After Carrie Ann Partch was refused to enter a Taco Cabana restaurant last week, a spokesperson with the popular chain says it is reeducating its employees on its service dog policies.
"We have re-trained the team at our Walzem Road location and recommunicated our policy to all of our restaurants, on the importance of respecting and serving all persons with assist animals," said Todd Coerver, Taco Cabana's Interim Chief Operating Officer, in a statement to KSAT 12.
Partch attempted to eat at the Walzem Road restaurant last Wednesday. An employee told her she could not dine inside with her service dog, Bella. Partch said the dog is vital to her, helping her remember to take medicine and reducing the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"A lot of times people with service dogs have problems," said Partch. "And it's just like having a wheel chair."
But Partch knows the problem, at least in part, is because she doesn't look disabled. She said she believes the company should be more sensitive to people who don't necessarily 'look the part.' She said there are many people who are deaf, or have any number of other disorders that aren't visible to the eye.
Service dogs, she said, are a big part of helping people rejoin society.
It's not the first time Partch has encountered such a problem. In the past, she said she's been denied access to grocery stores at least 50 times.
"It's actually a San Antonio-wide issue," she said.
That's why she and members of the SA Canine Service Dog Club want to educate the public on policies concerning those who are disabled
She said the American with Disabilities Act allows service dogs to accompany an individual with a disability wherever they go.
The ADA web site defines where a service animal is permitted: "Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal's presence may compromise a sterile environment."
Gulf War veteran Theresa Kleppinger said she wishes no ill-will on the employee who turned her friend away. Instead, she hopes business leaders and the public will be better informed on the issues.
Kleppinger also stressed that handlers are always on the look-out when they're in public.
"We are on alert to make sure that we do not impede traffic; that we do not interfere with daily activities of any businesses of any type," she said.
Whenever she's in public with her service dog, Rose, she said she tries to stay in the corner away from people.
Taco Cabana said it does not comment on personnel matters, so it's unclear what disciplinary action is being taken against the employee who denied Partch entrance to the restaurant.
The employee had maintained customers were complaining of the dog's odor. Partch denies those allegations.