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My service dog in training was denied access.

100_0944_thumb By Johnna Wheeler | April 04, 2013 | Comments (3)

created on: 2013-04-03
Marvelous, my new service dog, in worship service at our new church.
created on: 2013-04-03

Marvelous & I working as volunteers at the "Special Needs" station for the community Easter Egg Hunt at our new church, where we have been attending for one month.

My new service dog, Marvelous is a 19 month old Mastiff/Boxer/Lab mix. His name suits him well, because he is very polite, respectful, affectionate, eager to please, intellegent and submissive. He is quickly becoming a very well mannered and obedient service dog. Unfortunately, we have had to find a new church recently.

Marvelous wasn't in the building at "my previous church" 5 minutes when we were approached by an elder and told that "pets" are not allowed in the building. Marvelous is replacing my last service dog in training, who died in October 2012 at 25 months old, due to Wobblers Syndrome. The church wouldn't let him in the building either. I was hoping to educate the leaders, but in February 2013 I received a letter from them. In it they stated that I can't bring my new service dog (they referred to incorrectly as a “pet”) to church, because 1) the presence of my dog presents a distraction, especially to young children, which may not be appreciated by their parents, 2) the possibility of disruption to the normal flow of people through the building and 3) the potential of liability". They hide behind the ADA exemption (Sec. 12187). Exemptions for private clubs and religious organizations. [Section 307]). They made the argument that the protections afforded to people with disabilities in all other public places, are not recognized by this church.

The people Jesus ministered to the most were the lame, blind, deaf, mute, epileptic and even the leper; people with disabilities. He left us an example to follow. If you look at the actions of Jesus in the Gospels, He set an example by ministering to those who were disabled, showing that they were to be valued just as much as able people. Most people would expect a church to be the first to come to the defense of a group of people who are often treated as insignificant in our society, and not that the world would have more compassion and love for people with disabilities than the church. If their reasons for not allowing a service dog on church property were presented in any other building open to the public, they would not be valid. The church leadership has decided on a policy that denies a service dog access and that is where the problem lies.

My intention is to invite people from the disabled community to attend church with me, just as any other church member would invite the people they know to go to church with them. I can not do that at "my previous church!" Words can not express to you how disappointed I am in "my previous church" leaders and distressed by their actions. I have always said that, "You can make a building ADA compliant, but it is only as accessible as the hearts of those who gather there."

I would like to mention that the pastors' dog is free to roam the church property, unsupervised, and is often found laying in the roadway of the parking lot, preventing motorists to pass, and blocking sidewalks as members and visitors attempt to enter the building. This obviously disrupts the flow of people. His dog could be a distraction to young children, bite someone, or discourage visitors from entering due to their fear of dogs from previous encounters. Most people would not have a problem understanding  the need for a service dog on a leash and closely supervised by their handler. The concerns the church leaders have raised about the presence of my service dog are not concerns they have thought about before, with respect to the pastors dog, which is not a service dog. They mentioned liability. A dog owner is responsible if their dog bites someone, and not the owner of the premises. The flip side of the liability issue: If the church leadership prohibits the entry to a seizure alert dog, and then the person they serve has a seizure while in the church building, during the dogs absence, what then? Service dogs are not “pets”, but are durable medical equipment, which are not to be separated from the patient they serve! Additionally, "my previous church" is blessed with the most spacious church building, by far, that we have ever been in.

As for me and my family, we will continue to serve the Lord. I decided to call other churches to see what they would say when I asked to attend with my service dog. I am pleased to say that of the 3 churches I called, none of which have ever met me or Marvelous, immediately said that yes, I was absolutely welcome to attend with my service dog. Interesting, isn’t it, that these strangers exhibited the love of God towards us, while "my previous church" has not? I spent the next few Sundays visiting each of those churches. My service dog and I were welcomed, and also we were encouraged to return.

There are some very kind and compassionate people at "my previous church". My family and I made many friends there and we had hoped that we found our forever church family. We didn't want to leave and will miss many people very much. If the leaders at "my previous church" were to change their policy and say that I may attend with my service dog, I’m not sure I can ever truly feel ”welcome” again. I have made a decision to forgive them and move on. To keep our family together, my husband has decided that we should attend a church that has welcomed ALL of us.

You may read the full blog at jvwhealthypeople-pets.info/jesusministeredt.html
I invite you to request friendship with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jvwpetsarefamilytoo

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Comments on this Article

Sadly, as Eva said, this isn't the only discretionary faux pas many Churches make. I have tried for many years to find a home Church where I could feel I was actually worshipping God, instead of filling the seats to listen to some jackass, I knew for a fact was a whore mongering two face the rest of the week, only to come in on Sunday Mornings to deliver his sermon on sin and salvation. On Sunday afternoons, he’d be back in front of his television set, drinking Jack D. until he couldn’t see straight and betting on the football games. Then I knew of several “Men of God” who spent their free time trying to get their hands into young boy’s pants, and unfortunately, the parent’s usually let them because they felt the Pastor would be a good influence on the boy. This wasn’t limited to a singular religion, because my quest covered most of the established religions in the last quarter of the last century. This really isn’t the place for this discussion, suffice it to say, I am pleased you were able to find a church home willing to accept both you and your service dog, which is how it should be.
I too have been denied in a church because of my service dogs. They can accompany me to the doctor, the grocery store, the library, everywhere except some churches. Makes you question the church and their validity in their "service to God."
That is so wrong for them not to allow your dog in that church. Unfortunately some churches don't practice what they preach. The people who are the body of the church should have some say in this, but apparently they let the church officers make the rules. Very unchristian.
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