Harold Cooksey, traveling through Brookings with his service dog Mary Jane, was initially denied indoor service at Brookings Presbyterian and Trinity Lutheran churches’ Community Kitchens.
After Cooksey showed the official ID for his service dog, Wesley King at the Presbyterian church reversed his initial decision and allowed Cooksey and Mary Jane in for lunch.
However, at the Lutheran church, Jim Bowman, who was watching the door as people came in, said Cooksey would have to eat outside if he wanted his dog to stay with him. He stood by that position even when shown the Butte County (California) Service Dog ID and an explanation of federal law regarding service dogs.
“Brookings is the most trouble I’ve had,” Cooksey said.
Bowman said he didn’t want dogs inside where the group was preparing and serving food.
“We have outside seating for people and their dogs,” he said. “We even have an umbrella and an ocean view.”
Bowman said he feared if the group let one person in with a dog it would escalate as more people demanded to eat with their pets.
After Cooksey called Brookings Police, Officer Maia Mello arrived and spoke to the volunteers inside the church.
She told Cooksey the volunteers said he could come in with Mary Jane, but Bowman was still refusing to allow it.
Mello said she called the pastor and he agreed to mediate the situation.
Soon after, Bowman emerged from the church and shook Cooksey’s hand.
“I concede,” he said. “I have lost this battle. I don’t have the right to question these IDs or service dogs.”
Bowman pointed out he did not speak for the church or the soup kitchen, but said he liked dogs and added the soup kitchen actually feeds people’s dogs and sometimes has dog food to give away as well.
Cooksey said he has a real service dog with a legitimate card, but said people can buy service dog IDs online and then they take poorly trained dogs into places and cause trouble for people who really need their dogs.
“I was in Walmart recently,” he said, “and there were seven dogs in the store barking and acting up and making it impossible for Mary Jane to do her job.”
Mary Jane picks things up and carries them and provides comfort, according to Cooksey. He said he has back problems and PTSD from his time in the Army.
“I’m not interested in getting anyone arrested,” he said. “I just want to eat with my service dog there doing her job.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, churches and religious groups are exempt from ADA requirements, but it is not clear if that is the case when they are serving food or functioning as a soup kitchen, and Oregon state law allows service dogs into all public services, programs and activities.
Reach Boyd C. Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org .