CRESTVIEW — Siena is a friendly, attentive, devoted 5-year-old golden retriever.
But as a service dog, when Siena is out with her disabled handler, Dr. Linda Thornton, she’s also at work, guiding the 20-year Army veteran through her daily life.
Thornton, a retired lieutenant colonel, relies on Siena’s guidance to maintain her independence. By law, wherever Thornton goes, Siena may go, too.
But that didn’t happen when the snowbird — who taught dentistry for 20 years at Temple University in Philadelphia after retiring from the Army — recently visited some Crestview businesses.
“I walked into two (nail salons) and was told by the proprietors that they would not acknowledge my request for service,” Thornton stated in an email. “They were under the misbelief that all dogs had fleas, which could be given to customers. They thought that all dogs could injure children and destroy property.”
“There was a customer in the store who had to tell the owner, ‘Hey, that’s a service dog. You have to let her in,’” Thornton said. “He said, ‘I don’t mind you coming, but when you come back, don’t come back with your dog.’”
“This action alone tells me there is a problem in Crestview that should be addressed as soon as possible,” Thornton stated in her email.
The Americans with Disabilities Act states, “A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises.” But Marietta Birdsell, a puppy trainer for Canine Companions for Independence, said she’s aware of similar problems.
“We have had graduates have access problems,” Birdsell said. “Usually it doesn’t go to legal action when it’s explained to the business, but it can go to the state attorney’s office.”
Thornton said she has another concern: “Most of the residents that Siena and I have met are extremely friendly,” she said, but some pet Siena without asking permission, despite her harness tag reading “Service dog. Ask to pet.”
“Unfortunately, they appear to be deficient in the proper etiquette required when they encounter a disabled individual with a service dog,” Thornton stated. “I applaud the efforts of mothers who try to explain the difference between their family pet and a service dog.”
Petting a service dog could prevent the animal from performing his or her job, according to Please Don’t Pet Me, a web community promoting awareness of the issue.
Thornton said Crestview generally is welcoming and hospitable, and she plans to retire here. She believes correcting the problems she and Siena experience are simply matters of educating business owners and residents.
“We have to treat each other with tender loving care,” she said. “Everybody’s important. We expect to be treated just like everybody else: with kindness.”