[nagdu] Doctor bars guide dog from waiting room - phillyBurbs.com

Ginger Kutsch GingerKutsch at yahoo.com
Thu Aug 11 17:38:51 UTC 2011

Doctor bars guide dog from waiting room - phillyBurbs.com 


Doctor bars guide dog from waiting room

By Christian Menno

Staff writer

Thursday, August 11, 2011  


A guide dog for a visually impaired Bensalem man was kicked out of a local doctor’s office, but the doctor said she had the right to do so.


But, according to a lawyer and advocate for the disabled, the Lower Southampton doctor’s actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.


“You cannot exclude service animals except in very specific situations,” said Rocco Iaculla, an attorney with the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. “Unless the animal is out of control or not housebroken or someone nearby has a severe allergic reaction, you must permit them in any area that the public is permitted. It has to be more than someone feeling uncomfortable with an animal present.”


Dr. Priya Punjabi argues that it is her right to determine who enters the property and that a large animal could scare or upset her patients.


On Aug. 4, Joseph Cichonski accompanied his wife, who was scheduled to receive a physical, to Punjabi’s office at 1629 Bridgetown Pike.


As he does whenever he leaves his home, Cichonski, 58, brought his guide dog Hero, a Labrador-golden retriever mix.


Cichonski said Hero was lying calmly at his feet in the waiting room and Cichonski’s wife was waiting to be treated in the examination room when the doctor approached him, saying that pets weren’t allowed in the office and telling him that he had to wait outside.


“I told her that it’s not a pet, it’s a guide dog, but she still said I couldn’t have him in there,” Cichonski told the newspaper. “How many pets do you know that can be declared on your federal income tax forms?”


Cichonski, who said he sees only a little light and shadows, said he then stepped outside the office because he didn’t want to cause a scene, but not before informing the staff that he was calling the police to file a complaint.


“I could have just sat in that chair until the police arrived,” he added.


He said his wife was told she wouldn’t be treated while the dog was in the office. So she left, too.


Cpl. Michael Wojnar of the Lower Southampton Police Department arrived and went inside to speak with Punjabi, Cichonski said. He said the officer was friendly and helpful and told him that a report would be filed.


On Wednesday, Wojnar said that a complaint had indeed been filed. He added that if the newspaper wants to see the report, a right-to-know request must be completed because the matter is civil, not criminal.


Punjabi told the newspaper that the dog had occupied a large portion of the floor space in the small waiting room. The room holds just seven chairs for patients, she said.


While no other patients were there at the time, she said that two walked into the waiting room just as the situation with Cichonski was unfolding.


Punjabi said that a Bensalem woman who arrived later that morning to accompany her 90-year-old mother for an appointment heard the story and agreed with the doctor’s decision. Punjabi said she asked that woman to put her feelings in writing and provided the newspaper with a copy of the letter Tuesday.


The woman, who asked that her name not be published, said that while she loves dogs and respects all disabled people, she would not have felt comfortable having the dog in the room with her mother.


“My mother has liquid bones and is very frail,” she added. “I would have been afraid the dog might have bumped into her, causing even more injuries.”


Punjabi, who said she is afraid of dogs, added that her request was polite.


“We simply asked him to step outside,” she said. “I have my rights and my phobias, too.”


Iaculla said that Cichonski handled things correctly by staying calm.


“Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do in a situation like that,” he added. “I’d recommend contacting an organization (like the Disability Rights Network). Hopefully, the agency can contact the doctor’s office and try to get a dialogue going to explain the laws and how to handle a similar matter in the future.”


Cichonski said Wednesday that he’s exploring his options.


“I’m not trying to cause a fuss,” he added. “I just want to let people know that things like this are happening and I’d like to prevent them from happening to other people with disabilities.”

More information about the NAGDU mailing list