PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — A veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder said she was refused service Thursday at a South Sound gym because she came in with her service dog.
Emily Szekely brought her 3-year-old service dog, Mojo, with her to Anytime Fitness in Buckley.
Now Szekely is sharing what happened in hopes of stopping it from happening to others.
Szekely is an Army veteran who served as a combat medic.
“I have a seizure disorder I developed while I was in the military. I also have PTSD. He (Mojo) alerts me five to 10 minutes before I have a seizure so I can lay down and take the meds I need to,” Szekely said.
Mojo can sniff out her seizures before they hit—which can come several times a week - so Mojo is with her at all times.
But on Thursday, Szekely, her boyfriend and Mojo went to the Anytime Fitness in Buckley. It's not their usual location. And suddenly they found Mojo was not welcome.
“He said, 'You have to get that dog out of here immediately,'” said Szekely’s boyfriend, Lucas Schiller.
“And I said, 'He’s a service dog.' And he (the gym owner) was like, 'Well we don’t allow dogs here, it’s too much to clean up.' And I said, 'Well sir, legally you have to - he’s a service dog. And he slammed the door in my face,” Szekely said.
In a cellphone video Szekely took, you can see the owner apparently trying to usher them out.
“They leave their (expletive) everywhere, their hair, everywhere,” the person at the gym said. “Take the dog out,” you hear him say in the video.
“He was really trying to get us out the door,” Szekely said.
She said the owner kept trying to ask for proof or a certification for the service dog.
But the Americans with Disabilities Act says "may not require documentation… as a condition for entry."
The ADA says businesses are allowed to ask two questions when it comes to service animals:
1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
When she tried to explain that Mojo had access rights the gym owner would not listen. Szekely said she even provided a business card that she carries for Mojo to the gym, which includes information about the services Mojo provides her on the front and a summary of the ADA regarding service animals on the back.
Throughout the incident video shows Mojo is calmly lying down.
Ultimately, they left the gym.
“It was just really frustrating. Being a veteran, having a service dog and being disabled, all three of those things. I felt discriminated against,” Szekely said.
The owner of the business, Jeremiah Meacham, ended up apologizing on Facebook, saying he’s a fellow veteran, but was unfamiliar with ADA laws related to service dogs.
“Emily, I apologize for our misunderstanding. I must admit that before I met you I was unfamiliar with ADA laws related to service dogs. I now have a better understanding," he said in a statement. "Please feel free to return to our gym with your service dog. I hope we can put this behind us. You and Mojo will be welcome at our gym. As a fellow veteran I do have respect for your service. My deepest apologies.”
He added that he now has a better understanding and welcomes Szekely and Mojo back.
“Would you go back?” KIRO7’s Deedee Sun asked.
“No,” Szekely said. “It’s not worth it for me to encounter that experience again,” she said.
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