Lakeland Army vet with service dog says restaurant asked her to leave

Posted at 6:38 PM, Sep 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-29 22:17:43-04

A disabled Army veteran claims a Lakeland restaurant denied to serve her and her husband because she didn’t have “papers” for her service dog.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with service dogs aren’t required to carry papers or show any type of registration.

“It was very upsetting,” said Shelly Rivera, who served 10 years in the Army. “He was very insistent. I needed the papers.”

Rivera said everywhere she goes, so goes her service dog, Recon.

The dog was trained through a school in Michigan, and is taught to help her get on her feet and calm her during PTSD-triggered anxiety attacks.

“When I don’t have him, I fee lost. I feel crowded. And when I have him, I feel like I can go through a store and feel safe,” she said.

Rivera provided ABC Action News with paperwork proving her medical discharge from the Army, and service-connected disability.

“A doctor recommended that he would be good to have,” she said of the service dog.

Last week, she said she and her husband brought Rivera to the Palace Italian Restaurant in Lakeland.

She said a man believed to be the manager immediately met them at the door.

“We walked in and he said, ‘where are your papers?’ We said we don’t have papers,” she recalled and said they were ordered to leave.

The ADA is very specific about service dogs and relies heavily on the honors system, according to Cyndi Reina, who runs the Southland Dog Training throughout central Florida.

“The great news is it doesn’t happen very often,” she said.

Business owners are only allowed to ask two questions: “Is this a service dog?” And “What task is it trained to help you with?”

“There is no type of registration required,” Reina said.

Intact, service dogs aren’t even required to wear a special vest that you can buy almost anywhere.

The owner said he is looking into the situation and is "sorry" if his employees did something wrong. He intends to retrain staff on the proper rules and regulations regarding service animals. 

Rivera filed a complaint with the ADA and hopes others take note.

“It would just be nice if all restaurants would learn about what the ADA regulations are,” she said.