HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Mike Geib is a Gulf War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I don’t like crowds. I have been pretty reclusive for the past several years,” he said.
Which is why he has a service dog. Her name is Cookie Dough.
“She senses my anxiety. She senses my blood pressure is getting high. She is there to comfort me. She will climb up on me and put pressure on me just to let me know she is there,” Geib said.
When Geib had a dentist appointment at the Lebanon VA Medical Center in January, he took Cookie Dough with him. He was surprised to learn his service dog was not allowed into the examination room. A sign on the door stated, “For health and safety reasons, no animals beyond this point”.
Geib had to leave Cookie Dough with a friend in the waiting room while he got his teeth cleaned. He rescheduled the portion of his appointment that required dental work.
He says something about the sign didn’t seem right.
“I came home and I did research on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Lebanon VA Policy and contacted [the ABC27 Investigators],” Geib said.
In Your Corner reporter Kendra Nichols immediately reached out the Lebanon VA and asked to see its policy regarding service dogs. The Lebanon VA sent a medical center memorandum that states animals are not be allowed in restricted access areas that include the operating room, linen storage rooms, treatment or procedure rooms, dental treatment areas, kitchens, sterile rooms, the intensive care and critical care unit, and isolation rooms.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs can not be excluded from examination rooms. The only exclusion listed under federal law is operating rooms or burn units.
After the ABC27 Investigators reached out to the Lebanon VA Medical Center about its policy. Geib says someone at the VA reached out to him.
“That same day, the gentleman responsible for animals in the hospital reached out and asked me to stop by his office, which I did, and that was only an hour later after I contacted [the ABC27 Investigators],” Geib said. “I told them that the policy needs to change and I am bringing my service dog with me on my next appointment and it better be changed or I am going to seek other action. ABC27 was kind enough to say it would come and do the story if they turned me away, but thankfully, they got their heads together and did some research on their own and they changed the policy.”
“Our policy is based on the national policy, but our policy had some other things in it which we are changing,” said Douglas Etter, a spokesman for the Lebanon VA Medical Center.
Etter says as soon as they heard about what happened to Geib, they started reviewing their service animal policy.
“We are always going to do what is in the best interest of the veteran, and if in the best interest of the veteran is having a service animal and the environment therein does not have to be a sterile one, we’ll certainly permit that,” he said.
Geib says when he went to his next dentist appointment at the Lebanon VA, the sign denying access to animals had been removed from the door.
“Cookie Dough was there with me and she sat perfect,” he said. “It wasn’t that the hospital didn’t want to do it, they just didn’t know the law, and when I went back I was welcome with open arms.”
As a general rule, service dogs are allowed to go anywhere the public is allowed to go. If you are a business owner or employee and someone comes into your place of business with a service dog, under the law you can only ask two questions; whether the animal is a service dog and what tasks it performs.
You are not allowed to ask to see special identification for the animal or inquire about the person’s disability. You may not charge additional fees for the animal or refuse admittance.
Keep in mind that service dogs are not pets, they are working. Although they may be cute, fight the urge to pet them and always ask the owner for permission first.