What was supposed to be a joyous outing to kick off the holiday season turned into an upsetting ordeal for a Veteran and his family after their service dog was denied entry to Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm in Milton, Delaware.
Brenden Leets, an Ellendale resident and retired Marine who suffers from severe depression and anxiety, requires the assistance of a service dog. He and his wife decided they wanted to pick out a Christmas tree at Pine Hollow Farm in Milton on Saturday.
The couple arrived at the farm, entered the main building, and was trying to figure out where the trees where when the owner of the farm approached them and said the dog is not allowed on the premises.
Leets tried to explain to the owner that this was his service dog; however, the owner was steadfast and would not allow the dog entry to the farm.
“It was the woman who said that the dog is not allowed in the farm and my first reaction was kind of like I was a little confused, I was like ‘huh?’ And she said it again and then that’s when I tried to explain to her that this is my service dog and under ADA law she is allowed access to wherever the public is allowed to go.”
After explaining this to the owner, Leets claimed the owner said “well, this is private property.”
Upset and frustrated, the couple decided to leave the farm. “I was beyond furious and I just had to walk out and away from the situation,” Leets said.
“It’s heartbreaking,” explained Felisha Leets, Brenden Leet’s wife. “We’re out with our family, in public, and we go to get a simple Christmas tree and somebody has to be so disrespectful. It’s upsetting.”
WGMD’s Rob Petree reached out Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm and was put in contact with the owners, Fred and Shelley Sposato.
The woman who Leet’s was referring while recalling the incident was Shelley Sposato, who stood by her decision to deny the service dog entry, expressing concerns that the dog could urinate on the trees which she claimed causes them to turn brown.
“After years of having dogs on the farm, the damage and liability that they cause, we changed our policy years ago and all dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, companion dogs, we just can’t have them on the farm for the obvious reason that the product we’re selling is what dogs urinate against, it causes the trees to turn brown,” Mrs. Sposato said. “Not only that, there are messes all over the farm that people don’t clean up.”
Mrs. Sposato said she was certainly not denying entry to Mr. Leets, just his service dog; however, when pressed over the fact that Mr. Leets needs his service dog for medical purposes and entry is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), she argued that to permit the service dog entry would put her trees at risk of being damaged.
“Under ADA, there are also places where dogs are not permitted to go,” Mrs. Sposato said. “For example, operating rooms, kitchens of restaurants, and they also can be denied access to places where they alter goods or services provided to the public.”
Mrs. Sposato acknowledged that service dogs are well trained, but again referenced potential “liability.”
“They are well trained dogs, we recognize that,” Mrs. Spasato said. “We’ve had dogs inadvertently knock down elderly customers. We’re liable and responsible for that.”
Mr. Sposato spoke up and expressed concerns over a child potentially getting bit if they allowed a service dog on the farm.
“We’re just saying that the service dog can’t come, and some people will leave and some will stay,” Mr. Sposato said. “We love it when children run up and down the rows of trees and my biggest fear is that a child will be running and someone will walk through the trees with a dog and the child will hit the dog and the dog may get scared and may bite that child and we don’t want that to happen. We have a lot of children out there.”
In the United States, disabled Americans are granted civil rights protections against discrimination and harassment under the ADA, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Commonly refereed to as “public access,” qualified disabled Americans, including those using a prescribed service dog to mitigate a disability, have civil rights protections against discrimination in the activities of public accommodations on the basis of their disability under Title III of the ADA.
Mr. Leet’s service dog is what is referred to as a Psychiatric Service Dog which is recognized and protected under the ADA.
These service dogs attend a handler who may need a dog to be able to go out in public (agoraphobic), or a handler who suffers from panic attacks, anxiety attack, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or other mental disorders. These dogs are trained NEVER to leave their handler’s side.