Tuesday, July 21, 2009
7 News Features: Service Dog
When you say service animal, many people think of a seeing eye dog, but did you know that service animals come in every size and breed and can all do amazing things. Not everyone knows that and it's causing problems across the country for people with some service dogs, Patrick Fraser has the story.
WSVN -- Since she was a child Michelle has loved Chihuahuas.
Michelle Scriver: "My parents would never let me have one, so when I got out on my own, that was the first dog I got, a chihuahua."
Since she was a teenager Michelle has suffered from seizures.
Michelle Scriver: "I'll actually go into complete convulsions. My eyes roll back, and my whole body can scoot all the way across the floor, it is very severe."
Now, today her love for a Chihuahua and coping with her seizures are linked.
Patrick Fraser: "What does she do now if you are going to have a seizure?"
Michelle Scriver: "She will howl like a beagle, about seven minutes ahead of time."
Her dog, Layla, is a registered service animal, sensing a chemical release from Michelle's body that comes before the seizure hits.
Patrick Fraser: "What do you do when she starts howling?"
Michelle Scriver: "Get myself into a safe position, lie down, and prepare for the seizure."
Ru is Michael's service animal, trained to do 48 different things to help him deal with his Cerebal Palsy.
Ru was donated by Canine Companion, not just to help Michael, but to be something more, Michael's best friend.
Jim Sayih: "Ru is a really special companion to Michael. He is a great dog. We are very fortunate.
Ru is what people expect when they see a service animal come into a business. Layla is not.
Michelle Scriver: "They think this is a joke, they think you just want to take your little puppy out and dress her up and take her in the public."
Several times this year, Michelle has been confronted while carrying Layla into South Florida businesses.
Michelle Scriver: "And the store manager came out and immediately told me that I wasn't allowed in there with my animal."
Layla wears a blanket and tag identifying her as a trained service animal, but Michelle says this year she was asked to leave three different Wal-Marts when she walked in with Layla. The last incident in May.
Michelle Scriver: "Where I had a manager tell me that I was not allowed to have the animal in his store."
Cross the country several people with service animals have complained that Wal-Mart would not let them into their stores. This year the company came to this agreement with the federal government. Promising to not discriminate against people with service animals. They also promised to post signs like these at the store entrance, notifying customers that service dogs are welcomed.
For Michelle, dealing with the issue is painful.
Michelle Scriver: "It is extremely humiliating, you know. I walk out, and by the time I'm alone again I'm in tears."
Joe Mitchell represents people with disabilities like Michelle's.
Joe Mitchell, Attorney: "Under state and federal law, what these folks are doing is against the law. It is against the Americans with Disabilities Act."
Mitchell has now filed complaints with the Florida Human Rights Commission about the treatment she is getting. A spokesman for Wal-Mart told us service animals are welcome in any Wal-Mart. They also told me, store managers and people greeters know and understand our policy and recognize animals come in different sizes and breeds.
Layla is important to Michelle just like Ru is important to Michael.
And Michelle hopes her story lets people know you can't measure the importance of a service dog by the size of the dog.
Patrick Fraser: "You don't know how many times that dog has saved your life."
Michelle Scriver: "That is absolutely correct."
A tiny service dog providing a lifesaving service.