Saturday, June 6

More on Taco Bell guide dog incident

Greetings. The below is another email that I sent to a guide dog email list. Though we don't know the whole story, this definitely sheds more light on the things that happened. I wish I knew the original paper or place where this story first appeared, but I'm sorry to say I don't.


I did a search on Google for the woman's name and among the results
that came back was this series of posts on a forum/newsgroup site.
I've cleaned up the posts for better reading, but for more and to read
comments from others, go to this link:

This is interesting stuff. Several times my eyes widened and I
thought, "Wow." See for yourself. Also, according to the below, Ms.
Ballou, the owner of the Leader Dog, was not using a "traditional"
guide dog breed, which might explain some of the manager's reaction.
It doesn't explain the behavior of the police though.


new resident in Copperas Cove is considering legal action after being
forcefully removed from a local restaurant.

Nanette Ballou lost her sight 11 years ago due to multiple eye
traumas. She is assisted by Rusty, a white Berger De Picard or French
sheepdog, who was trained at Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester,

While she does have limited vision in her right eye, similar to
looking through a straw, she can't process depth of field or see
anything other than what she is directly looking at. Also, any change
in lighting like moving from indoors to outdoors causes her total
blindness for five to 10 minutes until her eyes adjust.

"He protects me," Ballou said about Rusty. "He keeps me from bumping
into things and from tripping over curbs. But it's still scary to walk
places like parking lots where not everyone is paying attention and I
don't have any peripheral vision to rely on."

On Thursday, May 7, after picking up Rusty from the dog groomers,
Ballou and Rusty along with her daughter and two grandchildren went to
Taco Bell. The family placed their order, picked up their food and was
about to eat when Cynthia, a night manager, approached their table and
asked, "Is that a Seeing Eye," Ballou recalled.

"No, he's a guide dog, a Leader Dog," Ballou said to correct the manager.

Ballou said not all guide dogs are Seeing Eye's. It depends on what
school they go to and her dog went to the Leader Dog school.

"It's like calling an A&M student a Longhorn," she said. "I was trying
to educate her that there are more kinds of guide dogs, not just
Seeing Eye. But she had no part of it."

The manager told Ballou the health department would shut them down if
they saw the dog in the restaurant and then asked for identification
for the dog as a guide dog.

Ballou showed her the special harness Rusty wears identifying him as a
Leader Dog and stood her ground as she began to feel harassed.

The manager said she was going to call the cops and Ballou said, "Go
ahead, save me the call."

Six Copperas Cove police officers in three patrol cars arrived on the scene.
When the police arrived, Ballou said they did not identify themselves
and the first officer, whose name she was never given, told her "Lady,
you and the dog have to get out."
She told the officer Rusty is a service dog and Texas law allows him
to be with her. She showed him a law book she carries with her with
all the state and federal laws for the blind across the country, but
said the officer would not look at it.
She told the officer she just moved to Copperas Cove and said she
can't believe they don't know what the law is. She said the officer
told her "Welcome to Copperas Cove, if you don't like our laws,
She said the same officer told her, "You don't look blind" because she
was looking at him while he spoke to her. She said it is common
courtesy in the visual world to look at someone when they speak to you
and you don't have to be sighted to do so.
A second officer on scene Cpl. Shane Kieltyka did read her law book,
she said, because she believes he understood she was trying to diffuse
the situation.

"When the first officer approached me, it flustered me," she said.
"But I stood my ground."
Her daughter, Jennifer Warden, said when the police arrived they
crowded around the table
making it difficult for them to leave like they were being told. One
of the officers also followed Warden to her car, speaking in a
confrontational voice while blocking her in the corner of her car's
open door, Ballou said.
"We felt closed in," Warden said. "There was me, a 10 year old and a
nine year old and a blind woman with her dog. How dangerous did we
look? They did everything short of calling in the SWAT and spreading
us out on the ground like an episode of COPS."
Her oldest child, age 10, has cerebral palsy and said the incident has
had a negative impact on her trust in the police and how disabled
people are treated.
Warden, who said the police have been called before because of her
mother's guide dog, said this is the first time they were treated this
way. All the other times the police said they were allowed to stay,
she said.
"They didn't do anything but make us the victim," she said about the police.
Warden said her husband is being stationed at Fort Hood, but after
this incident, said her family will look for a place to live in Belton
or Harker Heights.

"We weren't impressed at all with the attitude the people in Copperas
Cove have, especially the police department," Warden said. "If we're
not living on base we need to know we can rely on the police
department, and that was a big no."
Now Ballou, an advocate for the blind, is searching every avenue
available to her to make sure this does not happen again. She said she
is afraid this incident has labeled her as a troublemaker by everyone
who saw the incident.
"Everyone who drove by and saw me and my very identifiable dog doesn't
know what happened," she said. "In a way, I was slandered across the
community as a troublemaker. I'm very vocal about what happened
because I want the public to know the laws that protect my civil
rights were not protected by the police department or Taco Bell."
Ballou contacted the police department several times to speak with
Police Chief Tim Molnes, but said he wouldn't return phone calls.
Another officer did eventually speak with her and take a report
filling official charges against the Taco Bell manager for non-access.
Ballou said she could have also pressed charges for interfering with a
service animal's job and for harassment, but has not.
She then contacted the district attorney's office where an assistant
told her this is a civil manner and they don't handle those cases. She
told them it is not a civil manner and she said he repeated several
times "we're not going there" and then hung up.
She has also called City Attorney Charles Zech and left a message, but
has not heard back from him.
"Everyone at the city has shut me off," she said. "They are afraid I
might sue. I don't like to fight. If the police chief had made them
apologize, I probably would have dropped all of this."
She said she just wants to see the laws enforced. She also said there
are grants available through the ADA civil rights section of the
United States Justice Department for entities to have someone come in
and teach them ADA laws.
City Manager Andrea Gardner said "The City's policy is not to comment
on ongoing investigative matters" and would not answer questions about
the city's ADA training or this incident.
Lt. Danny Austin said the file on this case is still open and could
not release information without an open records request. The request
was sent to the Copperas Cove Police Department earlier this week. The
file has not yet been received. The May 7 police blotter has no report
of an incident at Taco Bell.
Taco Bell representative Don Barton has also been contacted by the
Leader-Press office about the incident. He said he would send a
prepared statement by e-mail. The statement was not received by press
Texas law on service animals states any violations of a person's right
to use a guide dog is guilty of a misdemeanor and is punishable by a
fine of not less than $300 or more than $1,000.
"They know they stepped over the line," Ballou said. "They are just
hoping it will go away."

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