HARKER HEIGHTS — Jackie Hollenbeck is on a mission.
The 48-year-old legally blind and deaf Harker Heights resident says the entire U.S. Highway 190 corridor is uninformed when it comes to proper etiquette —and the laws — of service animals. It’s something Hollenbeck wants to change.
CASE IN POINT: Hollenbeck said she has been having a hard time with the guards at the Scott & White clinic in east Killeen whenever she brings in her self-trained service dog, Hersey.
“I take him everywhere with me,” Hollenbeck said, adding the 7-year-old Doberman Pinscher alerts her when people are approaching and guides her along sidewalks, to bus stops and elsewhere. At home, Hersey lets Hollenbeck know when someone knocks on the door or if the phone rings. And there is another service the Doberman provides — security.
“I prefer the Dobermans because they are protective and loyal,” said Hollenbeck, who suffers from Usher syndrome. The condition has affected her hearing her entire life and has gradually deteriorated her sight during the past eight years. She said her hearing is down to about 1 percent, and she has severe tunnel vision. She has to read lips in order to understand what someone is saying.
Up until a couple of months ago, Hollenbeck said she only took her cane to go to the clinic, which she visits weekly to receive an allergy shot. She began taking Hersey with her in July, when her eyesight began to get really bad.
She said the guards at the clinic have repeatedly asked for documentation for Hersey and scoffed at Hollenbeck’s offers to educate them on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers service dogs.
While guards or staff members at a business can ask someone with a disability if their dog is a service animal, more in-depth questions can be a violation of rights, according to the federal government’s ADA website.
“Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task,” the website stated.
That’s a lesson Hollenbeck wants everyone in the Killeen area to know.
“There is a lack of awareness on ADA laws when it comes to this whole area,” she said, adding that touching or distracting a service dog can put the person with the disability in danger.
Under ADA law, service animals must be leashed or tethered if it doesn’t interfere with the service they provide, but they don’t have to have a vest that says “service animal.”
Admittedly, Hersey does not were a vest because he “outgrew it,” Hollenbeck said. That may have added to some of the confusion from the guards, but Hollenbeck said it’s obvious Hersey is a service dog because he is always equipped with a harness.
Scott & White spokesman Scott Clark said the health care system does have a service-dog policy that is compliant with ADA laws, and includes proper training for staff. He would not comment about this specific case, citing federal regulation that prevents Scott & White from speaking about patients.
Hollenbeck said she is working with Scott & White officials to make sure all employees are aware of the proper ADA laws.