In a shocking incident, a disabled military veteran says United Airlines employees kicked his service dog not once but twice, while at the airport. One employee also insulted him.
Jim Stanek is the founder of Paws and Stripes, which pairs disabled vets with service dogs. Jim has served three combat tours in Iraq and has PTSD and a brain injury.
The pair were dealing with canceled flights and delays last weekend. After 48 hours of waiting at Dulles Airport in Washington, he said Sarge, his service dog, was kicked once at the ticket counter and then once again on a shuttle.
When he was on the shuttle the employee "kicked her [Sarge] so hard on the rib cage, that she flew into my lap," Jim recounted to KOAT 7 News. "He said he was afraid of dogs."
Jim said the stress was overwhelming and asked a customer service representative for help because he had trouble reading a reservation email.
"He said, 'Just read it' and I said, 'Sir I can't read it,' and he said, 'What are you retarded?'" Jim recalls. "Prior to this I told him I have a brain injury and PTSD, I'm a disabled vet, this is my second night here; I need help."
Jim and Sarge eventually sought refuge in a corner of the airport. "Honestly I thought I was done. I thought I would have to get another training dog," Jim said. Sarge was shaking and terrified from the experience and says Sarge will be getting evaluated to see if she can keep working.
Finally, after Jim and Sarge's long ordeal, two helpful United Airlines employees witnessed Jim's struggles and came to his aid. They arranged for him to be booked onto another airline, expediting his return home.
Jim now says he wants to help raise awareness of the issue. He's not out for a boycott of the airline but doesn't want other disabled veterans, and individuals with service dogs to have a similar experience. He would like to see employees of the airline better educated on disabilities and service dogs. He would also like people to share his story to help make positive changes for service dogs and disabled veterans. Jim isn't alone, many others recognize that service dogs deserve better.
Below is a YouTube video of his full recount of the event. Cell phone footage of Sarge at the airport after being kicked can be seen at 15:42.
And here is a short video explaining more about what Paws and Stripes does.
"We are reaching out to the customer directly to discuss the events that he described," a spokesperson for United told Reduced Mobility Rights on July 21.
Lindsey Stanek, CEO and Co-Founder of Paws and Stripes issued a statement on Sunday, saying that she received confirmation that the DoT is conducting an investigation into Jim Stanek's complaint against United Airlines.
"United Airlines has contacted us, asking what happened and informing us that they have 30 days to look into it," Lindsey Stanek confirmed on Sunday.
Jim and Sarge are said to be recovering from their ordeal. "Jim is trying to bounce back, but the trip has made a noticeable effect on him," Lindsey Stanek said. "Sarge has been taken off duty to rest, and she is still very jumpy."