Family of disabled boy says Michigan motel refused entry to service dog

OYS: Service dog turned away at motel

BEAR LAKE, MICH. - The family of a disabled boy is hoping to educate others, after they say a northern Michigan motel turned away his service dog. The motel owners are now facing possible charges.

"I made reservations a month before", says Arlen Facey, but when it came time to check in, he says, "She didn't care -- she kept saying to me, you can't stay here with that dog."

For Facey, his wife Betty and their 8-year-old son David, it was supposed to be a special weekend; a retreat for children with disabilities. The Battle Creek family was set to stay at the Bella Vista Inn in Manistee County for a trip with David's youth hockey team for children with disabilities.

He and Betty fostered David when he was a baby -- his birth mother was a drug-addict. "They had to keep him on drugs. It took methadone and opium to wean him down -- it took almost a year to get him off all the drugs in his system," says Facey's wife. David eventually had a tracheotomy to help with his breathing.

The Faceys adopted him when he was 2-and-a-half -- he's now 8 years old and although his health problems continue, the Faceys say life is easier thanks to their service dog, Venture. "He had to go through a year of training to become certified as a service dog," Facey explained. Venture senses and alerts them if David has low oxygen and fetches his tank.

On July 28, Facey says he attempted to check-in at Bella Vista Inn. Bob and Barb DeWildt own the small motel located in Bear Lake.  When Facey said he had a service dog, he says Barb told him there was a no pet policy, "When she said we couldn't stay there, I advised her it was breaking a couple laws and violating civil rights for our son -- the dog is for him."

Facey called the Manistee County Sheriff's Department for help, “I said 'it's not a civil matter, it's a criminal matter, she's violating David's rights.'" However, deputies did not come to respond to his call. 

The Faceys ended up staying at a friend’s hunting cabin for the weekend. A few days later, they got a call from the sheriff's department.  The deputy said after doing some research, he realized it was criminal matter.

In 2016, Michigan passed new laws making it a misdemeanor to either refuse a service dog entry into a business or misrepresent a pet as a service dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act also requires businesses to allow service animals into their facilities. The ADA prohibits businesses from asking for documentation and the service dog does not have to be registered if it performs a task for a disabled person. Some psychiatric conditions qualify, but emotional support animals are not included in the ADA.

►Read more: Commonly asked questions about Americans with Disabilities Act

In 2016, Michigan also created a voluntary registry for legitimate service animals. State records show the Faceys applied and were approved in February 2016.

As for the DeWildts, WZZM 13 made several attempts to get their side of the story.  We went to the motel and got a "no comment."  A few days later we called and offered them another chance to talk. The DeWildts agreed to an on-camera interview on August 7, but on the day of they cancelled and instead, WZZM got this this statement:

To Who it May Concern

We are a small, family-owned business that prides itself on providing exceptional customer service to its guests.  Since we have had a no-pet policy for many years, we thought the right thing was to honor the policy as many of our guests stay with us because of our pet-free environment.  We realize now that we should have made an exception in this situation and sincerely wish that we had.  We apologize to the family and hope that this situation has raised awareness around this issue for other small business owners who, like us, may have never before been presented with the opportunity to provide service to those with service animals

Bob & Barb DeWildt

Bella Vista Inn

The Facey's say they never intended to cause any trouble for the DeWildts. They think this case is proof that there needs to be more education on the issue of service dogs and civil rights.

The Manistee County Sheriff's Department completed it's investigation and has forwarded  the case to the prosecutors office for possible charges.

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