By ASHLEY INGE
STEPHENVILLE (July 28, 2018) – United States Army veteran, Sean Wagner, says he was discriminated against at a Shell gas station in Stephenville on Sunday, July 22, because he brought his service dog, an 8-pound Yorkie, into the convenience store with him.
Wagner is from Lawton, Oklahoma, and was driving back from visiting his mother. After about three hours on the road, he decided to stop at the Shell gas station in Stephenville (locally known as The Junction) located at the intersection of the South Loop and US 281.
“We always stop in Stephenville. We never had any issue,” Wagner said. “So we stopped at that Shell gas station and I’m doing my usual thing. I get out and I always put her vest on because it is a requirement so everybody sees that she is a service dog. We go walking in and (one of the employees) was taking care of customers and ringing them up. Once he noticed the dog, he came up around the corner and said, ‘Hey! That dog can’t be in here. Get that dog out of here.’”
Wagner explained that he tried to explain to the employee that his dog was a service dog.
“I’m like, ‘Well it’s my service dog. She’s allowed to go with me.’” Wagner explained. “And he said, ‘No. No, you need to get that dog out of here.’ And I said, ‘You’re not listening. She’s my service animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, I’m allowed to take her with me.’ But he wasn’t going to hear it and he just kept saying, ‘No. No.’”
According to the ada.org, 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.
A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken.
Wagner said he mentioned to the employee that he was breaking violations according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I said, ‘You understand what violations you’re breaking right now?’ And he was like, ‘I don’t care. Dogs gotta go.’ I said, ‘Okay. I was just warning you.’ And he said, ‘Well, just get your stuff or whatever you need.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, it’s too late. I’m not giving you my business.’” Wagner said. “There was a customer in there and he kinda held the door open for me and he said, ‘I’m sorry man. That ain’t right. They shouldn’t do that to soldiers.’”
Wagner said he has had his Yorkie, Yu-Yu, with him for three years and he has never had an issue before.
“He really upset me. You see discrimination and see it on TV and everything and it just felt like the whole world was looking at (me),” Wagner said. “I’ve never felt that pain before. (My situation) is minor compared to other folks who have gone through something like that. And it really opened my eyes. It was definitely an eye-opening experience.”
“It just blew my mind that that happened. I never had an issue with my service dog,” Wagner added. “Most businesses (ask) the two questions that are the only two questions to be asked, but not this guy.”
According to the ada.gov, when it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Wagner has Yu-Yu for his PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from his time in the United States Army.
“She will let me know about five to ten minutes ahead of time that I am going to have a panic attack or something like that. She can let me know. She will stop and say, ‘Okay, we’re taking a break.’ And we will take a break.” Wagner said. “And then at night, I have sleep apnea because of the PTSD, and I’ll take my mask off. I do it in my sleep every night and when my breathing gets bad or it stops, she will jump on my chest and she’ll actually scratch at my chest and lick my face, and if that doesn’t work, she’ll bite me, just to make sure I wake up. I didn’t train her to do that.”
Following the incident, Wagner wrote a complaint to Shell and got an automated response back.
“I sent this complaint and I told them the same story I told you and I get a blanket response. Not even a human response. I mean, it was a template from a computer and I’m like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ There wasn’t even nothing about the situation or whatever. They were pretty much saying, ‘Well, we’re an independently-owned company, and we really aren’t going to be able to do anything about it.’” Wagner said. “And then followed behind it, they had the gall to send me a code for 25 cents off a gallon of gas. Not even a, ‘Hey man, we were so sorry what happened to you the other day. We’re gonna try and do this and try and do that.’ (I would’ve been) more than happy.”
The Flash’s Russell Huffman went into the Shell Station to get their side of the story. Even though Huffman did not identify himself as a reporter, he walked in and said he had heard about the incident and the employee behind the counter spoke to him about the incident. The employee said the owner of the local station had been in contact with Wagner and they had offered him some type of consideration, like free coffee. He claimed it was all a misunderstanding.
However, Wagner denies having been in contact with them since the incident outside of the blanket email he received when he sent in his complaint.
Wagner posted about his experience at the Shell Station on his Facebook and the post eventually circulated back to Stephenville. He said he was impressed with the kindness people were showing him after the incident.
“I’ve had a lot of people call and apologize to me. They told me, ‘Hey, this isn’t what our community is really about.’ and ‘We’re sorry.’ I’m really impressed,” Wagner said.
Wagner wants to put the word out about his experience so that he can try to prevent this from happening again.
“You know, a guy pulls up to that gas station and he has diabetes or something like that and he has a service dog, and they say, ‘Hey no, no, you can’t bring that dog in here.’ (What if the guy is) low on insulin or low on sugar or something like that? It puts them in harm’s way,” Wagner said. “That’s my big focus right now. Not really me. Just in case someone ever runs into that situation again, if I can stop it, I’m going to.”
“Just the way the company handled it, just really put me over the edge, because that means nothing’s going to be done and it’s going to happen again and it might be with somebody with a worse situation than I have,” Wagner added.