A disabled Shelby woman is speaking out after she claims she was asked to leave a restaurant because of her service dog.
Thirty-year-old Dawn Hudson is legally blind and relies on her service dog Denali to get around.
"Denali helps me to be more independent. And helps me to go different places and do different things on my own, without my mom having to always be there," Dawn said.
Denali was doing just that last week, when Dawn says she was having lunch at the China Town Restaurant in Shelby.
"From the minute I walked in, the owner started complaining about the dog," Dawn said.
Dawn tells WBTV she's eaten there before, but that this time was different.
"She was telling me things like she needed to be tied up outside next time she came in and that the dog wasn't allowed in there," Dawn said.
Unfortunately, Dawn's mother Carolyn says, this isn't the first time her daughter has been harassed.
"I could tell she was about to cry. She was very upset and when she's like that, I get upset," Carolyn said.
Carolyn contacted WBTV after she says she called the owner trying to explain the federal law which states: "The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go".
"She said I know the law, and the dog is not allowed in a restaurant because it's unsanitary," Carolyn said.
WBTV went to the restaurant to speak with the owner, but she wasn't available. The owner did call back eventually saying she was okay with the dog being in the restaurant, as long as she stayed under the table. She said Dawn had Denali up by the buffet and that customers were complaining. The owner said "I cannot do business like that".
"It's frustrating for me because I know the laws, and I know that they can't deny us access," Dawn said.
Thursday, WBTV sat down with Julia Sain, Executive Director of Charlotte's Disability Rights & Resources. She says this is a four-legged issue that comes in front of her a lot.
"It doesn't surprise me. A lot of businesses do not understand the requirement to allow animals into their property, especially a restaurant," Sain said.
WBTV told Sain about Dawn's alleged experience and she said that's not okay.
"People need to get over it and everybody needs to understand that this is civil rights protection with people with disabilities," Sain said.
Sain says, if the owner harassed Dawn and asked her to leave, that's a violation of federal law.
"If the dog is at your side and the dog is doing it's job, than the dog can go wherever you need the dog to go. You can't be sitting there eating and the dog be off walking around, that's not allowed," Sain said.
According to Sain, Dawn and Denali have a few options that include filing a complaint with the Department of Justice.
"If the Department of Justice gets a complaint from this woman, the Department of Justice can come in and investigate this woman," Sain said.
However, Sain admits that can take time, so she recommends getting an organization, like Disability Rights & Resources, involved to clarify the law and educate the business owner.
"It's been around for 24 years, it doesn't mean people are comfortable with it," Sain said.
WBTV informed Dawn and Carolyn of their options, and they plan on reaching out to the organization for assistance with the restaurant.
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