Service animal removed from grocery store. Does the ADA allow that?

Jun 8, 2023, 9:30 PM | Updated: Jun 10, 2023, 2:19 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman says her normal trip to Harmons didn’t go as planned and the store broke the law by turning away her service animal.

Raven does not leave her owner’s side that often. That’s exactly what she’s trained to do.

“She’s super well-behaved,” Raven’s owner, Natalia Chiarenza said.

The 18-year-old  had Raven trained to be her service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). No certification is required.

“I have quite a few chronic illnesses and have been battling them all of my life,” Chiarenza said.

One of her health problems is an allergy to tree nuts. Raven knows how to detect them.

“She will paw if she has found the allergen and if she doesn’t, she goes down,” Chiarenza added.

Raven goes everywhere with Chiarenza, even the grocery store.

During a recent trip to Harmon’s a manager approached her and told her company policy said Raven had to be on a leash. Natalia keeps Raven off-leash, just in case she needs Raven to go get help. She said the manager told her Raven had to leave the store.

“I was shaking the whole time,” Chiarenza said.

The ADA says, “Service animals must be harnessed, leashed or tethered, unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or interfere with the service animal’s performance of tasks…”

“They’re a living, breathing animal that we love and adore but they are a medical device just as much as someone’s oxygen, just as someone’s wheelchair,” Juli Jensen said.

Jensen has been an ADA advocate for the past 13 years and she said disabilities can be invisible to the eye like Natalia’s allergies, but still life-threatening.

Jensen said, “I hope this is a wakeup call to Harmons but I also hope this is a wakeup call to every other business to realize how important it is for people with disabilities to feel safe.”

A Harmons Spokesperson said in a statement, “Harmons’ policy is to welcome service animals and adhere to ADA requirements… We appreciate the feedback about this experience and have taken it as an opportunity to reaffirm our service animal policy with our store teams.” 

As for Chiarenza and Raven, they hope what happened at the grocery store will raise awareness about people with disabilities.

“If you haven’t read up on the laws, do it,” Chiarenza said. “All jobs should require service training.”

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Service animal removed from grocery store. Does the ADA allow that?