AUSTIN (KXAN) — A hip hop artist in town for SXSW says he was humiliated after he and his service dog were kicked out of a North Austin Whole Foods.
John Anthony Shahor says the grocery store was one of their first stops in the city.
Shahor says they were in the store for about nine minutes, and during that time a customer approached him about having a dog in the grocery store. Later, a Whole Foods manager confronted them.
He says there was a misunderstanding; the manager thought the dog was a “search and rescue dog,” which would not be allowed in the store under their policy. Shahor says the manager overheard him tell another customer in line that the dog was also doing some search-and-rescue training.
The manager asked him to leave the store, and Shahor says he tried to explain that the dog was a service animal. “I said, ‘This is a service dog, I have all of her paperwork. It says it on her leash, and I can get the rest of the paperwork in here,'” said Shahor.
He waited outside with his service dog’s paperwork. The manager called Austin Police and two officers came to the store.
When asked why police were involved, Whole Foods tells KXAN that it was due to the customer refusing to take the dog outside and refusing to leave the store himself.
“The fact that I had to pull these medical documents out and i’m standing with them, with cops staring at me and customers walking by, it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.”
Shahor says he was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2008. After another recent medical diagnosis, a doctor recommended he get a service dog to help cope with his day-to-day life and stresses. His dog Lazarus is still in training, and Shahor says he works with the animal four days a week with trainers.
The manager ultimately told Shahor he was trespassing and that he was banned from all Whole Foods stores in Texas for one year.
After reaching out to Whole Foods, a spokesperson said they did not get reports of the dog misbehaving, but that the store team leader thought the dog was a “search and rescue” dog:
WholeFoods Market has a “no pets” policy, but welcomes service animals and complies with all applicable ADA guidelines. We immediately contacted our local store once notified of the situation and learned the customer informed our store team that the dog was a “search and rescue” animal. Since our policy only permits service animals to accompany shoppers, the customer’s dog was not allowed inside our store. We’ve reached out to the customer directly to see if there was a misunderstanding.”
The spokesperson says that their Customer Care and Service Team is looking further into the issue and will continue conversations with other store employees who witnessed the incident. She says it’s the Customer Care team’s job to talk to the guest and see if there’s a resolution.
As for the ban, Whole Foods says they are still waiting to speak directly with the shopper and determine their next steps.
The spokesperson also told us there are written guidelines and protocols for ADA guidelines available to store employees.Under the ADA, employees can only ask two questions if a dog is not obviously a service dog:
(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Shahor says he was not asked these questions.
To watch video immediately following the man’s confrontation with Whole Foods staff, click here.