Fired Over Therapy Dog Request?

A disabled Veteran named Michael says that is exactly what happened when he asked his bosses if therapy dogs were allowed at work.

Michael served with my adopted soldier in the Army until he suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was medically retired. Later, Michael was fortunate to find a job he greatly enjoyed in Texas at an energy-related company. He was upfront with his employers about his condition and what medications he was taking.

According to his wife, “Everyone wanted to keep Mike on their team because he was a hard worker and fast learner. He made top scores in his classes he took and LOVED his job. Our little family of 4 was settling in the civilian world.”

Things seemed to be going well. Then Michael’s therapist suggested he would benefit in social situations even more if he had a therapy dog. Michael asked his bosses if it were possible to bring a therapy dog to work with him. He did not have a therapy dog, but wanted to know if they were open to it.

Monday: Michael makes the inquiry. Says his higher-ups seemed intrigued—might be cool to have a dog around.

Thursday: One boss suggests that Michael quit. The impression Michael got was that management felt if he needed a service dog, he couldn’t be trusted at his job.

Friday: Michael was told to take a personal day and please bring in the truck so it can be refitted because we’re transferring you to another division.

Friday at 5:30pm:  Fired

Now if this Texas company had concerns that any employee were unfit for their job, those concerns should be addressed. However, when the week began, the reviews of Michael’s work were all positive.

Michael’s wife was understandably upset and reached out to my adopted soldier’s wife, Mrs. K. Then Mrs. K called me asking for advice about next steps. This problem is not in my normal realm of care package ideas and letters, but I tried to think of what I could do to help.

My first thoughts

My first thoughts were a jumble of: hire an attorney, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) may have some insights or know people who faced similar situations, maybe Team Allen knows a thing or two about disabled vet rights. Oh, and maybe they could reach out to leaders in the therapy dog community. Along with any local media or veteran groups in his area that can be an advocate for him.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. My first thoughts were really:

1. Wow.

2. Maybe this is why some troops don’t go for counseling after suffering traumas while serving—they’re worried about perception.

Now what?

Michael has hired a lawyer. Since law is not my area of expertise, I will turn to what I do know—the power and kindness of strangers. If you have any encouraging words or brilliant ideas for Michael and his family, you can leave them in the comments or email me here: gina@ginaleftthemall.com and I will forward. Michael and his wife have two little girls ages 3 and 5 and a whole new challenge in front of them right now.  At the very least, I hope to show them that they are not facing it alone.

dog collar

SEMI-UPDATE: The legal process is in motion and, for legal reasons, the details will not appear here. But when things resolve, I hope to report good news. Meanwhile, I wanted to share this note from Michael’s wife:

Michael was very humbled by the blog and all the comments. We have felt an outpouring of love and feel so grateful to have so many people care. 

© Gina left the mall, 2014

43 thoughts on “Fired Over Therapy Dog Request?

  1. Try contacting DAWG Foundation

    Since you said Energy Company and Texas – I assumed Houston and they are a local organization that provides service dogs to vets with PTSD

    http://www.dawgfoundation.com/

    If that doesn’t work – I’d contact local news stations. With the big push here for Show your Stripes — PTSD will be in the forefront of what happens when you hire vets.

    Thanks!

    Laura

    >

    • Laura,
      Thanks for the information, it is much appreciated and I will pass it along! As for the town, I didn’t include name/location so as not to get in the way of any legal things that may be happening. If they DO go public, I bet they’d got a lot support in Houston and elsewhere!

  2. I hope he gets his job back, if that’s what he’s suing for. I went to see the US Air force Heritage of America band yesterday in Bryant park. They were very good. Were you there?

    • Thank you Vincent! I’m not sure what he’s going for, but I do know that seeing that others care, will make a difference. And I’m sorry to say I missed the USAF Heritage Band. That’s a great way to celebrate an AF birthday! I will look into when/where they are playing again.

  3. MIchael and family, I will be praying for you that this situation resolves itself quickly. I’m saddened at the actions your former company took, especially since you were receiving such positive feedback. Thank you so much for your service to our country.

  4. I am sorry that I have no constructive suggestions to offer. Close-mindedness and lack of understanding toward psychological/emotional challenges is everywhere. I would have hoped that there would be more compassion for a veteran. It certainly sounds like Michael was wrongfully fired and there should be some recourse. Perhaps a lawyer can obtain financial compensation for the family, but I can’t imagine that Michael would want to go back to a company that treated him this way. He would never be comfortable in that job again and the company would never treat him fairly again. One can hope that if this situation is brought to the public eye, educating the public might keep this from happening to someone else and, optimally, another company would come forward with a job offer. How unfair to serve your country so selflessly and return home to such injustice.

    • Wendy,
      You offer caring, concern, and a shared feeling that this is incredibly unfair. For that, I thank you. I have no answers either but perhaps, as you say, if it is brought to the public eye there is an opportunity for education. And maybe even change.

  5. Interesting and something I never considered. I face some similar issues and was (slowly) starting to investigate the possibility of getting a service/therapy dog. I might have to take a step back and reconsider.

    • I have always and only seen service/therapy dogs in a positive light. I never knew perceptions like those of Michael’s employers existed in this area. I am greatly saddened that this may even be a factor for you. Please don’t step back. Please continue to investigate—even if feel you must do so more cautiously. I would hope that the unfair perception Michael encountered are in the minority.

  6. Dear, Michael and family, I am rooting for you. While this looks like a set back, I hope and have faith that by putting this out there, this will bring light to this kind of prejudice. And that bigger and better things are in store for you. I wish you get a dog and a better job at a place that truly can appreciate who you are and what you do. Wishing you peace and joy, Jeri S.

  7. Horrible that such a thing could happen in our day and age. I have worked with service dogs for many years now and I know how effective they are in facilitating healing and protecting their master from the effects of PTSD. It’s a travesty as well that we don’t care for or provide for the needs of our vets. I wonder if the ACLU could help since this is such blatant discrimination.

    • Chess,
      I recently saw a video of a therapy dog in action with a Veteran with PTSD. It was amazing to see the impact that highly-trained, fur-covered, unconditional love could make. So thank you for your work with these incredible animals.

      I was pretty stunned when this story was shared with me. Between all our men and women endure while serving, then scandal-level VA delays for healthcare, and now this? Yes, it’s a travesty. And I imagine that Michael is pursuing all available avenues, but thank you for adding ACLU to our list here.

  8. Words fail me, Gina. I am so shocked by ANY company doing this – I just wish there was some way to boycott them, let them hurt for a while, but since it is an energy-related firm that might be difficult for people to do. I hope his lawyer has a good plan of attack!!

    • Words failed me at first as well! I struggled to write this because I was so taken aback. And angry. I thought about the boycott thing and that would be well-deserved. But as you said, “energy-related” is tough. Plus I know it’s smarter and better if Michael himself chooses if/when to go public. So the best I can do is exactly this—show him that others care and consider how he was treated completely unacceptable. Thank you for helping me! And I too hope his lawyer has a good plan!

  9. I hope this can be resolved quickly and satisfactorily for you! It is not right and my thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family!

  10. I too would look into letting the local tv/media/newspapers know about this stupid and backward attitude! How can an employer who praises an employee turn around and fire him, it’s not as if a service dog is a hindrance to a company or employee…it would be great PR for them. Does this company receive Federal dollars at all…hope the ACLU will step in also to help. What about letting Steve Hartman at CBS news (On the Road series) know about this…stories ideas can be sent to him and his producer via Facebook. They should be ashamed. To Michael and his family I hope you know how much we thank you for your sacrifice and service, you haven’t done anything wrong…you just have shown us how ugly and narrow thinking some people and companies can be…SHAME ON THEM!
    Paula K.

    • Paula,
      I would LOVE if this company got some quality media attention. But of course, going public has to be Michael’s decision. However, that’s a good question about the Federal dollars. I don’t know the answer but thank you for bringing it up. It may be worth exploring. And thank you so much for your support for Michael and his family!

  11. Shame on those who made this unfair decision! Michael, may you and your family persevere and move on to better things. Thank you for your service to our country.

  12. WOW…shameless treatment and it appears to be an excellent case for wrongful termination. I love the therapy dog idea and talking to the press if the lawyer allows. This type of behavior needs to be discouraged publicly. What a rotten thing to do to a vet.

    • I couldn’t agree more. You know, this would be rotten to do to anyone. But to a Vet, there is another layer of pain. Michael sustained these injuries in selfless service to others—all us civilians back home. To then suffer prejudice from the very people you made the sacrifice for is a hurt no Vet should have to endure.

  13. This is unjust and unfair. Not only to Michael, but to all veterans. It’s awful to think that someone might be afraid to ask for help in the future due to perception by closed-minded individuals. I hope this resolves itself in Michael’s favor and that one day the ugly stigma of PTSD will be shed and these heroes can move forward knowing they have our full support in their healing process.

    • Well said, Melody. It is incredibly unfair and unjust that vets must not only battle the enemy, but this stigma as well. And ironic that this “bonus” suffering comes at the hands of those our troops served and sacrificed FOR — civilians back home. Thank you for supporting Michael’s (and other vets’) healing process.

  14. It’s really terrible the company fired Michael that way. No sympathy, no honesty, not even an explanation. Michael is worth so much more than that. I hope the lawyer can find some equity for him in this situation and that Michael and his family can move on peacefully and comfortably with their lives.

    • NP,
      On top of everything else that bothers me about this, I find the lack of honesty so disrespectful. Michael deserves better. I share your hopes for him and thank you for your kind words of support for him and his family.

  15. While I have never served in the US military, I have had plenty of experience fighting for opportunities and accomplishments regardless of my invisible disability. Countless times I’ve sat back thinking, “Surely I can’t be the only one going through this!” One thing has become very apparent, those opportunities, those changes, that I so “passionately” advocated for myself have created opportunities for those that have come after me. Did this knowledge make my path any easier? Absolutely not! But I do walk taller and I’m more proud of what I did for others than what I did for myself. Michael, you are not alone in this and you don’t need to be concerned what the outcome will mean to others. If anything else, you’ll reap benefit from the therapeutic relationship with your service animal. Before his passing, my Ze’ev saved my life more than once both literally and figuratively. And Ra’ahmi is sitting at my feet as I type this. God bless you and your family.

    • Kevin,
      It is very generous of you to share your story. I’m so sorry that you’ve encountered similar challenges. No one, neither vet nor civilian, should have to endure this type of treatment. Thank you for fighting for yourself and ultimately, for people like Michael. I hope he takes your words and example to heart. My thanks also to Ze’ev and Ra’ahmi for their amazing part in this as well. I wish you the best and continued healing.

    • I know that Michael and his wife were very moved by the words here (both mine & all of yours.) When I last spoke to my soldier’s wife things were progressing slowly. I have reached out and asked if there were a further update and if they would like to share it. When I get a response, I will update the post and alert you here as well.

    • Ted,
      I’m happy that Chew Chew has been such a positive influence in your life. I’m sure your experience will encourage Michael as he explores his options. And, while I am not legally savvy, I’m still hoping for a positive outcome.

  16. There are differences between Service Dogs, Therapy dogs and companion animals. Service Dogs or rather the disabled person with a service dog is protected under the ADA. The dog will have been trained to assist Micheal with his particular disabilities. PTSD can be debilitating and Service dogs can be trained to assist with PTSD. If it has not been done already, Micheal should seek out and get information from a dog training facility that trains dogs for the particular work he needs. Not only can they give information on exactly what a PTSD service dog does. But also the federal and state laws which protect us all. Texas may be a right to work/or fire state. But under the ADA I believe he is protected as a disabled person. I am not a lawyer, or a veteran but I have dealt with this type of discrimination myself.
    As a disabled person with a service dog, I asked for accommodations from the IRS when I worked there. It had to go through their lawyer but indeed they could not discriminate based on my disabilities and my requirement for a service dog any more than they could if someone required a wheelchair or other assistive device.
    If Micheal enjoys that job and with the help of legal education and understanding. If he is comfortable with working there, he should still work there. Ignorance of the employer should be no reason for him to not go back once that ignorance has been remedied.
    Again, please learn the difference between a Service dog and Therapy dog. A Service dog is specifically trained to assist a person with their disability/ies. A Therapy dog is trained to comfort others like in an old folks home, children’s hospital, or works with a psychological therapist to help bring comfort to a patient. A companion animal is a pet that brings comfort to the owner at home, but the dog is not trained to go out in public. Only the service dog is protected under the federal ADA.
    I hope this information helps. And that Micheal gets the right dog for him. I suggest looking up Service dog trainers who train Service Dogs for PTSD. A few I know are “The Service Dog project” and “Canine Companions for Independence” Oh and one called K9’s for Warriors. https://www.facebook.com/K9sforWarriors There are many organizations who can help in this situation. Micheal and family, you have my support and positive energies coming your way.

    Laurie, Chloe SD, Shadow SD in Utah.

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