Veteran with service cat feels discriminated against
An unconventional service animal has led to a disabled war veteran feeling like his rights were violated.
Jeff Ward and Wendy are quite a unique pair.
He's a disabled war veteran, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. And she's not your average house cat.
In fact, she isn't a house cat at all. Wendy is Jeff's service animal.
"She acts as a social buffer when I go out and she absorbs a lot of stress that I feel," Ward said.
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He gets a lot of strange looks and comments. But Ward said in the past four months he's had her, he feels 100 percent better.
Earlier this week Ward attempted to take Wendy to his new gym, Lifetime Fitness on RR 620. He said he was stopped by the general manager.
"He came down and said they weren't going to accommodate my pet. I said she's not a pet she's a service animal. He refused to believe that, he laughed at me," Ward said.
Ward did bring Wendy, on her leash and harness, to his initial tour of the facility when he joined the previous week.
Lifetime Fitness defends its manager's actions, saying Ward stormed out before they could come to an agreement.
"Mr. Ward launched a verbal attack laden with profanity and demanded that his membership be cancelled," Lifetime Fitness Director of Corporate Communications Jason Thunstrom said.
Ward said he has yet to see a refund, but feels the principle is more important than the money.
"I'm part of the first wave of guys returning, and I'm having to make sure the guys that come behind me don't have to deal with the problems I'm dealing with," Ward said.
Ward is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that privately-owned businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.
The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.
"From what I understand, Lifetime's conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act," attorney Scott Medlock said. He's a lead attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
They're looking at prosecuting Ward's case.
"The cat is there to help him cope with his disability and Mr. Ward deserves the protection of the laws of this country," Medlock said.
Lifetime Fitness maintains they would like the opportunity to assist Mr. Ward with his unique needs.
Ward said he just wants the gym to accommodate him so he can use the pool for therapy for the injuries to his legs.