When a Store Clerk Told Me to ‘Get Out’ Because I Had a Service Dog
When people meet me, they don’t usually realize I have Asperger’s syndrome and a brain tumor. After years of utilizing coping skills, I finally got the tool I needed to function optimally: a service dog.
My husband and I knew it might bring some challenges since people would want to ask questions, so I carefully practiced answers and educated the staff at stores and restaurants where I often went before I took my dog with me. My first solo trip with my service dog seemed simple. Drive two miles from my home and walk into a convenience store where I was known to the staff, pick up a Diet Coke and a candy bar and drive home. Taking my service dog with me shouldn’t have been a problem since I had already educated the manager and staff about bringing my dog.
It was a sunny fall day, and I pulled the door open and my service dog, Bella, walked calmly at my side as we entered. Unexpectedly, a shrill scream pierced the air. “Are you blind? Get that dog out of here!” Shocked, shamed and confused, I glanced at a new clerk who stood at the nearest counter. She pointed at the door. “Get out! Are you dumb? And deaf?” I could not believe the insults; they burned into my heart.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a second clerk I knew wave at me as Bella and I hurriedly left and other customers watched this rude display. I had no words as tears flowed down my face and I drove home. I sat wordless as Bella pressed against me, silently comforting me. I was in turmoil and couldn’t sort or express my emotions.
My husband came home 20 minutes later, and the phone was ringing off the hook. He had stopped at the same convenience store and heard a very interesting story. The second clerk came forward and educated the new clerk about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She indicated that service dogs had public access and, if necessary, there were two questions to ask: Is the dog necessary for a disability and what work or tasks does the dog do? IDs and vests were not necessary.
My husband suggested I answer the phone. The clerk who had been so rude made the effort to call and apologize to me. I listened and accepted her apologies, but it didn’t erase the deep hurt and shame I felt when I left the store.
The clerk also attempted to ask many questions about my disability and medical condition. It was difficult for me to deal with this conversation, but I took it as an opportunity to discuss the ADA and service dogs, so other service dog teams who entered the store would have an easier time.
We ended our conversation on a good note. Despite the apology, it took hours of work to process my emotions due to my disability and days passed before I went back into the local convenience store. When I did, I noticed a sign that stated, “No pets, service dogs welcome.” I felt I had been a small part of that change in our community. If you have a service dog, you may face questions and access challenges no matter how prepared you are. But be strong. You never know how you might help change a piece of the world.