POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Cristina Saint-Blancard says she will never go back to La Criolla Café & Restaurant again.
“I’m Puerto Rican so for me to have a fellow Puerto Rican turn against me, it was very hurtful,” she said.
Medical complications led to Saint-Blancard, of Davenport, losing her leg to amputation two years ago. She also lives with hearing loss.
Her service dog Yan picks up items she drops, alerts her to noises and opens doors. She’s critical to Saint-Blancard living independently in the world.
“Anything I need, she’s there,” said Saint-Blancard.
This week, she went with some family members to La Criolla Café & Restaurant on U.S. 27 on the Haines City/Davenport line.
She says she was confronted by a manager while Yan was sitting under her table and Saint-Blancard was reviewing the menu.
“She said, ‘if you don’t have a carrier for the dog you have to leave the premises’. And I said, ‘No I don’t have to. She’s my service dog,'” said Saint-Blancard.
She says she went back and forth with management at the restaurant, explaining the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring businesses to accommodate service dogs.
Eventually, she left.
“It was very humiliating for her to be so dismissive,” she said.
Saint-Blancard found other reviews online from people having similar experiences at this restaurant.
An owner told 8 On Your Side reporter Staci DaSilva that Yan was shedding fur and admitted to the carrier request. He said managers gave Saint-Blancard the option to get the food to go.
He declined an on-camera interview, citing potential litigation.
“I would like a public apology. I would like them to read the laws. They are breaking federal law,” said Saint-Blancard.
She wants the business owner, and others, to learn from this situation.
“Increasingly, we’ve heard stories from our teams that they’ve met with some resistance,” said Jen Hanes, client services program manager at Canine Companions for Independence’s southeast office.
Yan, Saint-Blancard’s service dog, is a graduate from the Canine Companions program.
Federal law, Hanes explained, requires businesses to, at least, tolerate trained service dogs, with exceptions that include aggressive behavior.
“It’s considered an accommodation or even an extension of that person. The dog is directly assisting them and mitigating the effect of their disability,” said Hanes.
Businesses that violate the service dog laws could face fines and/or lawsuits.