Military veterans and service dog owners Yancy Baer and Aryeh Ohayon know what it's like to be hassled in Houston over their dogs. Never mind veteran's rights.
Ohayon, KHOU reported yesterday, was turned away from a Thai restaurant in town because he doesn't look disabled but had his service dog in tow. The Houston Police Department was brought into the mix because Ohayon, who suffers from PTSD, called them to the Thai Spice Buffet II for support. He didn't get it.
Since September last year, businesses have been required by law to allow service animals. Ironically, the bill was signed to help police enforce the law, but HPD was on the restaurant's side in Ohayon's case.
Humiliating experiences like this are being documented by service dog owners fed up with discrimination. A service dog can sit next to you on a plane, but here in Houston a little more work has to be done to educate business owners and police.
At least three times this month, veterans with service dogs were allegedly discriminated against in some way. Baer said he was humiliated and went on television to share his story. He has a prosthetic leg that's unnoticeable when he's wearing long pants. He told a news station that he couldn't enter a hotel lobby with his dog and got the third degree when he went to another business for a cup of coffee.
A report in the Houston Chronicle says that people have tried to game the system and pass off fake service animals.
Gaining access for service pets is a growing movement, with groups like Paws for Purple Hearts and Canines 4 hope just a sliver of the organizations pairing military vets with dogs. Surprisingly, though, veterans are not covered for their service animals by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA is providing benefits to both physically and mentally disabled veterans for the same purpose, which is to provide assistance for the use of a particular device (a service dog) when a service dog is clinically determined to be the optimal device to help a veteran manage a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, or a chronic impairment that substantially limits mobility.
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So it's easy to see why an HPD officer might overlook a guy with no obvious impairment.
And it's not only in Houston that businesses are failing to respect the laws regarding service animals. It's happened all around Texas. If businesses continue to discriminate against service dogs, what happened in a San Antonio taco spot might happen here.
While it looks like veterans won't be able to get any increase in their benefits to help deal with a life made more difficult after wars, the least we could do is leave their dogs alone.