JoAnna Lou
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Service Dog Dilemma
Phobia bars guide dog from Mass. store
Should businesses be allowed to ban guide dogs if they have a canine phobia?

Earlier this month, Heather Maloney was barred from bringing her guide dog into a local eyebrow threading store in Taunton, Mass., breaking state and federal laws protecting the rights of people that rely on service dogs.


Seems like an open and shut case, right? Legally, yes, but it’s not exactly as clear cut as it seems. It turns out that shop owner Fatima Noorani has a canine phobia after being bitten by a dog when she was a child. 

Maloney says that she often encounters businesses that are not familiar with the law and she’s not alone. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination receives more than 4,000 complaints each year. 

But for those who have genuine phobias, I can sympathize with both sides. For the people who rely on service dogs, they may not have the luxury of traveling to a different store. For people who have a legitimate fear, it’s not something that can be overcome easily. And for small businesses with only one or two workers, options are limited.

What’s your take?


JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Tomas Caspers/flickr.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Tara | October 19 2010 |

Since eyebrow threading is not a necessity, I think it's alright. If the supermarket or bank wasn't letting her in that would be a different matter.

Submitted by Liz H. | October 19 2010 |

The law is the law. Its a public place.

Submitted by Nancy | October 19 2010 |

It is unfortunate that the shop owner has a dog phobia. However, what would have been the response if the shop owner had a phobia related to wheelchairs, or other mobility device needed by the individual? Under both the ADA and the Department of Justice rules, the shopper and her service dog should have been allowed in to the store.

Submitted by Ark Lady | October 19 2010 |

That is a hard call but I think the right to refuse service to anyone is a business owner's prerogative.

The problem today is that legislating and enforcing every little thing is going to result in the discrimination of someone at the expense of another.

I am not sure what the solution is and I'd be interested to see what others might propose.

Submitted by dog beds | October 20 2010 |

You are correct in that a business owner has the right to refuse service to anyone—with the caveat that refusal cannot be based SOLELY on membership in a protected class. i.e., I can't bar you because you're in a wheelchair you just happen to be in a wheelchair, but the reason I'm barring you is because I don't like your face. or somesuch.

And note that Ms. Noorani was not outright refusing service to Ms. Maloney on account of her blindness, but on the condition of the presence of the dog, which would prevent her from doing her job properly. The possibility of accommodation exists; if Ms. Maloney were to leave the dog at home and return to the shop with a human companion, there would be no issue.
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dog beds and more

Submitted by Anonymous | October 27 2010 |

or seek services at another, less phobic store!

Submitted by Ashley, Service... | October 19 2010 |

The law already addresses this. If someone has a disabling fear of dogs, BOTH disabilities should be accommodated. This can be by having them on opposite sides of the store or having the employees go to the back room while the service dog team is there. Most, if not all, service dog handlers try to work with those whose fear or allergy isn't disabling by ding the same things I mentioned above.
However, what she did was illegal. Part of owning a business includes following the laws, and that includes following the laws about allowing service dogs. Rather than break the law, she should have a solution that doesn't discriminate and is legal.
Also, what I think many people don't understand is that not allowing service dog handlers access with their service dogs is like not allowing someone in a wheelchair or on oxygen to bring their wheelchair or oxygen tank in. Service dogs aren't a luxury, they are a necessity for those with disabilities to be independent.

Submitted by Be fair | October 19 2010 |

What's next? A phobia of black men? I know a few people who have that. A phobia is not an excuse for discrimination, anymore than any other mental condition is. Someone who believes he's St. Paul and that all women must be relegated to the back of the church still doesn't get to tell women they can't enter his store without wearing covering their heads. Mental conditions can be treated, and a dog phobia is something that a person can at least choose to have treated. Schizophrenics often don't recognize they have a problem.

Submitted by Lainey | October 19 2010 |

Unfortunately, I have run into people in stores and employees in stores with fears about dogs. Fortunately, we worked our way around any problems. My dog issued no problem to them and they respected my right to be there and kept their distance from us and let others handle my business. I think ALL places of businesses should do the same. We are not taking our dogs shopping, out to eat, etc. Our dogs are allowing us the ability to shop, dine out, etc. Unfortunately, most of my problems have been with people from foreign countries. If they do have a problem with the laws in America regarding service dogs, then go home to their homeland and run their business. If they want to run a business in the USA, then abide by our laws.

Submitted by JOT | October 19 2010 |

As with all life impacting phobias, it's time for therapy or life becomes very restricted. I appreciate that the service dog care giver was sympathetic to the dilemma, but the shop owner needs professional help to gain back control of her phobia and her life.

Submitted by mark | October 19 2010 |

The law is the law. The store owner can ask the service dog owner not to enter, but if the service dog owner wants to enter she has the right. That is clearly spelled out in the Individuals with Disabilities Act. What if you were Native American and the store owner had a phobia about indians? Would the store owner have the right to refuse entry? Of course not and if she did she'd be out of business pretty quickly.

For better or worse, the law exists to protect individuals with disabilities, no matter what they are. You can't follow the law on a case by case basis!!!

Submitted by Stripe-and-spice | October 20 2010 |

Perhaps those with fears should appproach the dog whisperer. As a guide dog owner I am only just starting down this road and have not yet faced problems like this - apart from family members who have fears - for the same reason as this lady. Fear isn't easy to conquer, but it is possible with a little patience on both parts.

Submitted by service dog user | October 20 2010 |

I"ve worked a large dog in NYC for almost 15 years. I also work with someone who has a terrible phobia about all dogs. I consider her to have a disability as severe as mine. Perhaps others might not see the situation this way. We have worked it out to both our satisfactions. When I will be in her work space I let her know beforehand. Many times she's out of the office. When she's not, she closes her door and other staff members let her know when I've arrived and departed. I see it as mutual accommodation.
When I enter a subway or bus or other places of public accommodation, unless I have no options where I am because of crowding or personal business, I always ask if others are comfortable having my dog near them. Just asking in a friendly, concerned, respectful way often gets an "it's okay; I'm scared of dogs, but yours seems fine and well-trained" or something to that effect. If not, and I can do it, I move. It's no big deal.
If I were dealing with the nail salon issue that's been described, I'd suggest that the phobic person leave the area until I was served. If this weren't acceptable, I'd leave and file a refusal of service or refusal of access complaint.
And I agree. The law is the law. There's no law that says we have to be considerate of others, but it costs us nothing and if the other person's response isn't acceptable, we have a range of options for dealing with it. I think I've used them all. It's a bit tougher on people whose disabilities are invisible.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 20 2010 |

What I see as a bigger problem is people without disabilities getting a "service dog" designation for their pet. This is happening more and more and can be purchased on the internet. I personally know of 2 people who are not disabled in any way and have done this simply because they want to take their dogs to restaurants, stores and on planes. I think this hurts the legitimate service and guide dogs and their owners because many of these pets are not properly trained for service.

Submitted by Not YourCall | April 22 2011 |

For those who hold others in judgment and are prejudiced against people with hidden disabilities, Traveling Blind by Susan Kreiger can shed some light on how the un-educated public treats us.
This is simply not your call:
/I personally know of 2 people who are not disabled in any way/
It is a personal and private matter between patient and medical expert.
In other words, whether or not *you* deem a person is in "medical need" of a service dog, is none of your business.
All legitimate service dogs have a doctor's prescription as medically necessary, are mandated by those of us who have integrity to be trained to perform 3 tasks and should have been certified on some standardized training test.
There are always charlatans and ignorant people.
Educate yourself and don't be either.
Assistance Dogs International

Submitted by Kerry | October 27 2010 |

I'm hoping the shop owner in question will seek counseling.

This quote appeared in an article regarding the incident in the local newspaper: " “Always I’ve been afraid,” Noorani said, explaining that she harbors a memory from when she was a young girl in India, when a relative had to undergo a series of painful rabies shots after being bitten by a dog. "

The woman wasn't ever bitten or attacked by a dog. A relative was bitten. The shop owner has an extremely irrational fear, and it seems hopeful that something like that might be addressed by therapy of some type.

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