(WRIC) — Little Coco is always by Mrs. A’s side.
“I always have my dog in my arm or on a leash,” explained ‘Mrs. A.,’ as she prefers to be identified for fear of retaliation for speaking out.
She suffers from severe anxiety. A doctor’s note shows she was prescribed an ‘ESA,’ or emotional support animal, to travel with her everywhere she goes to help her relax.
“I have him there just to keep me calm and comfort me,” she said.
But earlier this year, when Mrs. A had to rush a relative to the West Creek Emergency Center in Goochland, her comfort companion was quickly kicked out.
“I was met by this very aggressive staff member. ‘Get that dog out of the building now. He’s not allowed in the hospital. You have to leave,’” Mrs. A recalled the staffer telling her.
She tried to explain she has papers, the dog is ESA certified.
“I have a certificate here,” she showed 8News.
The emergency center, however, wasn’t having it.
Mrs. A says she looked before entering the building, but saw no notice stating emotional support animals are not permitted.
“The only sign that I saw at that time was a no weapon allowed,” she explained.
Mrs. A took the poodle out and returned with her cell phone. The situation escalated with the West Creek staff member.
Mrs. A says he told her, “Hey, you cannot bring that phone in here taking pictures of people.” She told 8News. “Not once did I take a picture of him. He assumed.”
Mrs. A says the man tried to grab the phone out of her hands. The medical center disputes that, but the police were called and Mrs. A says the ordeal left her feeling more anxious and upset than ever.
“I was feeling down, I was feeling hurt. I just was feeling like somewhat degraded both me and my dog,” Mrs. A said.
West Creek sent the following statement to 8News:
“West Creek Emergency Center has a policy in place to accommodate service animals in all areas of the facility where patients are permitted. If it is not readily apparent that the animal is a service animal, our staff is trained to ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. Emotional support or comfort animals are not designated as service animals, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and are generally not permitted at West Creek Emergency Center.”
8News found while emotional support animals have some federal protections, they’re not the same as a service animal.
A service animal is defined as animal trained to do work or perform a task for someone with a disability and under federal law can enter almost anywhere.
Emotional support animals may provide medical therapy, but have no special training.
While federal law protects emotional support animals when it comes to housing businesses like restaurants, hotels and malls have a right to say no to these animals.
Recently, the airline industry has started to say no to some emotional support animals. They are now banning peacocks, hamsters other unusual support pets from boarding the plane.
“Everything upset me so bad and so quick, I could not even drive,” Mrs. A. recalled of her encounter at the medical officer.
In Mrs. A’s case, 8News asked around and found when it comes to medical centers, the policies can vary.
“Service animals (including dogs and miniature horses) are allowed in Patient First centers when accompanying people with disabilities. Emotional support animals are not permitted in our medical centers. Unlike service dogs and horses, support animals are not required to undergo specialized training and are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” — Patient First
VCU Health allows service animals and dogs with its Dogs on Call therapy program.
Bon Secours welcomes emotional support dogs, just not in operating rooms, nurseries or food prep areas.
“Bon Secours Richmond recognizes the therapeutic benefits of animal visitation. Bon Secours facilities in Richmond do allow service dogs, and the health system does have a policy in place around pets, assistance/service, therapy and resident animal visitation. The policy, among other things, establishes guidelines for these animals in the healthcare setting, establishes a process for authorizing a certified therapy animal and handler, etc.” — Bon Secours Richmond
A spokesperson with West Creek Emergency tells us they’re ‘truly sorry’ Mrs. A was upset, but they’ve reviewed video believe their staff member acted in accordance with their policies. Mrs. A requested the name of the West Creek staff member who she says tried to grab he phone but the hospital has refused to disclose his name. West Creek says the administration has met with Mrs. A. She wants to file a formal complaint against the staff member.
The best advice is to call ahead and ask before you bring in your animal in.