TriBeCa Deli, in the Tribeca area of New York City, had a run-in with police after refusing to allow a woman to enter the restaurant with her service dog. Charlie, a black lab, is the service dog of athlete Helene Hines, assisting with her multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, and the situation brings to light the lack of knowledge that business owners and their employees have regarding the laws that protect the rights of people like Hines.
Hines, age 65, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 35 years ago. When she entered the TriBeCa deli with Charlie, workers began yelling in a tirade.
“The guys started yelling, ‘Get out! Get out!'” said Hines. “They said there’s food in there [and they] cannot have hair from the dog.”
She responded calmly, offering to show the deli’s employees Charlie’s papers, despite the fact he wears a brightly colored vest that has the words “SERVICE ANIMAL” clearly visible. When that did not work, she became sterner.
“I’m not going anywhere. Give me my sandwich,” she demanded, adding that she would call 911. She did get her sandwich, and stepped outside to call 911.
Police officers responded, listened to her side of the story, and went inside to explain the law to the employees of the establishment. In later phone calls with the press, the deli’s assistant manager, who declined to provide his name, admitted that the incident happened, but downplayed the situation by saying that Hines received her sandwich.
The city’s health department makes the law plain and easy to understand. Just last year a memo was issued to all restaurant owners, letting them know they were in violation of city, state, and federal laws if they refused to allow people with service dogs in their establishments.
“It is deemed discriminatory and, therefore, unlawful to deny a person access to a place of public accommodation, such as a restaurant or other food-service establishment, solely because that person has a disability and is accompanied by a guide dog, hearing dog, or service dog,” city officials wrote in the May 2012 memo.
“A person with a disability accompanied by a service dog is not required by law to show proof or confirmation to you that they have a disability or that the animal accompanying him or her was trained to be a service animal,” the city said.
Hines went above and beyond by offering to show the dog’s paperwork, as business owners and employees are not allowed to request paperwork of service dogs that enter with customers.
Helene Hines is an athlete who has beat the odds, running dozens of marathons despite experts telling her that she would never walk. She even ran alongside President Bill Clinton in a race to celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act. She has run 27 marathons and participated in another 20 with an arm-powered wheelchair called a handcycle after her multiple sclerosis progressed.
“It’s a very frustrating thing,” Hines said. “You’d think in this day and age people would understand and be more compassionate.”