After visiting Antelope Island last Friday, Alicia Wilson and her mother and sister stopped at a fast-food restaurant in Syracuse to grab a pizza.
Wilson, a Clearfield resident who suffers frequent seizures, said she takes her service dog Ruby everywhere. However, at Little Caesars that day, she was told that Ruby would have to wait outside.
Wilson said. "The cashier said that according to the health inspectors, she was not allowed in the building," Wilson said. "We did not order pizza, and we left."
Wilson, 30, said that she and Ruby have been in plenty of other Little Caesars franchises where she successfully ordered food.
"Considering that medication hasn't been able to stop my seizures, it's pretty important to have Ruby with me," Wilson said of her constant canine companion. "It allows me to be more independent."
Her seizures started about 2½ years ago, Wilson said, and they can each last eight to 15 minutes and occur several times a week.
"While I was attending college, they came on out of the blue," Wilson said. "Doctors don't know why, and they haven't given me a name for them because mine don't fit into a category."
One thing Wilson does know, though, is that without health insurance, she cannot afford to undergo further costly medical tests. So, for now, Ruby does her thing, quietly corralling and protecting Wilson when each unsettling episode occurs.
Wilson has a medical prescription for a service dog, and said that Ruby has identification and keeps her vaccination record inside the of her vest, which has a badge identifying her as a service animal.
Mike Hughes, manager for the Syracuse Little Caesars, was on duty when Wilson and Ruby dropped in last Friday.
"The dog looked like it had a T-shirt on," Hughes said. "I told her we weren't allowed to have dogs in the store, and she said it was a service dog. I said that if it was a service dog, that would be fine, but she turned around and walked out."
The store's policy is no pets allowed, Hughes added.
Wilson questions his account.
"We were in the store for at least 5 minutes talking to the manager," Wilson said. "He told us that his health inspector said that service dogs are not allowed in his store."
Robert Ballew, spokesman for the Davis County Health Department, said if the activity had taken place in the establishment's kitchen or if someone had complained about a sanitation issue, his agency would get involved. But service dogs are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Kathy Bounous, staff attorney for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, confirmed Ballew's statement.
According to the ADA, someone is disabled if they have a physical impairment that has an actual or expected duration of more than 6 months and substantially limits at least one major life activity, Bounous said by email.
"It is evident…that one who suffers from episodic seizures is considered disabled under the ADA," Bounous said.
Both federal and state law back Wilson's right to bring her service animal into restaurants and other public places, Bounous added.
"The only scenario in which Little Caesars could refuse service…is if that disabled person posed a direct threat to the health and safety of others inside their facility," Bounous said, noting that in this case, "that was not an issue."
Wilson could have called Utah's Disability Law Center and staff there would have contacted the business, said Carol Murphy, staff attorney for the Center.
Murphy differentiated between service and support animals. By law, a service animal can either be a dog or a miniature horse that has been trained to provide a specific service.
"The animal doesn't have to be professionally trained and it doesn't have to wear a vest," Murphy said, citing guide dogs for the visually impaired and seizure-alert dogs as examples of service dogs that are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act
A support animal provides emotional comfort and falls under fair housing statutes, Murphy said.
"We always ask what the dog is trained to do to clarify that it's not just a pet," Murphy said.
By speaking up about such incidents, Wilson said she hopes to raise awareness about the issue.
"Ruby [needs to be] with me just as critically as someone keeps a pacemaker in their chest or some other medical device."
O For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, go to http://adata.org/ or call 1-800-949-4232