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June 7, 2004

Hearing impaired, she's making her case

From:, KY - Jun 7, 2004

Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Valerie Durie was surprised when she and her mother, Sharon Durie, recently were asked to leave a Bowling Green restaurant with her hearing dog, Liberty.

After all, the Americans With Disabilities Act ensures that people with disabilities have the right to take their trained service animals in restaurants and other public places. Valerie Durie began to lose her hearing at 2 years old because of a bout with meningitis.

So Valerie Durie, who is completely deaf in one ear and has 5 percent hearing in the other when she wears a hearing aid, showed the person who asked her to leave a copy of the laws regarding service dogs, as well as Liberty's service dog tag.

Still, the 27-year-old was asked to leave.

"They basically threw us out," she said.

Valerie Durie was devastated.

"You plan your day and you find out they don't want you to be in their restaurant," she said. "It kind of ruins your day. It makes me feel bad about my disability."

Upset, Sharon Durie contacted the U.S. Department of Justice.

"They immediately wanted us to file a case, which could have caused the restaurant to close," Sharon Durie said.

But the Duries "didn't want to hurt anybody," she said. "We just wanted them to be informed."

So rather than file a case against the restaurant, Sharon Durie contacted the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission to see if anyone there could help.

Commission Executive Director Linda McCray offered to talk to someone in charge at the restaurant, where she was put in touch with a business adviser who told her the person who had asked the Duries to leave didn't know about the laws regarding service dogs. They also didn't speak enough English to understand what Valerie Durie was trying to tell them about laws.

Then the woman explained that the person who had asked Durie to leave thought having a dog in the restaurant "was a health department issue."

To clear up the confusion, McCray gave the restaurant information "that let them know the laws about service dogs and all issues involving the Americans With Disabilities Act, especially for business owners," she said.

In the end, the business adviser apologized to McCray for the restaurant's owners, and even asked McCray to tell the Duries "they were sorry, and didn't turn them away because of meanness.

"They extended an invitation for Mrs. Durie and her daughter to come back to the restaurant with the dog anytime" for a free meal, McCray said. "They were very kind."

The Duries were thrilled with the outcome, but didn't accept the free lunch from the restaurant "because that was not our purpose" in reporting the incident to McCray, Sharon Durie said. "Our purpose was to educate."

Now, the Duries want others in the community to know that those who have service dogs have a right to have them with them in public, and that service dog owners are not without responsibility. According to the law, the owner of a service dog must pay for any damage the dog causes.

Valerie Durie has had service dogs for years, and said they help her be independent.

"When we have a knock on the door, she'll nudge me," she said of Liberty. "When I ask her where, she'll take me to the door."

Liberty can also alert Valerie Durie, who works at a church's child care center, to the sounds of a crying baby, a siren, a person calling her name, an alarm and more.

"If a police car is coming when I'm driving, she'll nudge me if the siren is on so I'll get over," Durie said.

The list of what Liberty can do for Durie goes on and on. But Liberty must be focused to do her job well.

That's why it's also important for the public to know that they should never pet or call a service dog.

"Ask before you pet, because it can cause a distraction for the dog and me," Durie said.

© 2004 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.