Man's service dog denied access at camping resort

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by Janet Roach

WVEC.com

Posted on September 7, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:37 PM

Northampton -- Joseph McMahon feels his rights as a disabled veteran were violated at a Northampton County camping resort.

Cherrystone Camping is located in Cheriton and has been a favorite spot for McMahon since he was a child. But during a recent visit, his service dog, a Sharpei named, Cogi was denied full access to the facility, including the areas where pets are not allowed.

"The office manager said this is a private campground and she said that there are rules and no animals.  If I couldn't produce any documentation or a card like blind people, I could not bring her into any of the stores," explains McMahon, who also could not take Cogi into the pool area or inside restaurants.

McMahon says he provided his disabled veteran's card but told Cherrystone managers that documentation is not required for service dogs according to the American with Disabilities Act. McMahon has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cogi is trained to help calm him down.

"She's also trained for deep breathing techniques, where if I feel anxiety, she can sit on my chest when I feel anxiety," says McMahon.

Cherrystone general manager James Hopkins says the decision to deny Cogi full access was made based on guidelines on service animals that he found from a government website. He says Cogi is defined as a therapy dog, not a service dog.

"We've had several service dogs come in here. We've never denied any of them access to any of our facilities," says Hopkins.

But according to the American with Disabilities Act coalition coordinator for the Endependence Center in Norfolk, Kelly Gonzalez, ADA guidelines were recently clarified. They explain that service animals are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Included as a disability, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Gonzalez says Cogi qualifies as a service animal. She adds documentation cannot be required by any establishment that the owner and dog visit. 

"They're allowed to ask is that a service animal that's required for your disability and then they can ask, what task does the animal do. They can't ask for certification. They can't ask to see your papers or training license, none of that," says Gonzalez.

Hopkins says the situation could have been handled better by both parties because he says McMahon turned belligerent when management confronted him about Cogi. McMahon hopes his situation will teach other businesses a lesson when servicing the disabled.
 

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