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Houston Starbucks grills wounded warrior with service dog

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A veteran of the Iraq war is telling a Houston TV station how he was “harassed and humiliated” when he tried to enter a local Starbucks with his service dog for a meeting on behalf of Canine Companions for Independence.

Special Forces Maj. Yancy Baer lost his left leg from the knee down to cancer, diagnosed when he twisted his ankle during his third tour of duty in Iraq in 2009. His Lab-retriever mix, which he received only 14 weeks ago, helps him with many everyday tasks.

Baer was visiting Houston on Wednesday to share his story when he went to the ubiquitous coffee shop for the meeting.

“A gentleman from Starbucks meets me at the door and says I can’t have her in the store,” Baer tells KHOU.  When Baer explained to the Starbucks employee that Verbena is his physical service dog, he was rudely told: “You’re not blind.”

The coffee shop was full of people and Baer was left shaken. “It was in your face, loud and bold,” Baer says of the way he was treated. “I got really nervous. I was shaking because I was being confronted.”

Even after Baer enumerated the tasks that his service dog performs, “his next comment was: ‘Why can’t you do that yourself,’ ” the Army veteran says.

Customers started talking about the confrontation, and Baer finally found a shift supervisor who let him order and his dog sit down. The rude employee later apologized.

A Starbucks corporate spokeswoman told KHOU: “Starbucks always welcomes service animals to our stores, and this customer’s experience is not consistent with the welcoming and friendly environment we strive to create for everyone.”

But for Baer, it’s a cautionary tale. “People with disabilities, you can’t always see those disabilities. You never know what a service dog is for,” says the wounded warrior, who was wearing pants.

Baer’s confrontation begs the question: Why aren’t shop and restaurant employees made aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the law on service animals?

Let’s review, shall we:

* Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal? and (2) what work does the dog perform?

*Please note: Staff cannot 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.

* There are only two reasons staff can ask that a dog be removed: (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.

Watch Baer interviewed here.

Print a copy of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Service Animals here.

Leave Baer a message of support on his Facebook page here.

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