On January 8, Anthony McLaurin, a disabled combat veteran of four Middle eastern tours, took his wife and child to Busch Gardens to enjoy some family time together. When they arrived at the gate they were turned away because of McLaurin’s service dog which is trained to assist him as the result of his service-related post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
“Someone named “Danny” who identified himself as the Park Operating Manager asked me what service my dog provided,” explains McLaurin. When I told him my dog alerts me to a medical incident and touches me to help ground me when my PTSD is triggered, Danny told me that wasn’t good enough.”
As Busch Gardens continued to deny Mr. McLaurin his civil right of access, his dog sensed his anxiety and PTSD trigger and began nudging McLaurin,
and distracted him from the stressor, behavior McLaurin pointed out to Danny so he could see for himself how his dog was trained to help him. Meanwhile, a Tampa Police officer and a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputy stood by and did nothing to intervene. According to major Stout of TPD’s District II office, the officer at the scene asserts McLaurin was asked three times what tasks the dog was trained to perform and refused to answer the question, a fact that is disputed by three witnesses, one of whom is the Director of the training program from which McLaurin received his dog and who also spoke with Danny to explain the dog’s training. In addition, Mr. McLaurin showed Danny the Florida state law protecting his right of access with his service dog, pointing out the part of the definition explaining that “calming an individual with posttraumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack” is a trained task of a service dog. (413.08(1)(d) This further disputes the assertion that Mr. McLaurin refused to cooperate with Busch Gardens’ right to ask about the tasks the service dog is trained to perform.
According to Florida law, “A public accommodation must modify its policies, practices, and procedures to permit use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” 413.08(2) f.s. Violation of this statute is a second degree misdemeanor. 413.08(4) f.s.)
“We are very concerned about this incident!” says Marion Gwizdala, president of Advocates for Service Animal Partners, a Tampa-based national advocacy organization which is helping McLaurin through this process. It is disturbing that two law enforcement officers witnessed a crime being committed and did nothing! It is doubly disturbing that the Tampa Police Department is presenting a false narrative of what actually happened to portray Mr. McLaurin as the perpetrator when all he intended to do was enjoy the park with his wife and 8-year-old son.”
Advocates for Service Animal Partners is assisting Anthony in filing the necessary complaints to bring about accountability on the parts of both Busch Gardens and local law enforcement. Complaints have been filed with the United States department of Justice, Disability Rights Florida, the City of Tampa Human Rights Office, and the City of Tampa Police Department’s Professional Standards Division. The case will be pursued with the hope of criminal charges against Busch Gardens and the staff that violated Mr. McLaurin’s civil rights and better training about service animals for the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sherrif’s Office.
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Advocates for Service Animal Partners (ASAP) is the only organization dedicated exclusively to supporting, enhancing, and protecting the civil rights of disabled individuals who use service animals to mitigate their disability and live full, productive, and independent lives. ASAP is a nationwide network of volunteer service animal advocates. Our goal is to encourage, educate, and support service animal handlers through printed and electronic publications, Informational webinars, recorded educational materials, and direct advocacy support, intervention, and mediation. In support of this mission, we also work to educate employers, governmental entities, private companies, housing accommodations, and the airline industry about the rights, responsibilities, and limitations of access under state and federal law. For more information, please contact
Marion Gwizdala, President
Advocates for Service Animal Partners Inc.
About Advocates for Service animal Partners (ASAP)
Advocates for Service Animal Partners (ASAP) is a newly-organized network of service animal advocates across the United States. Our goal is to encourage, educate, and support service animal handlers through printed and electronic publications, Informational webinars, recorded educational materials, and direct advocacy support, intervention, and mediation. In support of this mission, we also work to educate employers, governmental entities, private companies, housing accommodations, and the airline industry about the rights, responsibilities, and limitations of access under state and federal law.