pets are service animals. As in the old story of the boy who cried wolf, business owners who have had fakers come into their establishments with misbehaving animals become very skeptical over time. The fake service animals become the default in their minds, and people with real disabilities suffer for it.
This is especially true of people who don’t have visible disabilities. We’re accustomed to thinking of “disabled” as meaning someone in a wheelchair, or carrying a white cane, or visibly needing help to move. But there are a lot of people whose disabilities aren’t apparent at first glance, or even second glance. Some people might seem to walk fine for short distances, but need aid for longer distances, and so on.
The phenomenon of fake service animals is most harmful to those people whose disabilities aren’t immediately obvious, especially as the use of service animals increases. For instance, it’s now fairly common to have service animals that alert a person just prior to that person having a seizure and watch over the person when he or she does seize. But a seizure disorder is absolutely invisible when the person isn’t having one.
Davis and Sher are asking Maggie Mae’s for an apology, and from the available evidence, it sounds like they deserve one. Everyone else deserves an apology from the fakers who believe they should be able to take their pets wherever they want.
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