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Walmart apologizes after Utah woman harassed for off leash service dog

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Walmart apologized to a Utah woman who said she was harassed by an employee for bringing her off leash service dog, Kona, into a store in Spanish Fork on Monday, July 9, 2018. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) — An American Fork woman says she was verbally harassed while shopping with her service dog at a Walmart store in Spanish Fork.

Ashley Fitzpatrick said an employee stopped her at the door on Monday night and told her the service dog, Kona, needed to be on a leash. Fitzpatrick said the worker then accused her of faking her disability, saying she didn’t need a service dog.

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“How can you say that to someone like me? Even though it’s a mental disability, it’s just as debilitating,” Fitzpatrick said.

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by a service dog in stores, restaurants and other public places. Business owners are also not allowed to ask someone what kind of disability they have. Fitzpatrick said Kona’s training requires her to be off leash.

Fitzpatrick struggles with anxiety and depression and Kona helps to stop panic attacks, among many other tasks. She’s been working with Kona for over a year and half now, and said the dog has drastically improved her quality of life.

“There have been weeks where I haven’t left the house and now it’s to the point where I’m out every day,” she said.

Kona has helped her regain her confidence. She also is trained to perform pressure therapy when she senses a panic attack.

Fitzpatrick is calling on employers to implement better service dog training.

“I feel like training needs to go a step further so something like this doesn’t happen,” she said.

Store managers at the Spanish Fork Walmart apologized to Fitzpatrick for the incident. Walmart corporate also released the following statement:

We're committed to providing a safe shopping experience for those shoppers and associates relying on assistance from service animals. We appreciate our customer bringing this to our attention and have apologized to the customer.