Sheila Altman told News 4 she went to the Saint Louis Zoo Wednesday to celebrate her 71st birthday with her 7-year-old Bichon Frise service dog named, Simcha.
"I was really happy. I'd go see the polar bears, I'd see the seals, I'd see everybody," said Altman.But she said shortly after arriving, a security guard approached her, questioned the legitimacy of her service dog and escorted her out of the park. The zoo's Director of Public Relations, Billy Brennan, released a statement that said:
"Our staff receives regular training on the expected behaviors of service dogs and how to approach visitors who enter the zoo with them. The zoo is well-versed in the ADA law as well, and our staff knows how to question a visitor about dogs entering the zoo."
The statement continues:"Regarding Ms. Sheila Altman’s visit to the Zoo yesterday (June 28, 2017), Zoo staff followed appropriate procedures for everyone’s safety and when asked if her dog was a service dog, Ms. Altman said “no” and called it an “emotional support dog.”
Emotional service dogs or therapy dogs are not classified as service dogs in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Altman said her dog was wearing a vest that said "Service Dog" but she'd put a tag on it saying "Emotional Service Dog" because it helps to reduce the number of times she's asked about her disability. She admitted she used the term "Emotional Service Dog" but never denied that her dog was a legal, trained service dog.
Under the ADA, any business that's open to the public must accept someone with a service dog but no one is allowed to ask what the person's disability is.
The Executive Director of The Governor's Council on Disability, Amy Bledsoe told News 4, "The only two questions anyone can ask is, 'is the animal a service dog' and' what has the animal been trained to do for that person's disability?'"
Altman said the experience was upsetting, "It's bad enough I have all these problems, emotional problems, physical problems."
The zoo has promised to reimburse her the $15 she paid for parking.Copyright 2017 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved