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‘This isn’t right,’ veteran says about service dog being turned away from American Legion Post

DENVER -- A Denver veteran is being told her service dog is no longer welcome at the American Legion Post she's frequented for years.

Clotilde Szelkowski tells the Problem Solvers she received a letter in September from the staff at Post #1, telling her she was welcome at the facility off I-25 and East Yale Avenue, but her 10-month-old service dog Brownie, was not.

"They have been fighting me on her pretty much since the beginning," says Szelkowski. "They decided that she was a disturbance, and a distraction, and that only I would be welcome back in the post, she would not."

Post Commander Tom Yagely declined our requests for an interview, but tells FOX31 he does not believe the dog is a legitimate service dog, and that she's caused problems in the past. He would not describe specific incidents.

"I don't see it," says Szelkowski. "I put her through professional obedience training. She was in training at one point when she did bark, but it was corrected immediately. And as far as I read the ADA (Americans with Disabilities act), if I correct it, it's taken care of."

Legally, service dogs do not require any sort of certification or registration. They must be individually trained to perform a task, or service, for a person with a disability.

Szelkowski says Brownie has been trained to help with her PTSD.

"When I go out, I need her, because what she does is alert me to an untoward sound or person behind me. She can pick them out of a crowd."

But the ADA could side in the post's favor, if the issue ends up in the court of law.

While well-behaved service dogs must be allowed in restaurants, movie theaters, and anywhere else the public is allowed, they are not necessarily allowed in two places: Religious entities and private clubs.

American Legion Post #1 requires membership payments and qualifications to get in, and would likely be considered a private club.

"If they do qualify as a private membership club that is excluded from the ADA, then they don't have a legal obligation to follow the ADA," says Attorney Emily Harvey.

That would mean the Post could deny entrance to the service dog, whether it was behaving well, or not.

Harvey specializes in disability law, and says it's extremely rare to see a private club restrict access to a service dog.

"Most private membership clubs, and we would hope this to be the case as well, will work with people to make sure that they are allowing them to have access with their service animal," she says.

Szelkowski is the Senior Vice Commander at the post, and says she has no plans to give up her fight.

She plans on hiring an attorney to pursue legal action if the post doesn't change its stance.

"I see it being a fight, a battle," she says. "I'm going to stand my ground. This is wrong."

Here is the actual ADA rule:
"(e) Exemptions and exclusions. This part does not apply to any private club (except to the extent that the facilities of the private club are made available to customers or patrons of a place of public accommodation), or to any religious entity or public entity."

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