After serving 13 years in the Marine Corps, including four deployments overseas, Nicholas “Nic” Day is “proud to have served my country and I would do it all again in a heat beat” — no matter the costs to himself.
However, as a veteran now afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in the armed forces, Nic never expected that the civil rights he fought so hard to protect would be “abused” after he was kicked out of a hotel for his PTSD service dog.
“I feel like I was discriminated against because I have PTSD,” Nic tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “A lot of people don’t understand that there’s a difference between an emotional support dog and a service dog.”
Nic was first diagnosed with PTSD — a mental health condition considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — around 2008, while he was still on active duty. Nic’s condition makes it difficult for him to be in large crowds and unfamiliar places, as they often trigger anxiety attacks.
After trying the full range of treatments for his PTSD with little to no success, Nic finally decided to try getting a service dog.
“I had from medication to meditation and nothing was working. I figured let’s try a service dogs and let’s see how that works,” says Nic.
A loyal, four-legged companion turned out to be exactly what the former marine needed to help mitigate his PTSD symptoms. He trained his current service dog, Atlas, to paw at him or jump and give him a hug if he “gets too worked up,” and to trail right behind him to make sure no one creeps up on him from behind.
“As a marine, we’ve always had someone there to watch our backs and are always working with other marines. Having Atlas at my side all the time gives me the same sense of security,” Nic says of the 1-year-old Akita.
However, with an increasing number of emotional support dogs, Nic says he sometimes has issues with businesses allowing him to have Atlas with him at all times. He was once refused at a local hospital after the staff would not allow his service dogs — an incident that left Nic on suicide watch for a couple of weeks. Now, the 40-year-old veteran says getting kicked out of an Oregon hotel for his service dog has once again “exacerbated my PTSD.”
Nic tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he and his wife, Tina, were taking a long over-due vacation and planned to stop by Medford, Ore., to attend his nephew’s high school graduation. The couple made reservations at the local Hampton Inn, and allegedly informed the hotel that they would be bringing their service dogs, Ares and Atlas.
When they first arrived to Hampton Inn on the evening of June 6, the night manager questioned the couple about the dogs and what services the dogs provided. Initially, the night manager began to refuse to allow the dogs in the hotel.
“The night manager said PTSD isn’t a disability and we don’t allow emotional support animals because we’re not pet friendly,” Nic recalls. “We educated her on ADA regulations and showed her that PTSD is an ADA certified condition.”
Nic says the night manager acquiesced after their explanation and checked the couple into their hotel room. However, the following morning, the couple found that their hotel cards were de-activated; they couldn’t get back into their room.
They went to the front desk to inquire what had happened, when the general manager on duty allegedly began asking questions about Atlas and Ares, saying the hotel did not allow emotional support dogs.
“I tried to explain that he is covered under the ADA,” Nic says, admitting that he began getting worked up over the ordeal.
“She said, ‘No, I have to go by our corporate policy and that is that PTSD is an emotional support diagnosis,’” recalls Nic. “She kept blowing me off and that exacerbated my PTSD and made the situation worse.”
When Atlas began pawing at his owner, Tina allegedly told Nic to walk away and allow her to handle the situation. When she printed out the ADA regulations on service dogs and explained that the last time Nic was refused that he was put on suicide watch, Nic claims the general manager asked if they had a gun.
“Tina responded, ‘We’re from Idaho — everyone has a gun,’” Nic says. According to Nic, the manager took the response as a threat and immediately called the police.
After two officers arrived, Nic explained to them that they had a pistol properly secured in the vehicle. While the officer found no crime had been committed, the general manager still wanted to the couple ousted from the hotel.
“The police officers asked if we would comply and we said yes,” Nic recalls. “Then they escorted us to our room so we could gather our stuff and leave.”
The couple ended up staying at a La Quinta hotel in the next town over. Nic says that entire incident left him “sick to his stomach” with unbearable migraines, and he was unable to attend his nephew’s graduation.
Believing that civil rights were violated, the veteran has filed an ADA discrimination complaint, in addition to a complaint with Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries against the Hampton Inn in Medford. While Nic says that businesses have rights to dismiss ill-behaving service dogs, he says the Hampton Inn had no right to turn away Altas and Ares, who were “doing what they were supposed to do.” Now he hopes to use his experience to help raise awareness and educate businesses about service dogs.
“Failing to accept new information or correct information and blowing it off in my opinion is just ignorant,” Nic says. “My goal is to educate not only the hotel but other businesses about the differences between an emotional support animal and service dogs.”
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