WJTV News Channel 12 - 8 On Your Side: What are the rules for guide dogs in restaurants

8 On Your Side: What are the rules for guide dogs in restaurants?

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News Channel 8's Melanie Michael with Susan Wiburn and her service dog, Carson News Channel 8's Melanie Michael with Susan Wiburn and her service dog, Carson
PALMETTO, FL (WFLA) -

The first thing you notice about Susan Wilburn is her broad smile and her constant companion by her side, Carson.

Carson is a five-year-old yellow lab who has changed Susan's life.

“My dog is my life and I would lay my life down for him as he would for me,” Susan told News Channel 8.

Susan was an international soccer player in her earlier years, traveling around the world with a busy, active lifestyle.

Then, one day, years later at age 27, she noticed something as she was working in IT.

“I couldn't find the cursor on my computer screen,” she admitted. “Then, I couldn't see stoplights. I knew there was a big problem.”

Susan was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, where she has slowly lost her vision. Carson has saved her life.

"He made me a happier person. How can you have a bad day with a dog next to you,” she told us.

Carson was trained for months at Southeastern Guide Dogs located in Palmetto and is a legitimate service dog.

News Channel 8 recently covered a story about a veteran who says he and his wife were kicked out of a restaurant by cops.

Related story: Clearwater couple asked to leave restaurant because of service dog

He claims it was because of his Yorkie-mix service dog.

The story ignited a firestorm on Facebook with numerous comments on the issue.

So, what are the rules involving service dogs?

8 On Your Side went to work looking for answers.

Turns out, the Americans with Disabilities Act is quite vague when it comes to specific rules. But, there are two questions restaurants are allowed to ask:

1. Is your service dog required because of a disability?

2. What task has your dog been trained to perform?

If a patron doesn't answer these questions, that person can be asked to leave.

Susan observed, “If the dog doesn't seem to be trained, it usually isn't.”

In addition, experts tell us emotional support dogs are not recognized by the ADA.

CEO of Southeastern Guide Dogs, Titus Herman, tells News Channel 8, “More and more people travel with service dogs and also unfortunately more people travel with dogs that are not legitimate service dogs and there's a lot of confusion about which dogs are granted access.”

Southeastern Guide Dogs has been training animals for 32 years, is internationally-accredited and world-renowned.

Herman warns people looking for online dog verification that many companies will charge $300 to “certify” a dog, and the paperwork is phony.

He advises people to seek out companies carefully, look for accreditation, do your homework and ask for references.

In addition, he tells us that many restaurants ask him what to do and how to handle situations like these.

He advises them to ask patrons the two questions pertaining to disabilities.

“Restaurants want to do the right thing. We are glad you are talking about this. It's important because there's quite a bit of confusion.”

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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