Couple with service dog turned away at Vermont restaurant

Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 1:56 AM EDT

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX/Gray News) - A Vermont restaurant owner has apologized after refusing to seat a couple because the wife brought her service dog.

Emma Rose McCadden and her husband went to A Single Pebble to celebrate their anniversary on Saturday, but the Burlington restaurant refused to seat them because of McCadden’s service dog.

McCadden has a heart condition. Her dog is trained to alert her when she may be having a medical emergency.

“She said, ‘We had someone come in once and said it was a service dog. Then, they barked and lunged at the table next to it,’” McCadden told WCAX. “’Now as a policy, we just don’t allow dogs in here.’”

McCadden and her husband went elsewhere. She later uploaded a video of the encounter on TikTok, which quickly garnered close to a million views.

McCadden removed it once people began aiming personal attacks at her and leaving the restaurant false reviews on Yelp and Google.

“I was hoping I could post the video like, ‘What do I do? It wasn’t just me,’” McCadden said. “She [the owner] said it was her policy to deny service animals. I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to somebody else.”

Since then, the restaurant’s owner posted an apology on Facebook: “I would like to sincerely apologize to Ms. Rose for not allowing her into my restaurant with her service dog. I have also reached out privately to apologize to her directly. I made a mistake and I take full responsibility. I would like to thank those who provided the links to the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] website regarding service animals, particularly the part that describes how even Vermont’s strict health regulations for restaurants take a back seat to the ADA. I am committed to educating myself and my team going forward so that this regrettable situation never happens here again.”

McCadden is a Ph.D. candidate in autism research and an instructor at the University of Vermont. She said it was important for her to advocate for her service animal since there are many others who can’t or are just uncomfortable doing it.

“I would just invite people to not speculate about someone’s medical conditions. Not all disabilities are visible,” McCadden said.

Kathy Gips from the New England ADA Center said experiences with fake service dogs often lead business owners to be hesitant about allowing them, even though they’re required to by law. The only time businesses can ask a service animal to leave is if they’re not under the control of their handler.

“People don’t know. Is this a real service animal? Does this person have a disability? What am I dealing with here? It’s a mess and has been since day one,” Gips said.

In addition to that, businesses are only allowed to ask handlers two questions. The first is, is this a service animal? The second is, is it specifically trained to do a task for you?

Gips says one common misconception is that emotional support animals are covered by the ADA, but that’s not true. Service animals undergo much more training.

“They have to be individually trained to perform a work or task for somebody with a disability,” Gips said.

Service animals in training are not federally protected by the ADA. However, several states, like Vermont, have laws that extend the same guidelines.

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