Teacher says State Fair exhibit worker discriminated against her for service dog

NM State Fair 9/12/16
NM State Fair 9/12/16

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A local high school teacher says a State Fair traveling exhibit worker discriminated against her for having a service dog and forced her to leave an exhibit. The teacher’s students also told her the worker kicked the service animal.

It happened on the last Friday of the fair when Katrina Turjillo-Lucero took her special needs students on a field trip. She wanted to get them out of the classroom to help with social anxieties and to learn from the exhibits at the fair.

With the group was her service dog, Friday, who helps her cope with her PTSD and alerts her to use life-saving allergy medication during an allergy attack.

“I just wanted to enjoy the fair with my students,” she told KRQE News 13.

But Trujillo-Lucero had a hard time doing that when her school group went to the “Aussie Kingdom” exhibit – a Colorado-based traveling show owned by Carolyn Lantz that boasts Australian animals.

“[Lantz] got in my face and she told me that dogs aren’t allowed in her exhibit,” Trujillo-Lucero said. “And I saw the signs there, but service dogs are exempt.”

She says she tried multiple times to tell Lantz that her dog, Friday, is a certified service animal and that the law states Friday can be there. Lantz, she says, ultimately forced her to leave.

“Friday didn’t disturb property, she didn’t bark at anybody, she didn’t growl at anybody, she didn’t growl at any of the animals in the exhibit,” Trujillo-Lucero said. “We were about 7 to 10 feet away from the kangaroos.”

It wasn’t just this that upset her, she says.

“Afterwards, one of my students told me that she kicked Friday in the nose,” Trujillo-Lucero said. “Discrimination is one thing, but assault on a service dog, that’s another thing.”

She took the matter to State Police at the fairgrounds and filed a report. She says she was then escorted to the fairgrounds administrative office to discuss her rights. While waiting to speak to someone she says more State Police officers came in and told her she was being a “disturbance.”

“When I wasn’t even talking to anybody, I was just waiting,” she said. “I felt myself getting really angry, but I wanted to be an example for my students.”

KRQE News 13 reached out to State Fair officials, who said:

According to the person who operates the Aussie Kingdom, there were four signs posted stating “no dogs allowed please.”  Apparently her concern was that kangaroos perceive dogs as a threat, which she explained to Ms. Trujillo-Lucero.

There were also signs warning people not to touch the animals as some bite.

The Aussie Kingdom representative says she asked Ms. Trujillo-Lucero to remove the dog from under the tented area, and when that didn’t work, she stood between the dog and the kangaroos, and says she did not ever touch the dogs.  Eventually Ms. Trujillo-Lucero left the area and returned with state police.  I don’t believe state police escorted her off the property, though they may have asked her to leave the immediate area of Aussie Kingdom.

In full, the New Mexico law on service animals reads:

28-11-3. Admittance of qualified service animal.
A.   Notwithstanding any other provision of law:
(1)   a person with a disability who is using a qualified service animal shall be admitted to any building open to the public and to all other public accommodations and shall be allowed access to all common carriers; provided that the qualified service animal is under the control of an owner, a trainer or a handler of the qualified service animal.  A person shall not deny an individual with a qualified service animal entry to a building open to the public or to any public accommodation or deny access to a common carrier, regardless of any policy of denying to pets entry to that building, public accommodation or common carrier.  A person shall not be required to pay any additional charges for the qualified service animal, but may be liable for any damage done by the qualified service animal; provided that persons without disabilities would be liable for similar damage; and
(2)   in an emergency requiring transportation or relocation of the owner or trainer of the qualified service animal, to the extent practicable, accommodations shall be made for the qualified service animal to remain or be reunited with the owner, trainer or handler.  When accommodations cannot be made for allowing the qualified service animal to remain with the owner, trainer or handler, the qualified service animal shall be placed pursuant to instructions provided by the owner, trainer or handler.
B.   This section does not require a public accommodation or common carrier to permit an owner, trainer or handler using a qualified service animal to have access to a public accommodation or common carrier in circumstances in which the individual’s use of the qualified service animal poses a direct threat of significant harm to the health or safety of others.
History: Laws 1989, ch. 242, § 2; 1999, ch. 262, § 2; 1999, ch. 288, § 2; 2005, ch. 224, § 3; 2013, ch. 57, § 3.

KRQE News 13 asked State Fair officials about their response to the situation in regards to the law saying, “A person shall not deny an individual with a qualified service animal entry to a building open to the public or to any public accommodation or deny access to a common carrier, regardless of any policy of denying to pets entry to that building, public accommodation or common carrier,” but have yet to hear back.

A direct email to Aussie Kingdom from KRQE News 13 requesting further clarification on the incident has yet to receive a reply.

Trujillo-Lucero says she has filed an American with Disabilities Act complaint with the Department of Justice, as well as with the Better Business Bureau and has also reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union.

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