Maureen Stevens was glad to have her service dog Chester standing calmly in front of her while she filmed a Lakeside police officer screaming at one of her clients, who uses a wheelchair. The Domino Service Dogs training group had attempted to board Lakeside Amusement Park’s miniature train with their pups.
“They told us that we, the humans, could ride the train and leave our service dogs tied up,” said Stevens, who is the assistant trainer at Domino. “These are $50,000 trained dogs. I thought, ‘Wow. What if these were oxygen tanks? Would they be allowed?’ These dogs are our medical equipment.”[pullquote]”It’s not like we were trying to put a dog on a roller coaster or a ferris wheel – just that stupid train.”[/pullquote]
Stevens and other members of the group videotaped the employees who were denying them a ride. They pointed out that the Americans with Disabilities Act allows people to bring service dogs just about everywhere, from restaurants to airplanes, so long as there is no “direct threat” to dog or human.
The Lakeside police arrived within five minutes, according to Stevens. They proceeded to yell at members of the group: Don’t film the employees. The cops threatened to kick out and arrest the disabled service-dog owners.
“You’re causing a disturbance. If you have a complaint … you send it to the Department of Justice, and they deal with it,” said one of the officers. “You don’t do it here. You’re causing a disturbance. That’s what will get you arrested for disorderly conduct.”
“It was shocking. It was just totally shocking,” said Stevens. “It’s not like we were trying to put a dog on a roller coaster or a ferris wheel – just that stupid train.”
In Colorado it’s a crime to deny a person with a disability the right to access public areas. That includes the right to take a service dog on slow-moving miniature trains, according to a lawsuit filed by the Cross Disability Coalition against the Lakeside Amusement Park, its police department and the “town” of Lakeside, population eight.
None of the parties cited in the suit — from the park to the police — responded to requests for comment.
“It seems outrageous that people with disabilities who have service dogs can’t even enjoy a day at the amusement park without being screamed at by police officers and threatened with eviction from the park,” said Julie Reiskin, the Executive Director of CCDC.
Attorney Kevin Williams added that in addition to the penalties, the CCDC will be asking for a court order to ensure that the Lakeside Police follow the law.
“What the police officer should have done was tell Lakeside they were violating the law by not allowing these folks to use the train instead of threatening to arrest them for calmly asserting their rights,” he said.
Williams said the Lakeside defendants have been served, but that they still have a few days to respond.
“One thing I will say is that our dogs were phenomenally well behaved,” said Stevens of the incident. “Most were sitting or lying down, just looking around like, ‘Oh my gosh. What is going on?’ I was proud of them.”
Photo by Jeffrey Beall.