KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Kingsport police said a few local businesses may not be following federal law when it comes to serving disabled people with guide dogs.
Tennessee has its own law against discrimination. Anyone who denies service to a person because of their guide dog can face criminal charges. It would be a Class C misdemeanor punishable up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine.
A Kingsport woman who relies on her guide dog is working to raise awareness of these rules.
Patty Fletcher is blind. But every step of the way, she has the guidance of her service dog Campbell.
"I trust him with my life - literally, quite literally," Fletcher said.
But Kingsport police have gotten a few complaints about businesses that may not be following requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.
"Guide dogs can go basically anywhere the disabled person can go," Public Information Officer Tom Patton said. "They can't be questioned or interrogated - asked specifics about their disability."
But Fletcher knows sometimes it can be hard to tell guide dogs apart from the rest.
"There are many service animals out there," Fletcher said. "Lots of them are dogs that provide many different services, so it's hard to tell who is who and what is what."
So if someone walks into a business with a dog, they can be asked:
"Is that dog a service animal because of disability?" and "What task has the dog been trained to perform?"
Those are questions that Fletcher said anyone with a disability, who has trained their dog properly, would be able to answer easily.
"If a service animal is trained correctly it will not come into your business and wreck havoc," Fletcher said.
She said she's only encountered some push back with Campbell once when a restaurant in Bristol asked her to put her guide dog back in the car.
"And I shook my head and said, 'No ma'am, this is a service animal,'" Fletcher said.
The problem was resolved, but she has advice to businesses.
"Unless the dog is causing a problem that's keeping your customers from enjoying their service, allow the dog," Fletcher said.
According to ADA regulations, a disabled person with a guide dog can only be asked to leave a business if the dog is out of control, or the dog isn't house broken.
Fletcher has written a book about her experiences. To learn more and contact her, visit: http://www.dvorkin.com/pattyfletcher/