SOME VERSION OF THIS has likely happened more than once to anyone training a service dog. Someone is inappropriate with you. Whether it’s the public, business owners, or even family members, here’s my advice: choose whether you want to stand and fight, let it go, or deal with it later. Choose your battler. Sometimes you may just not be up to verbal sparring. If a confrontation with someone is likely to trigger symptoms of your disability, consider walking away.
My client, Allison and I decided to walk away from a ridiculous situation at PetSmart. Here’s what we did after the fact.
Allison gave me the go-ahead to write a letter to the corporate folks PetSmart. I did a little searching online and found Mr. Cohen, who seemed like the right person to contact. Here’s the letter I wrote to him (on my business letterhead).
January 14, 2019
Mr. Eran Cohen
Executive Vice President of Customer Experience
19601 North 27th Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85027
RE: An unfortunate incident in PetSmart Store #0675
It was early afternoon, Thursday, January 3. My client Allison, her husband Marcus, her adult sister Emily and I were in the back of the Chesterfield PetSmart working with Allison’s service dog, Peabody. Why so many people? Marcus and Emily are part of Allison’s support system and as often as possible accompany us during public access training.
We were approached by a PetSmart employee (I believe she was one of the store’s trainers) who asked if we were training. When we responded in the affirmative, she told us we couldn’t train in the store because PetSmart offers training. We explained that this is different. “You don’t train service dogs,” we told her and, “yes, we are allowed to train this dog in this store.” She was firm in her belief that no trainer not employed by her store can train ANY dog in PetSmart. We opted to leave, go to Petco to continue training, and address this unfortunate incident at a later time. Allison’s husband contacted the store by phone later that day. The manager returned his call and apologized to both Allison and Marcus, which they appreciated. However, I think it’s imperative that this incident be brought to the attention of corporate.
BACK STORY. Over the last dozen years this scenario (me working with service dog clients and their families) has repeated itself hundreds of times in pet stores – big box and locally owned – all over the country. Why pet stores?
Although we public access train our service dogs pretty much anywhere people are permitted (stores, restaurants, airports, museums, etc.), pet stores are a favorite because service dogs must learn to ignore other dogs. Until last Thursday, my clients and I have never once been asked to stop training in a pet store. One reason may be that in this age of fake service dogs, it’s clear to anyone watching that we are working with a solid dog in the midst of learning a very important job. We are respectful of others, try never to block an aisle or do anything to draw attention to what we’re doing. We simply leave if the client or the dog are having a challenging day.
MY CLIENT. Allison has relapsing/remitting multiple sclerosis – a disease of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. When symptomatic, she has problems with balance/walking, hands and feet going numb, and speech. Stress of any kind – in this case being confronted by a store employee – can trigger symptoms that negatively impact her health.
In spite of daunting health issues, Allison trains her dog daily. Peabody will soon be two years old and has been in training since she was eight weeks old. She is task trained. She provides stability when Allison is standing and retrieves anything Allison drops. Since Allison falls fairly often, Peabody is trained to lay down next to her and stay with her until she’s able to stand. Because of multiple sclerosis, Allison is heat intolerant. Peabody alerts her when she starts to overheat (Allison is not aware that this is happening until it starts to make her sick). Simply moving from the sun to the shade or taking off a layer of clothing like a jacket can sufficiently cool her. The alerts prevent the onset of symptoms, allowing Allison to continue with what she’s doing. Peabody has been cleared by her veterinarian to start training with a mobility harness – the reason we were in PetSmart. We were proofing Peabody’s ability to stay in a solid heel position when confronted with big distractions.
It seems that PetSmart employees may not have consistent training regarding the rights of service dogs, their trainers and handlers. Just a few days after this incident, another client family and I were training in a different PetSmart and were approached by a store trainer who complimented us on the training we were doing.
I want to ensure that the negative experience we had doesn’t happen to anyone else, can you please provide me with a copy of PetSmart’s policy regarding dogs being trained in stores by anyone other than PetSmart trainers? It’s something I can carry with me should I ever run into this situation in another PetSmart.
It may also be that PetSmart employees aren’t don’t fully understand the difference between therapy dogs, emotional support animals and service dogs. FYI, attached is a brief explanation of the differences in the three, as well as Virginia state code that gives us the right to train in public.
Service Dog Trainer/Consultant
Service Dogs by Dee, LLC
cc: Allison Moore
- Code of Virginia regarding service dogs being trained in public with applicable law bolded
- Therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and service dogs defined
I’ll post corporate’s response as soon as I receive it. ~ Dee
This Allison and Peabody practicing with the mobility harness in Books-A-Million.