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Updated: Monday, 07 Nov 2011, 8:29 PM EST
Published : Monday, 07 Nov 2011, 5:33 PM EST
CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Frank Eckl and his family -- including his service dog -- went to dinner Saturday night at Don Julio's restaurant in Cascade Township. But the manager said the dog had to stay in the lobby.
Eckl told 24 Hour News 8 he takes the dog with him wherever he goes. He uses the dog because of a disability he has that causes occasional seizures. When he's alone, it's his service dog Spruce that calls for help and helps him get up if he's fallen to the ground.
He said he's never had a problem bringing Spruce with him since the law allows it.
But the manager at Don Julio's wouldn't allow the dog in the dining area.
"She [the manager] said we were more than welcome to stay, but patrons in the restaurant and the manager didn't want dog hair in the restaurant," he said. "I was shocked that we were asked to have the dog leave and we could stay."
The manager-on-duty admitted they insisted the dog stay in the entrance way to the restaurant, and that she would make the same request it again. She said patrons at the restaurant complained about the dog and that some opted to leave because of sanitation concerns.
"I asked for him to bring the dog out to the main entrance to the lobby," the manager said. She refused to provide her name to 24 Hour News 8. "I didn't ask for him to take his dog back home, to take his dog to the car or leave him outside in the middle of the parking lot at all."
Eckl and his family simply left the restaurant and went to the IHOP restaurant next door, where they were welcomed with Spruce.
Others that use service dogs have been asked to comply by the same rules without complaint, the manager at Don Julio's said.
"I can't keep every customer happy," she said, adding that she was aware that Spruce was a service dog but didn't realize it was Eckl who used him.
"I knew it was not for him. He didn't tell me the service dog was for him... He wasn't clear to me either."
Jocelyn Dettloff, a representative for the Disability Advocates of Kent County, said the violation is more serious than unhappy customers.
"That's insane!" Dettloff said. "I mean, who would say that you have to leave your cane or your mobility device at the door. People who rely on service animals -- it's the exact same thing."
But Dettloff says there is a problem with the laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled because they are rarely enforced. The most someone like Eckl can do, she said, is file a complaint that could take more than a year to get attention. Even then, she said, there is no punishment for establishments that break the law.
Eckl could file a civil lawsuit as well, Dettloff said, but he would not likely be awarded damages.
"The law definitely needs some sort of stricter enforcement," she said. "There is no strict enforcement like the health department or the fire department."
Eckl says he isn't seeking monetary damages and doesn't really want anything from Don Julio's, other than an apology and training for its staff.
"I'm not out for malice here," he said, adding that he wouldn't go back to the establishment again.
The manager at Don Julio's said she stands by her actions and would do the same thing again if Eckl returned.
"I have to," she said. "I can't have any kind of animal be around food. It's kinda hard having most of my customers leave out on me because of one customer."
Eckl wrote a letter about his experience and sent it to area media and groups that advocate for the disabled:
To whom it may concern,
This past Saturday, November 4th, 2011, at 6pm, my family and I wanted to eat at you establishment. This included my wife Karen, and my daughter Lydia (who happens to have Special Needs.) My Service Dog, Spruce, was with me. Spruce was wearing her jacket that displays "SERVICE DOG." I have her for medical needs and she regularly assists me in my daily life.
We entered your restaurant, were seated in the back where no one else was seated. The gentleman that seated us even turned on lights for us. We were given menus and served water. It was at this time that a waitress addressed us and stated: "You can stay but your dog must wait outside." I explained the public law which states that I can have my Service Dog with me. We were then told that the manager had complaints about "dog hair" and that a dog was disruptive to the other patrons. When I said that Spruce stays and helps me, we were asked to take Spruce out. We then left. Upon calling authorities, the police stated this was a "civil matter" and to seek council.
I am an Honorably Discharged (10 yr) USAF veteran, who served his country in both war and peace-time. It's hard to belief that discrimination such as this exists today. My disability is due to of my service. The real issue is no one with a disability should be told they can't have their assistance with them and then have to leave an establishment.
I find myself with the opportunity to help educate your organization with
the Law and others by making this incident public. I choose not to seek council, but rather inform you and other organizations of this incident in hopes that this type of discrimination will not take place again.
From the ADA: Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing "other" special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.
Michigan Statutes, 1953, Section 750.502c (last amended in 1984 by Public Act 110)
Michigan statutory law guarantees a blind person the legal right to be accompanied by a dog guide in harness in all public accommodations and educational institutions and on all public conveyances. The dog guide user can be required to produce identification, such as the I.D. card furnished by the dog guide school from which the dog was obtained.
Public accommodations include trains, buses, taxis, elevators, boats, and other common carriers...
Violation: Any person who interferes with the above enumerated rights is guilty of a misdemeanor and therefore punishable under Michigan law...
In acknowledgement of this letter, I ask only for a formal apology and for you to conduct training with your staff on the Laws concerning customers with Service Dogs. This is the only compensation I wish to ask of you. This incident was embarrassing and offensive. I would hope that anyone with a disability who chooses to dine at Don Julio's would never encounter this intolerance.
Frank J. Eckl