A Dubois motel had no reason to refuse a room to a U.S. veteran because of her service dog, according to the leader of a Cheyenne group that helps train such dogs.
Michelle Woerner, CEO of K9s 4 Mobility, said she was outraged at allegations the Chinook Winds Motel refused to let Col. Victoria Miralda stay at the hotel with her service dog Luna.
“People need to realize that denying the service dog access is like telling the person to leave their cane, walker or wheelchair outside,” Woerner told Cowboy State Daily. “The service dog allows that person to complete daily tasks, so without them someone or something would need to take the dog’s place. There is no reason to deny the person with the service dog before observing the behavior.”
Miralda is suing Chinook winds on allegations it violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Wyoming law when it refused to allow her to stay at the motel with her dog, which she relies on for help with physical disabilities and mental health issues.
In particular, Luna helps Miralda going up and down stairs and dealing with anxiety stemming from PTSD.
Miralda’s lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleged that the motel owner would not allow her and a fellow veteran to stay at the business due to Miralda’s service dog.
The women attempted to stay at the hotel in September 2021 when returning from an event in Montana, the lawsuit said. Miralda reserved a room for one night through the Expedia travel website, paying around $120 in advance.
When checking in, Miralda informed the motel employee, who identified herself as the owner, that she had a service animal. The owner said Luna could not stay in the room, as the motel did not allow pets.
When Miralda explained Luna was not a pet, but a service animal, the owner reiterated the policy of no pets and no exceptions.
Woerner told Cowboy State Daily that ADA does not require any certification or registration for a service dog, but the animal must perform physical skill tasks that directly address its owner’s disability.
“The motel cannot deny anyone with a service dog or even ask for any type of “paperwork” that shows the dog is a trained service dog,” she said. “They can only ask if the dog is a service dog needed for a disability and then what tasks the dog is trained to do.”
Miralda offered to show documentation proving that Luna was trained and certified as a service animal and to bring in her own bedsheet to ensure the room remained clean, despite Luna being housebroken and well-behaved, the lawsuit said.
The owner refused this offer and told Miralda that if she brought the dog into the motel room, she would be charged an additional $200.
Woerner said that the motel cannot charge an extra fee for the service dog being in the room, but can charge for damage done by the dog or for extra cleaning needed because of the dog, excluding dog hair.
“At K9s 4 Mobility, we encourage all of our clients to inform the motel they are making reservations with that they will have a service dog with them and request that it be included as a note on the reservation so anyone checking them in is aware of it,” she said. “We also encourage clients to carry the ADA law about public access and specifically hotels/motels, so they can show anyone asking.”
Since the owner would not allow Miralda to stay with Luna, she asked for a refund of her advance payment, but was denied.
A person claiming to be the owner then posted remarks about Miralda to Expedia following the encounter, stating there was nothing in the reservation about a service animal accompanying Miralda, that the motel did not allow dogs and that Luna did not have any documentation proving Luna was a service dog, the lawsuit said.
According to court documents, since the encounter with Miralda, the Chinook Winds is now allowing dogs in two rooms, which are apparently also the most expensive rooms at the motel. Guests are also required to pay a surcharge for their dogs.
Woerner said that she was amazed people were still so ignorant about service dogs and ADA, even in 2022.
“The public gets confused on what is legit and what is not,” she said. “Then there are those people that are basically faking a disability by calling their pet dog a ‘service dog’ to bring them into a public place and many times that is a hotel/motel. The motel/hotel owners should observe the behavior of the service dog and if that dog is behaving poorly, the ADA gives them the right to refuse lodging or services with the dog.”