A veteran with physical and emotional disabilities was allegedly kicked out of Dollar Tree for using a service dog.
Katherine Mera, 51, a Maryland employee of the U.S. Department of Justice, says she uses a service dog to help her PTSD after she was the victim of attempted murder while serving in the Army Military Police Corps in 1987. An attack with a crowbar gave her a brain injury, tremors and speech problems, and Mera’s Chihuahua, K.C., has helped her since the dog was 11 weeks old.
As reported by WTOP, on Jan. 1, Mera visited a Dollar Tree in Germantown, Md., to buy a dog bowl for K.C., who was not wearing his service vest. “I went to Dollar Tree the day before and I had no problems with K.C.,” Mera tells Yahoo Lifestyle. However, on the second trip, a manager saw the dog and said that animals weren’t allowed, Mera said.
Mera says the employee wanted proof that K.C. is her service dog and asked why Mera needed one, and for details about the woman’s health.
Mera, a former ESL teacher, knows the law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), stating that employees can only ask owners two questions: “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” Employees are not allowed to ask about the animal’s credentials or about the owner’s disability.
Regardless, Mera told the manager that K.C. wakes her up from nightmares and calms her down, according to WTOP. When Mera was allegedly asked to leave the store again, she called the police.
“I have been in this situation before, and I didn’t feel safe,” Mera tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I wanted an escort, especially because there were employees standing by the door.”
Mera told WTOP that another employee rang up her purchase. ““God bless her. Right there, in front of the manager, she just said, ‘I will check you out,’ and I thought, ‘Ah, a voice of sanity.'”
“When two officers came in, they couldn’t find the manager so they spoke to me first,” Mera tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Then the manager came and an officer said, ‘Do you want her to leave?’ She said, ‘The dog has to leave but she can stay.'”
“I was a former police officer, and I know the parties are supposed to be separated for questioning,” Mera tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “No one did that or said I had rights. But I’m not going to tell an alpha officer how to do his job.”
Mera left the store and called the police station. She was again told the issue was a civil matter and that police couldn’t help.
A public information officer for the Montgomery County Police Department tells Yahoo Lifestyle that its officers only enforce criminal law and protect the peace — civil matters such as Mera’s are handled in court with the business owners. He also said that Mera was told she could leave the dog outside or shop somewhere else.
According to the ADA, service animal discrimination cases are filed with the Department of Justice, or victims can privately sue in federal court.
Yahoo Lifestyle could not reach a Dollar Tree spokesperson for comment. Store representative Kayleigh Painter told WTOP that Mera’s complaint was being investigated. “Our policy absolutely welcomes service animals in our stores,” she told WTOP.
“I wasn’t scared, but my spirit was hurt,” Mera tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “People have a knee-jerk reaction to service animals and impose their personal beliefs without knowledge.”
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