BOZEMAN - Frank William Estrada Jr., his family, and his service dog, Lulu, were recently asked to leave a restaurant in West Yellowstone.
"I looked, I didn't see my family, so I walked straight to the door, opened up, and there they were. And I said, 'what's going on?' And they said, 'They kicked us out — they kicked us out because of Lulu,” Estrada said.
Estrada, a military veteran, returned to the restaurant to talk with the employee, with Lulu, to explain that she was a service dog. Eventually, Estrada left the premises.
“We want to inform,” Estrada said. “There’s a lot of people out there who bring their yappy dog and they have the vest. That doesn’t make it a service dog — the training does.”
Estrada hopes that the experience he went through can be used to help educate and bring awareness to service dogs around the state.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a business may ask an individual with a service dog two questions: "Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?" And, "What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”
A service dog may be trained to mitigate a physical limitation and assist with mobility, while other dogs are trained for psychological responses. Estrada’s dog, Lulu, is trained in blocking physiological distress.
“She’ll climb into my lap practically and start pushing her face up,” Estrada said. “It breaks the person away and causes them to refocus their attention onto the animal, versus whatever it was their mind was locked in on, or whatever is around them causing their psychological distress.”
Estrada notes that his quality of life has been improved because of Lulu.
DeeDe Baker, executive director and founder of Dog Tag Buddies expands on the nature of service animals.
“They are considered medical equipment; they are no different than a walker, a wheelchair, a cane or an oxygen tank,” Baker said.
For businesses that have asked the two questions listed on the ADA website, there are also ways to visually notice if a dog is a service dog or a dog misrepresented as a service animal.
“The dog is going to be paying attention to the handler, their obedience is going to be impeccable, they’re not going to be pulling on the leash, they’re not going to be barking,” Baker said. “So if I bring a dog in, and the dog is continually barking, that’s a problem, they have the right to ask me to remove that dog.”
VIDEO EXTRA: "Grizzly" the service dog in action
K9 Care Montana’s Founder and CEO, David Riggs, believes it’s important for veterans, or anyone, with a service dog to prepare and expect to be questioned about their animal.
“Preparing them, by being confident and knowing what their rights and responsibilities are totally helps and makes sense,” Riggs said. “The two questions lined out by the ADA…not ‘show me proof’, not ‘give me registration or certifications."