Thursday, March 31, 2016

Service Dog Denied Access: An Open Letter

March 31, 2016 Mr. Steve Joyce, CEO Choice Hotels 1 Choice Hotels Circle Suite 400 Rockville, MD  20850   RE:  Connie Bargerstock, General Manager Comfort Inn & Suites, 3501 S. State St. Ann Arbor, MI  

 Dear Mr. Joyce:
   On Wednesday, March 30, 2016, there was an incident where a couple who have a diabetic alert dog from our Company, attempted to check-in for an overnight stay at the above-referenced hotel.  Ben and Cat Dykhouse were there with their diabetic alert dog, Maxx.  Maxx had on his public access service dog vest with patches that clearly identify him as a diabetic alert dog, a patch that included our Company name, and a patch that indicates the dog should not be separated from its handler.  The dog has not only received years of training to alert Ben Dykhouse, a type 1 diabetic, to life-threatening blood glucose highs and lows, Maxx has actually been trained to react in emergency situation where Ben is unable to care for himself by performing such tasks as retrieving testing meters, glucose tabs, or in the worst case dialing 911 on a specially-designed phone pad.  In addition to his medical needs training, Maxx has undergone rigorous public access certification testing.   The general manager of the Ann Arbor Comfort Inn refused to allow the Dykhouse family to check-in with Maxx without “a letter of certification” showing that Maxx is in actuality a service dog.  The general manager lectured our clients about their need to always travel with that paperwork and indicated that it has always been her experience to ask for and receive certification paperwork.   Mr. Joyce, I am sure as the CEO of a major US hotel chain, you are aware that the Americans with Disability Act provides very specific guidelines in what service providers can and cannot ask individuals with disabilities accompanied by a service animal.  And, I am sure you know that no service dog company gives “certificates of authenticity” to families with service dogs.  Under ADA law, there are only two questions your general manager can ask our clients.  1.  Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?   And 2.  What task has the dog been trained to do?   Your general manager, Ms. Bargarstock, was taped by our clients as she verbally chastised them for not having “paperwork” and denied them a room without such paperwork.  Further, she made our clients wait at check-in for well over 10 minutes, while she called “her attorney” to verify ADA law.  She returned agitated, but somehow miraculously informed about ADA law, and proceeded to check-in the Dykhouse family.  The Dykhouse family decided not to stay at the hotel given the rude way they were treated.  They received no apology from the general manager and in fact, the general manager refused to apologize and called our clients “liars.”   Mr. Joyce, clearly this is a deeply troubling incident.  The Dykhouse family came to Ann Arbor as representatives our Company.  They were slated to give a large presentation to the University of Michigan College Diabetes Network.  The College Diabetes Network is a national organization with a mission to improve the lives of students living with Type 1 Diabetes.  Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States and the rate of college students dying from mismanagement of this disease is staggering.  The Dykhouse family and Maxx drove many hours to speak with young people about the need for them to manage their diabetes while away from home and on the college campus.    Their service dog, Maxx, was an integral part of the presentation as he demonstrated all the skills he learned to help Ben Dykhouse.   What happened to this family at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Ann Arbor was totally unacceptable.  Our Company is shocked that one of your General Managers could be so ill-informed about ADA law.  Additionally, we are appalled at the way our family was spoken to by your general manager, Connie Bargerstock.   It is my sole hope that you take the lead to ensure that not only your management but also all front desk personnel know ADA law and treat people with disabilities with the respect they deserve.  If you would like a copy of the tape of your general manager to use as a teachable moment for your company, you can find the entire tape on our website or Facebook page as it has been posted there with over 250,000 followers.   Thank you for your attention to this disturbing matter.  

Dan Warren President and Founder Specializing in Autism, Seizure, Diabetes and PTSD Service Dogs Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, Inc. P O Box 647 Madison, VA  22727 Phone:  540-543-2305 /