Woman with service dog says NC restaurant denied her service

North Carolina news

MATTHEWS, N.C. (WJZY) – A woman says she was denied service at a Matthews restaurant because of her service dog.

Jami Benton and her family went to Genghis Grill for food over the weekend with her service dog, Knox.

“He has been there for me since the day we picked him up,” Benton told FOX 46.

She says a traumatic experience from her younger years has given her anxiety and PTSD. Knox helps keep her calm.

The service dog collar that Knox wears.

“He puts his elbows here,” she motioned, “and does deep tissue therapy.”

Benton says she relies on him daily, and because of him she can go out and enjoy what life has to offer. When she and her family went to the restaurant, however, she says she was denied service because of Knox.

“She walked up to the hostess stand,” Benton recalled, “and said, ‘sorry we can’t allow him in here,’ and I said, ‘he’s a service dog.’”

Benton says Knox had his patch on his collar, but still, workers demanded documentation.

“Very rude. I felt not even welcomed. Even if I had documentation, I don’t think he’d let me in any way,” she said.

FOX 46 went to the restaurant to get answers and received an explanation from corporate saying it was a misunderstanding, and they’re working to educate their staff on the proper procedures. The rep also mentioned the dog didn’t have a visible service dog vest.

Service dog trainer Tess Hickey says they don’t need them.

“There’s no actual requirement, test or documentation you have to carry for a service animal,” she said, “so it’s very difficult to know what to ask or what to do.”

Some states have different rules. In North Carolina, service dogs don’t need a vest. There are also only two questions establishments can ask someone with a service dog.

“The first question is: Is this a service animal? And then the second question is: What task does it perform?” Hickey said.

She says she wishes there was a certification for the dogs because right now it’s tough for employees at establishments to differentiate between legitimate ones and people who work the system.

“If you don’t have a disability, please do not label your dog as a service dog because actual service dogs really do help those with disabilities,” Hickey said.

FOX 46 connected Benton with the Genghis Grill reps we spoke to, and they plan to contact her about what happened, and how they can do better in the future.

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