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Coffee shop service dog controversy

Brighton, N.Y. – Starbucks is in some hot water after a Brighton woman said a barista at one of the company’s coffee shops tried to deny her service because of her service dog.

Amy Kaplan stopped into the Starbucks at 12 Corners in Brighton Sunday afternoon and as always, her dog, Zero was at her side. Kaplan said, “The first thing that was said to me when I went up to the counter to order a drink was to get out of here and he said ‘you can't have a dog in here’ and I explained to him he is a service dog.”

About five minutes into the altercation, Kaplan said she pulled out her phone and pressed record—she captured and posted about 40 seconds of video to YouTube.

“Are you denying me access because of my service dog?” Kaplan asked the employee, whose response can be heard in the video. “No, I’m telling you that you can’t come in with your service dog.” Then the barista corrected himself, he was not refusing a service dog entry but he questioned if Zero was really a service animal. “I see no proof that is a service dog and service dogs are licensed,” the barista said.

An impromptu trip after a long walk on a hot day, Zero was not wearing the service vest he normally wears but federal law does not require dogs to wear a certified vest or collar. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, any animal that is individually trained to assist a person with disabilities is a service animal. Businesses cannot deny service to anyone with a service dog and cannot ask a person to prove an animal is a working service animal.

If an employee is uncertain if a dog should be allowed to enter a business, there are questions that can be asked. “Is this a service animal?” and “What tasks is it trained to perform?” According to the ADA, that’s where the conversation must stop—it’s illegal to ask a person to present any paperwork or prove that a dog is a service animal.

“People need to realize just because a person does not appear to have a disability, that does not mean they are not disabled and questioning them because of that can be extremely hurtful,” Kaplan said.

Two years ago, Kaplan suffered a traumatic brain injury. She was working as a paramedic in Buffalo when a bus crashed into the ambulance she was in.

Now, the 29-year-old said she struggles with memory loss, chronic pain and anxiety—symptoms Zero is trained to help her cope with. Kaplan said, “He does a task called blocking which prevents people from getting too close to me and startling me which can make me very anxious. Another task he does is tactile stimulation where he is trained to vigorously lick my palms to help bring me out of dissociative states or flashbacks.” The 18-month-old Alaskan Malamute can also guide Kaplan to her car when she forgets where she parked, remind her to take her medicines, and use pressure points to alleviate pain.

Kaplan said she tried to explain all of that and the law outline by the ADA to the Starbucks employee. “Before I was even able to get that across to him he turned his back to me and said ‘fine, get your drinks and get out.’” Humiliated, Kaplan said she left the store without ordering the drink she came in to buy.

“Things like this make afraid of showing up to school and being told in front of a classroom full of people, you need to leave because you have a service dog. Kaplan said, “People gawk, people stare and a confrontation happens and people don’t always take your side.”

The Global Corporate Communications Manager at Starbucks released this statement Monday:

"Starbucks always welcomes service animals into our stores and we strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our customers every day. Ms. Kaplan had an unacceptable experience in our Monroe Avenue store that was not consistent with our values or our service animal policy. We are currently trying to reach Ms. Kaplan to apologize for her experience."

Kaplan said she wants an apology but she also wants to see the company make changes so employees know how to deal with service dogs and people with disabilities.

What happened at the 12 Corners store in Brighton is not the first time the company has brewed up controversy with its treatment of service animals. In February, a disabled U.S. Army veteran said he was told he could not enter a Starbucks in Texas because of his service dog— the company later apologized.

Kaplan said she will hear what representatives from the company have to say—but she also plans to file a complaint against Starbucks with the Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Washington Times