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Costco Catastrophe (Service K9 Story)

Yesterday I received an upset message from a close friend and client of mine. She had just gotten home from Costco (PSA: I have already talked with Costco and the issue is being resolved. Thank you Doug!) and was pretty upset about something that had happened when entering the store with her service dog and one of the store’s staff. There are a lot of ‘fake service dogs’ out there, and I always make sure my clients are well aware of their rights and what can and cannot be asked of them.

Anyways. The greeter at this specific store stopped the handler, told her pets were not allowed in the store, and pointed at the service dog sticker on the door. The dog in the picture above is the dog in this story. He was wearing the red vest with the clearly marked service dog signage. The handler explained that he was a service dog. The greeter proceeded to claim there was no way the dog could be a service dog and ASKED MY CLIENT WHY SHE NEEDED A SERVICE DOG.

The greeter had already made two massive mistakes. 1: Trying to deny entry to a clearly marked working animal. 2: She asked the handler why she needed a service dog. Handlers with marked service dogs are only allowed to be asked two out of a series of ten questions laid out by the ADA, the most common being “What tasks has the dog been trained to perform for you.” The question above is most definitely not on that list.

The handler, not wanting to get in a confrontation and just wanting to get her shopping done, answered her question, saying she has PTSD, social panic triggers, and the dog was prescribed to her by a doctor (Something I require of my clients just for situations like this). The staff member proceeded to tell my client she couldn’t have a service dog for that issue and emotional support animals were not allowed in the store (In most stores they understandably are not). The handler told the staff member that her dog was NOT an ESA, and that he was a service dog. The staff member asked what an ESA was. My client explained the difference and offered to show the staff member the dog’s registration ID where the staff can look up the dog’s ID number and see the paperwork on file with that specific registration. The staff member dismissed the offer and continued to press the issue.

After further argument with the staff member, the handler was allowed entry into the store with her service dog. She was obviously upset with the situation and didn’t want to press the issue.

For you out there that need and use service dogs, unfortunately you most likely have run into a scenario like this or similar to this more than once. For people with disabilities, service dogs are no different than a cane, walker, or medicine prescribed by a doctor. Service dogs make the handlers life easier, not by being a companion, but by assisting in and completing tasks the handler either would not have been able to accomplish at all, or without much difficulty.

My clients are trained to answer the allowed questions, and to handle things like the public trying to distract their dogs or pet them while working (Both are a misdemeanor by the way). It is hard to train clients for a real life situation like this one, especially for someone who is dealing with PTSD that is triggered by events like this.

Unfortunately, it IS a common occurrence brought on by uneducated staff. My client didn’t want to cause any more friction and didn’t press the issue. I called the specific Costco store where the incident happened and talked with their management. The manager I spoke with was extremely understanding and agreed what happened was not okay and assured me he would address the issue and make sure his staff was educated on service dogs.

When scenarios like this happen, never verbally (or otherwise) attack the staff or store. It is a problem of undereducated staff and holes in management. A phone call to a higher up, calmly explaining what happened, that you don’t want anyone to get into trouble, you just want awareness to be made and staff to be educated can solve so many problems.

If you ever get into a confrontational situation with a staff member and feel uncomfortable, you can IMMEDIATELY ASK TO SPEAK TO A MEMBER OF MANAGEMENT to solve the issue.

AN EXCEPTION: 1) staff can ask a marked and trained service dog to leave the premises if the dog is CLEARLY sick, 2) the dog is not on a leash (Exception to this is if a tether would interfere with the animal’s job. Very rare) or 3) if the service dog is acting unruly (barking, growling, defecating). If you have a fully trained service animal, number 3 should never EVER be an issue.

If you are reading this, please share and spread awareness of the rules that go along with service animals and how to tell the difference between a service dog and a pet being passed off as a fake service dog.

If you would like more information on what makes a service dog, please contact us here at Sola Vagari and we will be happy to give you any information you may want. I will also be doing a post later in the week explaining the difference and the uses of Service Dogs, ESA’s, and Therapy Dogs as well as their rights.

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