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Police Should Be Educated About Laws Surrounding Service Animals

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Here’s a charming anecdote about Governor Rick Perry: When signing legislation that involves animals, he likes to get a dog to put its paw in ink and co-sign the legislation with him. (In the above photo, the Governor and a pup named Loco sign a bill about animal cruelty.) When he signed HB 489 last June, which made it a misdemeanor—punishable with a minimum $300 fine and thirty days of community services—for businesses to deny entry to service animals, he was joined by Boots, the service dog of Army Spc. Adan Gallegos. Regardless of your feelings on the Governor, let us all come together and acknowledge that this is adorable. 

Now: Less adorable is the fact that, despite HB 489 being the law of the land, it is frequently not being enforced in Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle. As the paper reports, businesses who refuse entry to disabled people (a group that often includes veterans) frequently find the police siding with them, not the person who is unable to enter the business: 

For the third time in as many weeks, a disabled veteran has been told he cannot go into a restaurant because he has a dog, with staff in each incident questioning vets about needing a dog without being blind.

In the most recent case, a veteran, who says he served with special forces in Afghanistan, called the Houston Police Department to back him up when staff at Thai Spice Buffet on Voss said he couldn’t come in, Tuesday.

Aryeh Ohayon said the officer didn’t talk to restaurant staff, a complaint the manager confirmed.

“The officer said to me, you’re not blind, you don’t need a dog,” said Ohayon, who needs his dog, Bandit, for post-traumatic stress disorder. “It’s frustrating and a let down. We put our lives on the line, we want to be treated like normal people.”

This story is a frustrating example of police failing to investigate an incident that pretty clearly violates the law, but it’s also a reminder of how we, as a society, tend to treat “invisible” disabilities like PTSD. A veteran suffering from PTSD whose treatment involves being accompanied by a service dog has a legitimate disability, and it’s not the place of a business—or of local police—to determine the legitimacy of someone like Ohayon’s diagnosis. 

As the Chronicle points out, this isn’t an isolated incident, either

Previous cases this month included Yancy Baer and his dog Verbena being refused entry into a Memorial-area Starbucks, in a incident he descibed as the “most humilating of his life.” The coffee chain later apologized.

Don Brown and his dog Truman were also refused entry to a Channelview sports bar.

So far, none of the cases have resulted in police action being taken.

This is disappointing for a few reasons, so let’s take a moment to remember that “disability” doesn’t necessarily mean “blindness,” and that just because a disability isn’t outwardly obvious doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. 

(AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)

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