Legally blind woman accuses restaurant staff of not letting her dog inside

Hope Wilds and her service dog, Charlie. (KATU Photo)

A woman who is legally blind said she was told her guide dog was not allowed into a Salem sushi restaurant.

Now, she plans on moving forward with legal action against the restaurant.

Hope Wilds lost her vision due to Optic Nerve Atrophy five years ago, and was paired up with Charlie from Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, Ore.

She says she has a lot more freedom with Charlie, a docile golden Labrador, who helps her travel and even goes on hikes with her.

"Generally speaking, he's with me almost all of the time," Wilds said.

Thursday, she took the bus with Charlie and her 10-year-old daughter to downtown Salem's O'Sushi on State Street.

"Charlie was asked to leave. They said no dogs allowed," Wilds recalled. She said the manager also told her service dogs were not allowed into the restaurant.

"The manager stepped over after that. Right after that, he said, 'Sorry, no dogs allowed.' I said, 'Well, I'm legally blind and this is my guide dog,'" Wilds explained.

She was told the owners of the restaurant did not allow any animals, including service animals. Her daughter was embarrassed, so they left the restaurant.

KATU News reached out to O'Sushi. The manager who was on duty Thursday night called it a "misunderstanding."

Initially, he said a waitress did not realize it was a service animal and told Wilds the dog needed to leave.

"The waitress said it's our owner's policy to not allow service pets. The lady said, 'That's illegal.' That's when I came around. I was going to tell her to move her dog," manager Christopher North said.

North said he was trying to move her to a different seat and said Wilds left on her own.

"It was never our intention to kick her out. We never told her to leave... If it is a service animal, we do accommodate them," he said.

Wilds claims she was not given an option.

"By telling a blind person their service dog has to leave you are saying they have to leave," Wilds said.

Wilds said she has spoken with a civil rights attorney and plans to move forward with a lawsuit. She said she would also file a formal complaint with the State of Oregon.

Michael Richardson, the director of the Northwest ADA Center, said businesses must allow service animals. Under the law, he said, restaurants can't ask people about their disability and can only ask the two following questions:

1. Is the animal required because of a disability?

2. What task or service has this animal been trained to do?

Richardson said service animals are not required to carry an type of certification or wear any tags or vests for identification.

More information can be found on Northwest ADA Center's website.

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