Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: A woman has filed a complaint with the DOJ regarding an abuse of the Americans with Disabilities Act for refusing her entry due to her service animal.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – What was supposed to be a fun night out turned into frustration for a Graham County woman after she was denied entry to the Victory Theatre due to having her service dog with her.
Kittie Preas Koukalik told the Gila Herald that she and her current husband enjoy going to the Victory Theatre and reserving a couple of its “luxury” seats that recline. However, on June 11, she said she was not allowed to enter the theatre after the establishment’s owner, Pastor John Neal, noticed her service dog.
Koukalik said her 3-year-old chocolate lab, Leia, is a certified service animal that she uses for post-traumatic stress disorder she suffers from after witnessing her husband of 32 years, Terry Preas, crushed to death at work in May 2003.
“Because of this and other issues that happened that horrible day, I was diagnosed with PTSD and she (Leia) is trained for that,” Koukalik said.
Service animals, unlike emotional support animals, are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the ADA, a service animal is “any dog that is 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.”
PTSD is covered under the ADA and dogs who are trained for people with those symptoms are called psychiatric service dogs. Under Title II and III of the ADA, service animals are limited to dogs. However, entities must make reasonable modifications in policies to allow individuals with disabilities to use miniature horses if they have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities.
Businesses also have rights as well. According to the ADA, “A business has the right to deny access to a dog that disrupts their business. For example, a service dog that barks repeatedly and disrupts another patron’s enjoyment of a movie could be asked to leave the theater. Businesses, public programs, and transportation providers may exclude a service animal when the animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. If a service animal is growling at other shoppers at a grocery store, the handler may be asked to remove the animal.”
“The handler is responsible for the care and supervision of his or her service animal. If a service animal behaves in an unacceptable way and the person with a disability does not control the animal, a business or other entity does not have to allow the animal onto its premises. Uncontrolled barking, jumping on other people, or running away from the handler are examples of unacceptable behavior for a service animal. A business has the right to deny access to a dog that disrupts their business. For example, a service dog that barks repeatedly and disrupts another patron’s enjoyment of a movie could be asked to leave the theater.”
Koukalik advised that Leia has gone through months of training to become a service animal and is always well-behaved, even in a few instances when she has been harassed by other dogs. She also said Leia had been to the business in the past without any issue.
“Leia has been there with us many times and has always been vested, leashed, and very well behaved,” Koukalik said. “In fact, everywhere we take her, we get compliments as to how well behaved she is. We take her to restaurants and she lies quietly under the table and is not fed nor asks for food while she is working.”
Nonetheless, Koukalik said Pastor Neal refused her entry even when she reminded him of the ADA regulations and said she would file a complaint. Pastor Neal declined to comment on this article.
After leaving Victory Theatre, Koukalik said they filed a police report at the Safford Police Department and then went to watch their movie at the Stargazer 5, where she said they were welcomed warmly and without incident.
Titles II and III of the ADA makes it clear that service animals are allowed in public facilities and accommodations. A service animal must be allowed to accompany the handler to any place in the building or facility where members of the public, program participants, customers, or clients are allowed. Even if the business or public program has a “no pets” policy, it may not deny entry to a person with a service animal. Service animals are not pets. So, although a “no pets” policy is perfectly legal, it does not allow a business to exclude service animals.
When a person with a service animal enters a public facility or place of public accommodation, the person cannot be asked about the nature or extent of his disability. Only two questions may be asked:
1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
Koukalik said she only seeks fairness under the law and that is why she filed her complaint with the Department of Justice claiming a violation of the ADA by Victory Theatre.