There is so much to say in the area of traveling with a service dog.
Sometimes, it is a joy. The sense of freedom you experience knowing you can take a road trip, with your service dog at your side, and go anywhere you choose to go can be liberating.
It can have its challenges though.
Trotz and I are very thoughtful guests. I always bring several clean sheets with us, covering as much of the room as possible with them. This is two-fold. He is a dog and he does shed. I don’t want to make extra work for the staff when it can be avoided. The other reason, sometimes the rooms are not as clean as I would like. It can be hard to tell what is on the carpeting and we just don’t want Trotz to have anything funky in his fur.
I also bring absorbent mats to place his food and water dishes on, and if there is a tile surface, that is where I place them to avoid a mess on the carpet.
Trotz may bark to warn me of a strange noise, someone at the door, or monsters under the bed, but we work very hard on the single bark warning. He gets to tell me, I thank him, he is quiet. We are working on the quiet warning, but so far, he really likes the loud one to make sure I get the point. He is not allowed to bark if I’m in bed. Teaching him noise control makes for a happier experience for other guests.
All that being said, sometimes just getting into a room can be the real challenge.
A good example of this was my experience in Hattiesburg, MS this last spring. The hotels were asking for “proof” that Trotz is indeed a service dog. They wanted his “registration”. When I asked with whom was he supposed to be registered, they didn’t know, just that he was required to be registered.
Even after informing them that it was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act to even ask such a thing, much less deny us access based on this, they refused. One hotel, The Super 8, did allow us to rent a room…but charged us extra. Again, this is a violation of the ADA.
Tired and frustrated, I paid the additional fee, opting to deal with the issue when I was better rested.
So what do you do when you are denied access by management?
First understand their position. Many, many people hope to avoid additional pet fees by claiming their dogs are service dogs. Those untrained dogs make huge messes and the cost to clean the room falls to the hotel. Is this your problem? Nope.
My first response is always to educate. I sent emails to the corporate offices, detailing my experience, attaching a copy of the ADA guidelines, requesting they intervene with the franchise owners. This often works out just fine, additional fees are refunded, they promise not to do this to other teams in the future. It’s a win.
Super 8 was a win, the owner not only refunded the fees, but he read everything he could on the ADA website and posted the rules for employees to see and follow.
When the hotel is independently owned, I simply file a complaint with the Department of Justice, then spread the word for other teams to avoid this location. Frankly, I feel that if I am not welcome, I don’t want to be there. Those in the hospitality industry who make guests feel unwelcome will eventually feel it in their bottom line.
For some reason, Hattisburg, MS as a whole, is very unwelcoming to service dog teams. No idea why. Three hotels in that area denied us access. I recommend either Jackson MS, or Mobile AL.
My trip back home brought me through Mobile. I have a go-to hotel in Mobile, La Quinta Inns and Suites, just off I-65. I loved that hotel, the people were so warm and friendly, the rooms clean and mostly quiet. Trotz and I have stayed there a few times, always affordable and enjoyable. We get in, get some sleep, take a walk in the morning, then I load up, and drop the key at the front desk.
Not a big fan of the free morning breakfast. The area is small and filled with lots of people. Trotz doesn’t care, but it makes me uncomfortable to be in such an intimate area surrounded by strangers. I usually just hit up a drive thru for coffee and a biscuit before I get to the interstate.
This last time, I didn’t do it. I decided it was time for us to enter into this semi social environment. It was crowded. We stood, me and Trotz, quietly waiting for the area to clear a bit and a table to open up. My intention was to place Trotz under a table, get a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, then return to the table to eat. Trotz is a big dog, when he looks around, his head clears most tables and no one wants his big ole nose in their breakfast. And you know, someone is going to whistle to get his attention.
So we stood waiting, calmly and quietly. We were approached by a hotel employee who rather loudly stated pets were not allowed in the breakfast area. I was a bit surprised. Trotz was wearing his service dog gear, the hotel was aware they had a guest with a service dog. I replied in a much lower tone, “this is Trotz, he is my service dog, not a pet.”
Again, in a voice that drew attention, he stated that “animals” were not allowed in the breakfast area, that even service dogs were excluded. People were staring. Trotz alerted that a panic attack was heading our way. I excused us and we went across the street to the Waffle House, where we were welcomed and given breakfast with no issues whatsoever.
This bothered me enough that I went back to speak to the manager when I dropped off the room key. She told me the employee was absolutely correct, the health department would shut them down.
I told her that was simply not the case, service dogs are allowed access anywhere that is open to the general public. She was getting loud. I gave her a card with the ADA information on it, explained that it would take just a minute to find the information on their website. She took the card, still refusing to acknowledge my right to have breakfast in their area with my service dog.
I was so disappointed. I loved that place. It ruined the trip home for us. La Quinta has always been so good about Trotz, now, we were not welcome. It was harsh.
Once home, I called the hotel. Asked to speak to the manager to get contact information for their health inspector. This was not right. If the health department is denying access then it needs to be corrected.
The manager I spoke to was a bit on the, well, snarky side. She said she would look on the health department website if I was unable to, I assured her that I knew how to look up the phone number, I was simply asking for the contact information for their inspector. She didn’t have it, but assured me her staff was correct, no animals were allowed in the breakfast area per the health department.
After speaking to the nice people at the health department in Mobile, Alabama, I felt much better. They had no idea why La Quinta would use their name to deny access to disabled guests. They assured me I had the right to file a formal complaint but requested the opportunity to send an inspector over to the hotel to explain that their behavior and policies were completely inappropriate and not based in fact. I agreed to defer filing a complaint if the hotel would change its policy.
The manager expressed regret that they have been doing this for over 10 years, since she started working there. She actually loves dogs and during a rough time, her dog provided her with support. She said she was aware that service dogs are not pets, are highly trained, and are necessary for their handlers to live a better quality of life.
Basically, they have been making their guests with service dogs unwelcome for more than 10 years, even though they really like dogs. Nice.
I had approached the staff on 3 occasions regarding my concern. Of those 3 times, the hotel investigated the situation to find a resolution zero times, leaving me to do the work for them. I’m not that impressed, sorry that my stay, any future stays, were ruined over a cup of coffee and a piece of toast.
They did refund my room costs and asked me to come back to visit them.
I’m unsure if I ever will. I feel much like the kid who was excited to be invited to the birthday party, only to find out her mom made her invite me. I was the kind of kid who would snatch back the present and leave, possibly even flipping them off as the door hit me in the rear. Just saying.
So, let’s run this down a bit.
Service dogs are allowed access to hotels, regardless whether they are pet friendly, with no additional charges. Keep in mind though, you as the handler, are responsible for any damages done to the room. Be a considerate guest.
As far as I know, as of yet, there is no government agency that registers or certifies service animals. You are not required by law to provide “proof” that your dog is registered or certified. They are not allowed, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to even request this, much less deny you access based on it.
Service dogs are allowed access to all areas that the general public are allowed to go. If they do not allow their guests in the kitchen, then your service dog isn’t allowed there either. But if they offer an eating area and buffet for their guests, and they would allow you access, then your service dog may accompany you.
You have several recourses should any of these situations present themselves. You can absolutely file a complaint with a number of agencies including the Department of Justice, Better Business Bureau, the city and state agencies for the disabled. You can contact the owner of the business, the corporate office, or the franchise office to request assistance in resolving the issue. You can also sue them for denying you access, hopefully, ensuring they will reconsider their policies if they have to write a check.
I, however, have yet to find an attorney willing to sue. If you are such an attorney, be sure to send me your information.
If you find a business that denies you access or charges you additional fees, please spread the word. There is no need for other teams to have to face the same situation and absolutely no need for the rest of us to contribute to their bottom line.