Flood Warning issued September 21 at 8:56PM EDT expiring September 26 at 2:00PM EDT in effect for: Hillsborough
A disabled woman who uses a guide dog says she was refused service because of her disability.
She tells the I-Team she believes workers at a local McDonald's didn't believe the animal was a guide dog because there are so many fake guide ones out there.
The I-Team has learned that determining whether a service dog is "real" in Florida may soon get even more difficult.
“He does typical guide dog things like walking and making sure you don't bump into things,” said Jazzalynn Jester.
She said she depends on her guide dog, Arx, to serve as her eyes. He becomes more important each day as her eyesight gets worse.
“I reached legally blind my sophomore year in high school,” she said.
While in college, Jester adopted Arx and underwent extensive training with him.
You can see how he behaves during a trip to the mall, keeping her from hitting displays or sitting dutifully at her feet when he's not guiding.
But Jester says not everyone believes she's disabled.
She and her roommate say they were recently refused service when they took Arx to a McDonald's inside a Pinellas Park Wal-Mart.
“I said, 'Are you going to take my order?' And I heard her manager say, 'We don't allow dogs in here. Only guide dogs.' I said, 'He's a service dog,'" Jester said.
“They ignored us and started to serve other customers who were in line behind us,” said Jester’s roommate Karen Dejesus.
“It's just very confusing right now,” said Cheryl Brown, executive director of Lighthouse for the Blind.
Brown said there has been an explosion in the use of service dogs in recent years as they performing such tasks as opening doors and detecting seizures.
But the Americans with Disabilities Act still does not require any specific training, registration or documentation of service dogs.
“Right now the establishments, restaurants, hotels, can ask if it is a service dog and what type of work does the dog perform,” said Brown.
And a new proposed Florida law would extend service dog rights to emotional support dogs, which are not recognized by the ADA.
Jester says she and Arx have run into plenty of poorly trained dogs in places pets aren't normally allowed.
“They've lunged out of a purse. They've lunged out of a cart. They've lunged out of someone's hand holding him. Whenever they lunge at him, I alert the store and I say, 'I believe you have a pet in here,'" she said.
And with a few clicks of a mouse, you can buy what amounts to an “all access pass” for your pet, like vests, badges and certificates from eBay and other sites that identify an animal as a service dog.
“I think that's what establishments are dealing with now is people buying that so that they can take their pet with them,” Brown said.
The owner of the McDonald's Jester visited told the I-Team the restaurant welcomes guests with service animals and the incident is under review.
When we went back there with Jester and her roommate they did receive service.
But Jester said as long as there is confusion it will likely happen again somewhere else.
“That large gray area is taken advantage of so much. And people are getting hurt by it,” she said.
California lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would make it easier for businesses to be able to determine whether service dogs are legitimate.
Several organizations have asked the U.S. Justice Department to crack down on vendors who sell service dog products to those who don't have disabilities.