Ella is Jody Mitchell’s service dog, who was turned away from a salon.
KOKOMO, Ind. – You wouldn’t know it to look at her lounging at her owner’s feet in a living room in Kokomo, but Ella, a 16-month-old shepherd mix, has a job.
“She is a hardworking service animal,” explained Ella’s owner Jody Mitchell.
That means, where Jody goes, Ella goes too.
“I need her. She’s basically a piece of medical equipment,” explained Jody.
It’s Ella’s job to help the 48-year-old United States Army veteran navigate the hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder she lives with after her military service.
“This dog has gone through a lot of extensive training,” Jody said of Ella.
That training has prepared Ella to wear a service dog vest and walk down the aisles of a grocery stores or sit in restaurants right along side Jody.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are allowed anywhere their humans and the public are allowed to go. It’s federal law and has been for several years.
Under the ADA, service dogs must be harnessed, leashed or tethered, unless the devices interfere with the dog’s ability to work or the person’s disability prevents using such devices.
That’s why Jody said she was shocked when she walked into Solutions Salon and Spa in Kokomo last week and was told Ella had to leave.
“She was like, ‘She’s a dog. We have letters. Dogs are not allowed’,” recounted Jody of what she said was her interaction with a woman at the client relations desk. According to Jody, two other employees were also there and heard the exchange, but didn’t interject.
“She could see her and I was like, ‘She’s a service dog. Here’s her vest,’ I said, ‘I can give you any documentation you need, even though she’s not required to have any’,” Jody said she told the woman.
“She’s like, ‘No. She’s a dog. She needs to go right out in the car’,” Jody said the woman at the desk kept saying.
Eyewitness News contacted Solutions Salon and Spa and talked to co-owner Holly Ireland, who explained she was one of four owners of the salon. Ireland declined to go on camera, but called what happened an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Ireland told Eyewitness News the front desk was trying to figure out a way to accommodate Jody when she left after only a brief two minutes inside and that no one ever told Jody Ella had to stay outside or go sit in a car.
Ireland cited strict guidelines from the state that prohibit dogs from being inside salons or spas.
She also went on to say the dog was not in full view of the front desk staff who did not understand at the time that Ella was a service dog.
“Unless I had a bright flashing neon sign above her, I think that would have been the only way I could have made it any clearer,” said Jody of her attempts to explain what Ella was and why she should be allowed into the salon, too.
“There was absolutely no attempt to help, to accommodate, to assist us in any way. Their only thing was we need to get this dog out of here,” said Jody.
“I was like, ‘If you need her to go in the car and you’re not going to recognize her as a service animal, I’m just, I’m going to have to take my business elsewhere.’ I said, ‘she’s a service dog. She’s federally allowed in.’ And we just left,” said Jody of her parting words to salon staff.
Ireland told Eyewitness News if the salon had had contact information for Jody, they would have reached out to her to rectify the situation and apologize.
According to Jody, they did.
“I had checked in,” said Jody. “They had all of my information, my address, my phone number, everything.”
Ireland told Eyewitness News she wished Jody had contacted them personally so they could have made the situation right.
According to Jody, that’s what she tried to do a few days later, but said the phone call didn’t go well.
“When I called and said ‘Yeah, I was in the other day, I brought in a service animal. I was refused.’ I got hung up on,” said Jody.
That’s why she said she made the decision to take her concerns right to the top, filing a complaint against the salon with the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice.
Jody also said she won’t be returning to that salon again with Ella, even though, by law, she could.
“After I was refused at Solutions, Great Clips on South Way took her without any problem,” Jody explained.
That’s the way Jody said it should be when she shows up anywhere in public with Ella at her side, not because she says so, but because federal law does