CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)– Jessica Paulsen was visiting Charleston for the first time on Sunday when she claims she was denied entry to a downtown store because she had her service dog with her.
Paulsen said she was walking along King St. with her cardiac service dog, Henry, when she decided to stop by a local chocolate shop called The Chocolate Orangerie. When she tried to enter the store, she said the owner “aggressively” stopped her and claimed the dog “wasn’t a service dog.”
“I stood there stunned for a second,” she said. “My only assumption was that she looked at me and was like ‘oh she’s fine, that can’t possibly be a service dog.'”
Paulsen shared the following clip on social media during the incident:
Paulsen has a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) which causes high heart rate and extremely low blood pressure and can lead to sudden fainting or nausea.
She said Henry is trained to help her with her condition and goes everywhere with her.
“He has what’s called a natural alert,” she said. “He is able to alert me to that before it happens. He can also retrieve my husband by name and retrieve random people if it was to ever happen to me in a store.”
The Sunday incident was only the second time she said she’d been denied entry to a store with Henry.
“In my five years of having him, this is only the second time this has happened and never, ever this aggressively,” she said.
The American Disabilities Act requires that businesses “allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.” Paulsen said this incident was a violation of the law.
“It was utter discrimination,” she said. “Not only is it really disheartening, but it’s incredibly embarrassing.”
According to the ADA, service animals are not required to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness. If it is not immediately apparent if the animal is a service animal, there are only two questions that businesses are legally allowed to ask–whether the animal is needed because of a disability and what functions or tasks the dog performs.
“The two questions you can ask will really help weed out,” Paulsen said. “When you have a legitimate disability and you have a trained service dog, you know the answer to those questions easily.”
Paulsen said she is sharing this message in hopes of creating a better understanding of the laws surrounding service animals.
“It’s really about educating the whole community on both sides,” she said. “I get that [ADA] is confusing. Businesses have rights in the service dog world and I have rights as a handler as well.”
We reached out to the Chocolate Orangerie, but they declined to comment.