Ann Taylor apologizes for kicking guide dog out of store
Disabilities • Owner’s anger still burns after she was booted from retailer in Salt Lake.
Published: June 21, 2012 10:52AM
Updated: June 20, 2012 09:02PM
Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Becky Andrews and her service dog Cricket weren't allowed in the Ann Taylor store at City Creek. She has retinitis pigmantosa, a degenerative eye disease and she relies on Cricket as her set of eyes and goes with her everywhere.

Becky Andrews is torn. Should the partially blind woman file a discrimination complaint for being told she couldn’t bring her guide dog into the Ann Taylor clothing store at City Creek Center? Or should she just forget the episode and move on?

One thing is certain. Andrews, who has lived with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa for most of her 47 years, is mad at the upscale store, several employees and the Ohio-based company that issued a public statement disputing her claim that her dog, Cricket, was wearing a service animal harness when they entered the store last Friday.

“They misrepresented me. I’m a responsible guide dog user. I don’t necessarily appreciate it when they send out this statement saying [Cricket] was not in harness,” the Bountiful counselor said Wednesday.

An Ann Taylor spokeswoman on Wednesday issued a mea culpa, acknowledging that store employees had made a mistake.

“In our previous statement we had said that her guide dog was unharnessed. This was not the case. We were misinformed and we are sorry that this incorrect information was released,” Catherine Fisher said in an email.

Fisher said service animals are always welcome in the company’s stores.

Andrews said she was gripping Cricket’s harness as she walked into the store last Friday. A clerk immediately confronted her. The clerk said Andrews couldn’t be in the store with her dog.

“She told me I needed to leave. It kind of took me by surprise because I was expecting a nice greeting,” Andrews said.

Retinitis pigmentosa causes progressive damage to the retina. Complete blindness isn’t common, but loss of peripheral vision is. Andrews’ eyesight has narrowed to a small dime-sized circle, which is why she dismisses the company’s claim that Cricket wasn’t harnessed.

“I can’t get around without her,” Andrews said.

The event quickly became chaotic, she said. Other employees and a manager joined in, and Andrews said voices came at her from several directions. She said she attempted to explain that Cricket was a service animal that under the Americans for Disabilities Act could be in the store with her. The employees, though, weren’t buying it.

Shocked, Andrews was near tears.

“I tried to educate them and explain the situation, but I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. And so I left. I was maybe in the store five minutes,” said Andrews , who on Wednesday was still contemplating her next step.

The store manager later called her to apologize, Andrews said.

Fisher said the company will contact Andrews “to make this situation right.”

Twitter: @sltribpaul