A woman has spoken out about the treatment she recently faced when her local doctor’s office told her she had to remove her service dog from the building while at a checkup.
In a viral TikTok video that currently has over 1 million views, 21-year-old Jessica Robinson, who lives in Michigan, filmed the moment she was confronted by a staff member at the doctor’s office.
In 2020, Robinson was diagnosed with PTSD, a panic disorder, asthma and borderline personality disorder (BPD) tendencies, alongside having underlying heart issues. She decided to train Holly, her 2-year-old Cockapoo, as a service dog, and now the pair are barely apart.
“I knew when I started working with her, we would make a perfect team. For over a year I was training Holly to be my multipurpose service dog for psychiatric alert and cardiac alert,” Robinson told Newsweek. “Holly is trained to detect high heart rates with a paw on my leg or in serious cases she will bark. I then will sit down on the floor wherever I am, and she will get on my legs or chest to perform deep pressure therapy.”
Holly, who was trained in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), can also vocalize an alert when her owner is having an asthma attack, and is also trained to help with crowd control. However, not everyone welcomes Robinson bringing Holly wherever she goes.
“I was going into one of my monthly checkups and as I was patiently waiting to be called back a woman walked up to me to state that pets were not allowed in the building,” explained Robinson. “I nodded my head and said, ‘Yes, but Holly is a service dog.’”
The woman in the video at the undisclosed office told Robinson that she had worked with the ADA in the past, and that the only dogs allowed are ones who have undertaken professional training and certified through the state.
“When I tried to correct her, she then blew me off and stated that service dogs are only for the blind and deaf. I then told her that not all disabilities are visible and that the ADA states that under the state of Michigan there are no legal registrations or certifications all that is required is that the dog is tasked, trained and house broken,” Robinson explained.
A service dog in the United States is a trained dog that assists a person with a disability. According to the ADA’s website, the individual must have a recognized disability and the dog’s training should mitigate the effects of the disability. Certification isn’t required, and the handler has the right to be accompanied by the service dog in public places. Emotional support animals and therapy animals are distinct from service dogs and don’t have the same legal protections under the ADA.
In the TikTok video, the staff member accuses Holly of being an emotional support animal, not a service animal, and continues to claim that she had spoken to someone with the ADA and had been told that the dog should not be there.
As the confrontation continues, Robinson gets increasingly stressed and Holly starts to alert her to an episode, growling lightly to get her owner’s attention. The growl caused yet more confrontation about the presence of the service dog, and eventually Robinson was forced to put Holly in the car and continue the appointment without the support of her dog.
Robinson said she was inspired to share her experience at the doctor’s office to advocate for people in a similar situation, and to draw attention to her experience.
“I posted the video on TikTok and it went viral. I did this because I feel as a handler, I have the right to advocate and educate about the laws and the rights we have as service dog handlers and our medical equipment,” she explained to Newsweek. “One of the biggest stereotypes right now are people with their disabilities and how they are different from the world. I am one of those stereotypes and it’s very sad that people will put a title on others.”
What Does the Law Say?
Discrimination attorney Andrew Lieb of Lieb at Law in Smithtown, New York, told Newsweek: “Nothing about this is straightforward. However, it’s worth noting that the distinction between service animal and emotional support animal, federally, is only relevant in places of public accommodation under the ADA.”
A service animal is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as having been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability,” while an emotional support animal is not so trained.
“In the video, there appears to be a conflict where the facility’s agent appears to allege that a psychiatric service is not recognized, which is flatly untrue based on the express language of the Code of Federal Regulations,” Lieb said. “Nonetheless, that does not make it true that this service animal can perform the skill that it was purportedly trained for, and that further does not mean that the performance of that skill is necessary to accommodate the purportedly disabled individual. Instead, each of these issues would have to be substantiated with evidence, but there seems to be probable cause that discrimination occurred based upon the video.”
Lieb also noted an issue with the ADA references made by the staff member in the video. “The facility’s agent relied on calling the gentleman at the ADA is unpersuasive and troublesome. Regardless of what the gentleman states in that purported call, the law is only determined by way of statutes, regulations, and case law, not a gentleman’s opinion,” he said.
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