This article deals with our Service Dog and the refusal to admit us to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota Florida.
If you haven’t read my article: How My Dog Georgie Helped Save My Life-A True Story, you may want to read that first.
I am a photojournalist and publisher of a number of online publications including IMPress Magazine.
Our Publications Need Fresh Content
Our publications are always looking for new content and it is my job to find many of the opportunities to create that content.
I cover trade and consumer shows in New York City that includes:
The NY International Auto Show • International Beauty Show • Vision Show, Comic-Con • PhotoPlus, NY Times Travel Show • International Beauty Show
My wife and I have traveled around the world. She owns a travel agency and that has given us many opportunities to cruise on some of the newest and largest ships on the seas.
In the past, we also had invitations to see the world on travel agent FAM (familiarization) trips.
Of course, we also cover many Local events too:
Quick-Chek Hot Air Balloon Festival • Macy’s Parade • Easter Bonnet Parade St. Patrick’s Day Parade • Other Parades and Events • Museums and many others.
You can view my work at https://ipaimpress.com/lenrapoport
We Have Traveled The World
Since we also own a travel agency we have been all over the world and have cruised on many beautiful ships.
On this website, you can see many of the destinations and ships we have covered for our publications.
Our Visits to Florida
We love to visit our families in Florida, usually a couple of times each year. Christmas is the big visit and I try to plan in advance where we might go with the grandchildren.
This gives us an opportunity to show the children having fun at the parks and also adds rich content to the articles and videos created.
Planning Our Trips – Obtaining Media Access
I will usually attempt to reach out to those that grant me media access prior to leaving for Florida. In some cases, I have to request access when I arrive in Florida.
Doing this during the holiday season is a real problem and at times I am disappointed in not getting the media access I would like. I do understand that often the proper personnel to grant that access are on holiday.
That being said, there is usually enough activity in Florida to find content for our websites and of course an opportunity to spend some time with family there.
Unfortunately, this trip was a failure in terms of visiting and writing about all the wonderful museums and attractions on the west coast of Florida.
In this article, you can read why the Ringling approved us for our visit and then denied our entry on arrival because we have a service dog.
The Ringling Museum
Sarasota – Ringling Museum, MOTE Aquarium, Selby Gardens
For years my wife has wanted to visit Sarasota and some of the places of interest there. So I attempted to contact three popular attractions that were at the top of our list. I was a bit late in doing so and we were leaving for Florida a couple of weeks before I decided what I wanted to see and write about.
Unfortunately, there we weren’t able to contact anyone at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and also the MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, both of their websites had recorded messages that detailed days and hours of operation and entrance fees.
There were no links to their public relations or marketing only general links and a form. Since time was short, we assumed we would be able to gain the support needed if we simply went there, but it was a bad plan.
So I would have to hope on arrival they would open their doors to me and allow me to write about their organizations.
We Came To See The Ringling
Now the only museum we truly wanted to visit was the Ringling Museum. We knew this was the single most important tourist attraction in Sarasota.
I was able to find a telephone number and the extension of their marketing manager Virginia Harshman on their website. I called and their recording informed me she was on holiday so I left a message in hopes I would hear from her, which I did.
The Ringling • Denied Us Access
Virginia was kind enough to arrange passes for me and my wife. However, on arrival at the museum, we didn’t find any notice or tickets for us waiting at their Will Call window.
Now we would have purchased tickets ourselves, but was hoping to get Virginia Harshman or a spokesperson to do a short intro to the video we were going to create.
Most of our articles contain beautiful photo galleries and a video too. No one knew where tickets were for us, so we were given permission to stroll the garden area and watch a video in their lobby.
Our Last Day In Sarasota
I attempted to once again reach Virginia Harshman our press contact at Ringling. I had sent her an email the night before, to find out if she had left tickets at the box office for us.
Selby Botanical Gardens
In the meantime, we decided to visit Selby Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any Press Contacts on the Selby website. Only a phone number which was a general info recording.
We decided to just go to the Selby and see if they would allow us entry. We wore our Press ID, gave them our business card and hoped they would allow us into the gardens. They told us permission would have to be granted through the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
I had limited time and only wanted to grab some photos for our article, so we decided to leave Selby and try to get approvals at the Chamber of Commerce.
So back into the car, headed for the Chamber of Commerce. Now in New York, and around the world, we have always been given access and in some cases even a tour of the places we visit, both U.S. and International locations.
Most places we have visited are media-friendly. I wear my press ID and have my iPad in hand which enables me to show people what we do at IMPress Magazine. This usually gives us the access we need.
Sarasota Chamber of Commerce
Now once you are approved by the Chamber of Commerce, you could have entry to all of the museums and attractions in Sarasota.
Unfortunately, the person we needed to get us approval was on holiday.
So once again we failed to get the access we needed. However two days later we did hear from them, but it was of course too late as we had already begun our further journey to visit Venice, Florida a quaint little town we were told was a must-see.
It started to become evident that this trip to Sarasota was not going well. We spent the time and money to go there thinking we would have a wonderful time. Of course, getting new and exciting content for all of our online publications and social media groups too.
The Ringling Museum was on the top on our list, and we felt it would be worth the trip and the cost. Unfortunately, the only content we now have is the article you are reading on how disappointed we were.
My Service Dog, Georgie – Now We Have Another Problem
I have a service dog who has been trained to alert me if I am going to have a medical emergency. At times, I put him in a small wheeled cart when walking becomes too difficult for him. I also will carry him on my shoulder in his doggie bag at times as well, this way he can keep a closer look at me and alert me if necessary.
We planned to take Georgie into the lobby then take him out to walk through the grounds and museum. You can read my story on how “Georgie Saved My Life”
Day 2 We Return To The Ringling • Refused Access
The following day we drove to the Ringling and entered the lobby. We went to the ticket counter again to see if our passes were at the Will Call booth. I, of course, had my International Press Assoc. Press card on and my NYP (New York Police) Press card around my neck. As we entered we were stopped by their security guard Jeff Zuba at the entrance to the building.
He stopped us as we entered with our dog to ask us these two simple questions:
“Is This A Service Dog” and “What Service Does He Perform”
That’s it, they are not allowed, by Federal Law, to ask what my condition is, or anything else related to my disability.
I, of course, answered the questions he asked and Mr. Zuba became agitated and told me that
“someone had just pet my dog and I didn’t stop him”.
Therefore, he couldn’t be a service dog. Of course, his tone, statement, and belligerent manner threw me off. I couldn’t believe his lack of knowledge. This was the first time ever, that I have been challenged or treated this way.
“Someone petting my dog without my knowledge certainly wouldn’t necessarily interfere with my disability or Georgie doing his job.”
Our dog has been trained to alert me of a medical emergency. He is not a guide dog or a bomb detection dog, that might be distracted if people to pet him.
Petting A Service Dog
We have allowed some children and others to pet Georgie when they request it and we always tell them how to pet him so he is not distracted or surprised.
I also try to explain to children and their parents what a service dog is and what they do for their owners. This way both children and parents understand and learn about service animals and the important job they do for the disabled.
My wife and I tried to explain to him that I am not blind and he is not a seeing-eye dog. “How could I see anyone petting Georgie if I was talking to you and how would I even know if someone bent down to pet him?” I asked. No reply other than we could not enter the museum.
I explained again that he is an alert dog for my medical condition.
However, Mr. Zuba became rude and insisted we could not enter. Even though he knew we were members of the Press and were there to write about the museum.
Apparently stopping us from entering with our small service animal was more important than our invitation to cover and write about the museum.
Returned To My Car
I returned to my parked car and looked at my iPhone messages again and there was an email from Virginia Harshman. She was responding to my previous days’ email about the admission tickets.
Ms. Harshman wrote back that she had tickets for us and if necessary would meet us there to get us entry. She was still on vacation but would come over to give us the access we needed.
I returned to see Mr. Zuba and showed him the email from Virginia and he turned to us and said, I will let you and your wife in but not the dog.
Needless to say, we were not only upset but couldn’t believe this was happening. Never in all the years and all the places we have gone, did we experience the harsh treatment that we went through that day.
Three Strikes And We Are Gone
So now after striking out three times in two days, we decided it simply wasn’t worth it and left the museum. I emailed both Virginia Harshman and our contact at the Chamber of Commerce to explain the issues we were having and both apologized for the issues and invited us back at another time.
Of course, living in New Jersey, we won’t have this opportunity again. I have no plans to revisit Sarasota now or in the future. The lack of hospitality and the difficulties in trying to get media access to some of their attractions is the most difficult I have found in the over 25 years as a photojournalist and publisher.
Exhausted and Frustrated
Exhausted, frustrated, disappointed and without any new articles for our publications, we arrived back home. I was so angry and annoyed at the problems we had at Ringling and the other locations we had planned to visit that I swore off ever going back.
Not only did we waste so much of our time, but the time spent driving from Palm Beach to Sarasota was just over 3 hours each way. Of course, it also cost us over $1,500 to make this simple trip to Florida and to Sarasota.
Residence Inn, Sarasota
During our short stay in Sarasota, we had a positive experience. We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn and was greeted by the general manager Michele Reisdorf (right) and their assistant manager Amie Reese (left). Both welcomed us with our service dog and was shocked to hear the story about the Ringling problem. They were happy to have us as guests and of course loved having Georgie at the hotel.
Our Articles Take Time To Create
As you can see from all the articles on our website we spend a great deal of time gathering the photos and materials we need to write and publish them. Companies like Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Lion Country Safari, World Trade Center, NY International Auto Show, and so many others we work with, welcome us and are pleased with our coverage.
Good publicity and social media are important today and Social Media has become one of the best ways to promote one’s business. Since we have four online publications reaching over a million readers each year both on our websites and social media, doors open to us.
I have made a rule on publishing on our websites. I won’t spend the time and energy to publish a negative article, that is until now.
Back To Our Home
Now back home, I received an email from Cherie Knudson who wrote to me that she understood I had a problem at the Ringling. I sent her a detailed email reminding her of the ADA law.
Americans With Disabilities Act – ADA – Guideline
“The business must allow an individual claiming their animal is a service dog to enter. Refusing service is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which can result in penalties, fines, and money damages”
“This is private, protected information and considered harassment of the disabled”. You may not ask for the dog to demonstrate the task it provides. … Refusing service and/or being rude to a service Dog and handler is not only unprofessional behavior, but it is illegal at both state and federal levels.”
I explained in my email to Ms. Nudson, that Ringling has violated the ADA law. In my email, I wrote that we came to Sarasota for the sole purpose of taking photos, video and writing a favorable article about the Ringling.
I had also written that I had a meeting with my attorney the next day on another matter but would ask his advice about the situation at Ringling. At that point, Ms. Nudson never got back to me. I do understand once you mention legal action the conversation stops.
My lawyer did advise me that I could sue the Ringling. However, this meant locating a Florida attorney and seek damages for the time and money spent to go to Sarasota to cover the cities attractions.
Of course, the public embarrassment and the emotional stress we were put under that still continues as I write this article. I will keep legal options open at this time.
Steven High Ringling Executive Director
A better idea to reach out to Ringling Exec Director Steven High.
I was able to reach him by phone and introduced myself and explained the unfortunate treatment we received. I reminded him that Mr. Zuba’s actions were in violation of ADA and federal law.
He apologized for the Ringling and told me he would look into the matter and get back to me.
Steven High Replies
I just wanted to let you know that our deputy director, security chief, and head of Visitor Services met today regarding your experience while visiting The Ringling.
We will be implementing new training for Visitor Service staff and Security on service animal regulations and on properly engaging with the public on the issue. Our goal is to meet the ADA requirement fully for service dogs.
I’m sorry you were treated disrespectfully by one of our security officers. It is our hope that this will not happen again at The Ringling. I hope you will visit The Ringling again, and when you do, please give me a call and I will tour you through the property.
All the best,
Hopefully What Happened To Us Won’t Happen To Others
I am pleased that our unacceptable and troubling experience at Ringling will help other legitimate disabled people from being abused and disgraced as we were.
I personally thank Mr. High for taking my call and understanding the terrible treatment we received from his security member.
It was an abusive use of power by one individual over another. The embarrassment in having others in the entrance hall wonder what we did wrong. This was truly humiliating and an offensive experience for both my wife and me.
I would never spend the time that I have taken to write this article. However, I am still in shock about this incident. This article is written to alert others that have a service dog. Take action if you experience the same type of abuse as we have.
We Are Dealing
My wife and I continue to deal with this awful experience and taking the joy out of what was to be an enjoyable working vacation.
Frankly, this entire incident has truly been on our minds since the incident occurred. I am now waiting for further information from the Ringling. I will continue to look at our other options for relief if necessary at this time.
Those With Legitimate Service Dogs Read This Information
I have found that many disabled with legitimate service dogs tend to question others about the legitimacy of their service dogs. Not every disabled person should assume that others with service dogs are all fakes.
We all know It is easy to buy fake Service Dog ID, vests and leashes. It is quite easy to spot a dog that is not trained and behaves poorly in public. We see it all the time and have seen dogs come in with vests at stores. They may bark or act unruly and are of course asked to leave.
Many disabilities can’t be seen, as is my situation. My dog can smell a problem and also see a change in my body and face, as a result of an oncoming attack.
So walking our dog on a leash, may not be the best way for Georgie to watch me. Georgie is always with me, as I write this article from my home office he is sitting on the table next to my desk.
Trained For Crowds Too
He is well trained, does not bark in public or gets distracted, heels at my side when we walk and listens intently to my commands. He was trained years ago to be a therapy dog so it was an easy transition to train him as a service dog.
Georgie goes with us to Consumer and Trade Shows at the Javits Convention Center in New York. We use our cart to protect Georgie from being stepped on by the crowds at these shows. It helps him on the escalator and other areas that might be a challenge.
Dogs Can Be Trained For Most Disabilities
Each service dog has been trained to address their owner’s disability as mine has. A person might seem to be without a visible handicap or medical condition.
We cannot and should not accuse then or others of having a Fake service dog either. It is hurtful and unfair to do so unless you know for sure that the dog is not a service dog.
Of course, it might be obvious to all of us that a dog is not a trained service dog based on his actions and behavior.
We all know what is expected from our service dogs and when we see what might be a dog that has not to be trained. However, from a photo on a social media site, one should not come to any conclusions based on photos.
I do understand that this issue of fake service doges is a widespread concern. The day is coming when the ADA will require proper registration of a service animal. We look forward to that day.
New Regulations On Service Animals
The latest ADA recommendations want the dogs on the floor (4 On The Floor) and under tables in restaurants.
However, in my case, we need to keep Georgie close to me. On a plane, he is in his bag under the seat in front of us.
In the restaurants, they will allow him to sit next to me in his bag on a chair or seat and I never get a complaint from management.
So, in special cases, you need to take into account that some of us must do what is necessary to help our service dog do their job.
If your dog needs to smell your breath, monitor your actions and your face, it is difficult if they are under a table in a restaurant or even walking on a leash.
Now, this only holds true for smaller dogs. Larger dogs are closer to their owners because of their size and ability to smell or watch their owner’s facial expressions and actions, even if under a table.
No Easy Solution Except Regulation and Licensing
The only solution I could think of is regulation and licensing service animals. License the service dog and collect a yearly fee that would help offset the costs to implement this program.
As is the case in obtaining a vehicle disability card, it should be required to supply some form of medical or service dog training as proof to facilitate a more reasonable and legal approach to this ongoing issue.
I am sure this is a complex issue with no easy solution so, until that time, we must hope that all of us with legitimate needs for a service animal, will no longer be treated unfairly or without the decency we deserve.
Stop The Fake Service Dog Cards and Documents
In the meantime, it is our job to inform the public about service animals and to not abuse the privileges afforded us.
It would be nice if there was a law that stopped those that sell fake Service Dog cards, letters or other documents that have no legitimacy at all. Make it illegal to do so and it will stop the widespread use of these fake documents.