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Photo courtesy of Ken Warkentin

Student invited to dinner after guide dog dispute

A Fresno State student will dine with the president of Table Mountain Casino after being told she couldn’t eat at the Eagle’s Landing restaurant because she had a dog with her.

Shaela Warkentin said her dog Lennox is a certified guide dog that she takes around because she is blind. The Collegian reported last semester about Warkentin’s disability, which came after a drunken driver crashed into her car six years ago and left her without the ability to see or smell.

“I feel like guide dogs serve as a companion,” Warkentin said. “It’s still someone there that can give you comfort.”

But on Jan. 6, Warkentin went to the casino restaurant looking over Millerton Lake. A worker at the casino stopped her and told her she needed to wear a bright green wristband. That had never happened to her.

“They didn’t tell us why they were doing that,” Warkentin said. After putting on the wristband, Warkentin and her parents were let in, along with Lennox, the guide dog.

Once inside, a server hesitated to seat them at a table, she said. A phone call was later made and a man in a tuxedo arrived. He told Warkentin that they couldn’t stay at the restaurant with the dog. Warkentin and family left.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, disability rights include that guide dogs are generally allowed anywhere, and businesses cannot discriminate against a person based on the presence of a service animal. Additionally, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs rules say Native American reservations must follow state and federal laws.

“I didn’t feel obligated to give the casino money if they weren’t going to let me eat dinner at their restaurant,” Warkentin said.

The next day, Warkentin’s dad, who is executive director of the American Foundation for the Blind, posted on Facebook about the matter. The social media post led to more than 1,500 shares online from angry social media followers who wanted the casino to reconsider its position.

Nearly a week later, on Jan. 13, Warkentin’s dad once again posted on his social media page, this time saying the president of the casino had reached out and was welcoming the family and the dog back to the restaurant. Warkentin said she was glad so many people wanted to help and showed concern.

Warkentin, who is in her fourth year studying psychology, said she has been going to the same restaurant for many years and felt she would not be allowed to return.

“I have so many good memories from it, and so it was so disappointing to know they were denying me service with my guide dog,” she said.

Warkentin said Tuesday the casino’s president offered to have her, Lennox and her parents for dinner one night as a welcoming back to the restaurant. It was great to hear she was being allowed to return, she added. Her dad called the president’s decision an “honorable move.”

“Knowing that this many people rallied together to help me, it makes me feel very important and special,” Warkentin said.

Table Mountain Casino staff did not return calls made Tuesday.