Salt Lake City’s KUTV news channel reports that Ashley Fitzpatrick was confronted by an unidentified store employee on Monday because her service dog, Kona, was not on a leash. Fitzpatrick said that the animal’s training requires that she remain off-leash.
She also said the employee expressed doubt that she had a disability requiring a service dog. Fitzpatrick has anxiety and depression, and credits Kona, who is trained to perform pressure therapy, with helping to curb panic attacks and boost her confidence.
“Even though it’s a mental disability, it’s just as debilitating,” Fitzpatrick, who has been working with Kona for about a year and a half, told KUTV.
“There have been weeks where I haven’t left the house, and now it’s to the point where I’m out every day,” she said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that service animals can be untethered if “these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices.” The owner is then expected to use other cues — such as a command or hand signal — to control and communicate with the animal.
The ADA also notes that individuals with service animals can be asked two questions: “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability” and “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform” — which, in Kona’s case, is the pressure therapy to stop panic attacks. Employees are not allowed to ask for details of a disability or demand proof.
Walmart has apologized for the incident.
“We’re committed to providing a safe shopping experience for those shoppers and associates relying on assistance from service animals,” a statement issued by the chain’s corporate headquarters reads. “We appreciate our customer bringing this to our attention and have apologized to the customer.”
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