Any dog owner, or animal lover in general, likely finds restaurants' and businesses' "no-dogs-allowed" policies to be pretty heartbreaking. It would be so great to bring our lovable pups along on shopping trips, grocery store runs, and dinner dates. However, asking people to keep their rambunctious and noisy furbabies at home is a reasonable request.
But when it comes to service dogs, all businesses are — and should be — required to be accommodating of puppers. Discriminating against people with service dogs (and the doggos themselves, we suppose) is completely unacceptable.
So, when one man's rights were violated, he decided to hold the establishment accountable.
Thomas Gibson, a massage therapist from Delaware, was visiting New York with a friend back in 2014, when he had an unpleasant — and discriminatory — encounter at a pizza joint.
Gibson and his friend decided to check out New York City Fried Chicken in Hell's Kitchen. They ordered pizza and went to went to sit on restaurant's bar stools near the windows.
Gibson's trusty seeing eye dog, Opus, sat underneath the counter, as he's trained to do. He even sported his harness that says, " please don't feed or flirt with me, working dog."
The two men stepped outside the establishment for a moment and returned to their pizza, only to be told to leave.
"Hey you with the dog, you need to get out of here. No dogs are allowed in my restaurant," the employee said, according to Gibson.
When Gibson offered to show Opus' documentation as a service dog and explained the law about service animals, which says that service dogs must be allowed to accompany their disabled owners into businesses. However, the employee paid no attention.
The incident took a mental and emotional toll on Gibson, who has been blind since 1995 due to a virus.
He told DNAInfo that the encounter left him embarrassed and even unable to sleep.
"All the emotions that I’ve felt with being blind and being different bubbled to the surface," he said. "It made me feel like less of a person."
So, he took action.
Gibson decided to make a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission to keep his friends with service dogs from having a similar experience.
"If this is happening to me, I'm sure it happened to other people," he said. "I'm not going to have anyone else go through the humiliation I went through twice in one day. New York City is supposed to be more progressive-minded."
Gibson's initiative paid off: the pizza joint had to pay up.
Last week, a city administrative judge ruled that New York City Fried Chicken must pay Gibson $10,000 in compensation AND a $10,000 civil penalty for violating the city's Human Rights Law.
Frankly, the eatery hardly made an effort to avoid the fine. Judge Noel Garcia wrote in his decision on the case that no representative for New York City Fried Chicken showed up for the trial — and the place ignored several warning letters and calls.
They will, however, have the right to appeal the decision.
Most importantly, though, Opus got some justice. He has a right to be in pizza parlors.
Gibson got Opus seven years ago from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a service-dog training group in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
"He's a sweet dog," he said. "The dog doesn’t have a mean bone in his body."
Maybe he'll even score a bite of pizza next time. (h/t dnainfo)