For years, Ivan Lustig brought his service dog, Kobi, to Aspen’s swank Ink Coffee, where Lustig was a regular. But what started with a fellow coffee-drinker complaining about Kobi sitting on the couch unraveled into a visit from local police. Ultimately Lustig and Kobi were banned from the coffeeshop and Lustig has filed a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It was very embarrassing and equally embarrassing the following day when I was told I couldn’t come back and they didn’t want me or my dog back,” Lustig told the Aspen Times.
Lustig uses his service dog to help combat acute anxiety.
Lustig’s ADA complaint is still in process, though city officials told the Aspen Times they thought the coffee shop responded appropriately.
Barbara Henry, a trainer who owns Domino Service Dogs in Denver, said the case raises important questions about what service dogs should and should not be able to do in public places.
“Just because you show up with a dog in a red vest does not necessarily mean they’ve been trained to perform a specific task for a person with disability,” said Henry. “There are emotional support animals that don’t get public access.”
Henry said that the issue of “valid” service dogs has become more complex and heated as more and more dogs in red vests are hitting restaurants, airports and other public areas.
“There’s more awareness of them, and they’re being used for a wider variety of debilities,” said Henry. “There are a lot more valid service dogs out in the world today, but I also think a lot more people are attempting to take advantage.”
While Henry was very clear that she doesn’t know Lustig, or exactly how Kobi is trained to assist him, she’s inclined to agree with the business owner in this case.
“I don’t see a legitimate reason why the dog needs to be on the couch in this particular instance,” said Henry, adding that she typically trains service dogs to stay on the ground and ideally under a table in restaurants.
“Using a dog for a mental as opposed to a physical disability is completely legitimate,” said Julie Reiskin, the executive director of the Cross Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. But Reiskin agreed with Henry that the issue in the coffeeshop case is more about behavior. She noted that a well-trained service dog should be seen and not heard.
“The best compliment to me is when I leave a place and someone says, ‘Oh my gosh. I didn’t even know there was dog in here!” said Henry. “If I have a pup in training, that’s how I know they’re ready.”
Image by Beverly & Pack.