THE COLONY -- Wherever Zack Pennington goes, so does Ella, his service dog.
Pennington is a Navy veteran who served from 1998 to 2007 and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“She's a safety blanket for me,” he said.
Pennington was diagnosed with PTSD is 2008, and through a program called "Shepherds For Lost Sheep" put his own dog, Ella, through training to help with his disorder.
“People don't recognize they don't wear a physical badge that labels them,” said Cynthia Stamer, an attorney who helps businesses with compliance issues like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Pennington recounts a moment when he was escorted out of a post office in The Colony in early June for having his service dog. He claims the postal worker saw the dog and asked why she needed to be inside.
“By me saying what [Ella] was for, I would have been revealing my diagnosis to a room full of strangers,” Pennington said.
He says that’s a violation of the ADA.
The post office tells News 8 the dog was not wearing a vest, and had no collar on. Pennington refutes that claim, saying she was wearing a vest and always has her collar. He admits that Ella is not a fully-certified service dog, but is in training and is one month from full certification. He claims his dog should still be afforded all the benefits of a service dog.
Cynthia Stamer isn’t speaking as his legal representative, but rather someone with a lot of experience dealing with companies and a society that are often ignorant of disability regulations.
“There needs to be some verification of the disability, but there also needs to be some balancing between the importance of the situation and safety risks,” Stamer said.
A representative with the post office said Pennington refused to answer any questions by the postal worker. The rep also said Pennington and Ella were escorted out because the dog had later vomited on the floor, making it a health issue.
At the front of the post office there’s a sign that reads, “No Dogs Allowed Except Seeing Eye Dogs."
“Just because I'm not disfigured or have a visual impairment doesn't mean I'm not in need of her,” Pennington said.
Stamer said the courts are just now encountering issues like this; whether asking questions about a disability is legal. She said society is still playing catch-up on disability regulations.
“Once you say ‘no’ [...] and if you guess wrong, it could be a very expensive mistake,” Stamer said.
Pennington says he's looking to hire an attorney. The post office stands firm, saying their worker followed protocol and asked the appropriate questions to ensure the safety of its patrons.