Monday, September 10, 2007


I was called “ignorant”, “rude”, and told to “get out and stay out for good” among other choice adjectives, descriptors, and phrases. It’s funny how people who are nothing more than bystanders without privy to context of situations and events jump to conclusions, make assumptions, and decide to punish someone whom they believe to be in the wrong.
I made my third trip to Big Retail Store which I happen to be a very big fan of; however, Big Retail Store in Clifton, NJ has serious issues to work out regarding their employees’ knowledge and handling of customers who use service animals. On my first two visits to this store with my service dog, Ainsley, I was followed around the store, harassed repeatedly by various store employees, and at one point had two security guards, a manager, three employees, and a crowd of customers standing around me staring at me. I’ll be those customers thought I was a shoplifter or crazy terrorist lady carrying WMDs in my service dog’s bright blue vest (which is, coincidentally, emblazoned in big orange letters “hearing dog” and a big red on black and white patch stating “please don’t pet. I’m working”). On this third trip to Big Retail Store, the change in the quality of the shopping experience was like night and day. I had one employee ask me if my dog was a service dog. Period. No one followed me around the store. No one verbally harassed me about having a dog in the store. Even the very nice cashier checked me out even though she was really allergic to dogs. I felt badly about that because her nose started running and she was starting to cough a little. I was at a loss for words. Now I wish I had thanked her for being so nice despite her discomfort. I thought to myself, “well now this was a significant improvement over my previous experiences at this store. I think I’ll have an Icee to celebrate!” (I have a weakness for Icees). This is where everything went downhill fast. I got a pizza and ordered an icee then paid the cashier for my order. Pretty good so far—except for the pizza—I really didn’t need that. I stood at the icee machine getting my icee when a young lady who apparently worked in the food court approached me and very quietly said that no animals or dogs were allowed in the food court and that I would have to leave immediately. I responded rather curtly that my dog was a service dog and that she was allowed in the food court. I went back to trying to get my Icee without making a mess. I failed miserably at not making a mess, but hey it’s hard to focus when you have someone standing right next to you staring a hole in your head. The young lady told me that I was wrong and that no animals of any kind were allowed…blah blah blah…..but was still speaking very monotonously and calmly. I wasn’t calm at this point. I told her that no, the dog was allowed to be in the food area because she was a service dog (once again). The girl still stood there staring the hole into my head. I turned to her and said very loudly (apparently) and firmly (might have been perceived as hostile tone of voice) “You. Go. Get. Your. Manager. Right. Now.”
So Miss Food Court retreated behind the counter and returned a minute later. I waited for the manager to arrive. Lo and behold the “manager” was the one employee who had approached me about Ainsley earlier in the rear of the store. At this point, Miss Food Court presented the issue to the manager that I was being argumentive and would not leave. He informed her that I was allowed to be in the area due to the dog being a service dog. I began to lecture the both of them on the store’s need to inform employees about access rights of people with service dogs. At this point, some female customer decided to jump into the fray and claim to be a witness to the situation in which I began to raise my voice and speak inappropriately to Miss Food Court. Miss Female Customer pretty much got up in my face and was doing the whole “talk to the hand” bit. She was told by the manager not to get involved or “to leave it alone”. As she walked away, she said to me “you are so rude”. I responded “I’m looking at rude” to which she turned and said to me with great self righteousness, “what you are is ignorant”. All I could do is laugh that she saw me as being ignorant when in fact, she was apparently ignorant of my rights and due to this ignorance perceived my assertive behaviors as aggressive and uncalled for behaviors.
At any rate, I spoke with the manager and let him know that I had spoken to corporate in complaint of the two previous experiences that I had in the store and that I was very impressed with the changes since my last visit. I told him and Miss Food Court, that it doesn’t matter how nicely she approached me and told me to leave the food court because it was illegal for her to do so. The fact that she was unaware of my rights was completely irrelevant in a legal sense and could result in legal consequences for Big Retail Store Corporation in the form of a civil rights discrimination complaint with the Americans With Disabilities (Act) officer of the state of NJ. I told the manager that I had no intention of filing a complaint, but that I had justification in doing so. I informed him that I would be speaking with his superiors to suggest that they clarify the rules to the food court employees so that in the future, they do not make the same mistake. I walked away.
Then Big Fat Obnoxious Male Customer who was sitting at a table adjacent to my path out of the food court area decided to begin verbally harassing me by calling me names, telling me how wrong I was, suggesting that I leave and never come back, etc. etc. I tried to talk to him and tell him where he could get further information on the access rights of service dogs, but he and his female companion were having none of it and they both continued to verbally abuse me. Miss Female Customer from earlier certainly added her own 2 cents (or buck fitty) in there as well. I almost blew up in his face, but in a stroke of sensibility (I know, crazy, huh?) I shut my mouth and pulled out my cell phone. I dialed 911 and reported that I was being verbally assaulted at the Big Retail Store by customers because of my service dog and I wanted officers to come and assist as well as file a complaint. Interestingly enough, Big Fat Obnoxious Male Customer and his female companion as well as Miss Female Customer decided it was time for them to leave. I stayed on the line with the operator and completed the request. I suggested to Big Fat, his old lady, and Miss Female that they stay, relax, wait for the cops to come and surely slap my wrists and possibly fine me or even arrest me since I was so out of line. While Big Fat said he’d most certainly wait around, he was nowhere to be found when the two Clifton officers arrived about 15 minutes later nor were his old lady or Miss Female. They must have gotten lost. I talked to the cops for a while, explaining my situation. While there wasn’t much they could do about the customers since they were not still there for me to identify, they said that I did the right thing. They also suggested that the Big Retail Store employees and managers should have intervened in the situation. I hadn’t thought about that.
On the drive home from Big Retail Store I was just stunned at what had just happened. Were people truly that uninformed and hostile? Well, I guess that’s a stupid question because I guess they are! Once settled at home I called the Big Retail Store and spoke to the store manager on duty, a different person from the one who handled the food court incident, but one that I had spoken to on my first uncomfortable visit to the store. Nice Manager didn’t know about the incident that had just occurred, but did remember me from our previous encounter. I filled her in on the encounter, particularly with the customers and my concern that none of the employees, managers, or security personnel had intervened to stop the customers from verbally assaulting me. I let the on duty manager know that I would be calling to speak to the actual overall supervising manager during the week regarding the situation and that I would most likely be talking to their corporate office regarding the incident.
Where this goes, I don’t know. This is my favorite mid-priced retailer. I have NEVER encountered the level of ignorance and harassment in any Big Retail Stores that I have shopped in Mississippi, California, Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, or Ohio. I have never encountered this type of discrimination against my service dog ANYWHERE other than this particular store in Clifton, NJ. I commute into NYC almost every day of the week, no problems. I take my dog to grocery stores, laundry centers, auto parts stores, convenience stores, delis, etc and at most there might be the first approach because they are not aware that she is a service dog, but once I tell them that she is or they see her vest, there is no problem. Big Retail Store in Clifton, NJ projects an attitude that they must punish people and accuse people of wrongdoing if they perceive it to be so. They also do not appear to encourage actual listening to what the customer says. No matter what the customer says, if it doesn’t coincide with what the employees believe, the customer is labeled as “arguing”. I did tell the on duty manager that in the event that I encounter one more incident like the previous in their store, that I would most definitely be submitting a complaint to the state attorney general’s office on top of the contacting the store and corporate level employees. I guess that’s what I do next. But do I even want to go back to that particular Big Retail Store location? There ARE other locations in the area, albeit further away and less convenient to me. Only time will tell what shall happen. Only time.

some questions about access rights of service animals are found here:

much more information is a and through google search


Arwen said...

Something I have never really thought about is discrimmination against a person with a service dog or directly against the service dog. My cousin trains them but I've never being around individuals that have them. Even still, those people were WAY out of line. Harrassing at any level is NOT okay. I'm glad you wrote this post and I'm glad I read it as I'm much more aware than before. That being said, I think (and I'm sure that you know) that you are fully within your rights to go to the most convenient Big Retail store that you want to go to. The Big Retail store is clearly wrong and you shouldn't have to suffer. It's up to you if the headache is worth it, though.

I'm keeping you in my thoughts, that's for sure!

Anonymous said...

Sic 'um Sweetie....

Take your camera next time and take pics of the idiots.


ƒåυνέ said...

I'm sorry you have to put up with this bullshit sweetie. And I agree - sic 'um.