Allergic Cabbie Fined for Forcing Service Dog to Ride in Trunk

Denver cabbie forces seeing eye dog to ride in trunk due to allergies.

June 8, 2011, 10:36 AM

June 8, 2011— -- A Colorado cab driver has been suspended from his job after forcing a blind woman to stow her seeing-eye dog in the trunk because of his pet allergies.

Denver resident Judie Brown was confused when the cabbie told her that the dog had to ride "in the back" of the cab because of he was allergic. When she asked, "Where in the back?" the driver responded "In the trunk," Brown told ABC News affiliate in Denver KMGH 7.

Late for an appointment, Brown reluctantly agreed. The black lab, Alberto, who has been Brown's service dog for four years, whined during the entire ride in the trunk. "It was terribly wrong," Brown said of the situation, and the law is on her side: Colorado state law protects service dogs and their owners, allowing them to ride together in taxis and public transport.

The driver, whose name hasn't been provided by Union Taxi, has since been suspended and fined by the state for violating this law, according to KMGH 7. The cab company declined to comment to ABC News.

The situation embodies a common conflict between those with dog allergies and those requiring service dogs for a disability. Disability laws protect those with service dogs, but do not usually protect those with allergies.

Taxi cabs and restaurants commonly pose a problem for those with service dogs, says Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users.

"Most states have criminal penalties for refusing access to service dogs, but one of the major issues is that generally there's ignorance of this law. The Department of Justice clearly states that allergies and fear of animals are not reasons to deny service animals -- unless the allergy rises to the level of disability," he says.

If a cab driver can prove that his/her allergy to dogs constitutes a disability, then there would be a conflict as to whose rights are superior, Gwindzala says. But how often is a dog allergy severe enough to qualify as a disability?

Someone with asthma could have a severe asthma attack triggered by having a dog in the car, which could be threatening to his/her health, according to James Sublett.,chair of the Indoor Environments Committee at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. While most dog allergy reactions trigger milder symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, and skin rashes, in severe cases, the eyes can swell shut with inflammation -- a reaction that would certainly affect one's ability to drive a cab, he says.

Even for those with merely annoying symptoms, one ride with a dog could leave dander in the car for several weeks unless cleaned thoroughly, Sublett says.

Given the laws that protect service dogs, what's an allergic cabbie to do?

"The driver has a reasonable right to avoid contamination of his cab with dog dander," says Miles Weinberger, director of the Pediatric Allergy and Pulmonary Division at the University of Iowa.

However, he adds, the driver also has an "obligation to ensure that an alternative taxi is promptly available. Putting the dog in the trunk is not an acceptable alternative."

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