A New Hampshire mall Santa refused to see a little girl because she had her service dog with her, WBZ-TV (Boston) is reporting.
Olivia Twigg has a seizure disorder, and her service dog, Romeo, is literally a life-saver for her. The animal can detect seizures before they happen – and as such, she needs him with her all the time. So of course, Romeo was with her and her family when she went to Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua.
Unfortunately, says Olivia’s mom, Jill Twigg, the visit didn’t turn out as planned.
“It was horrible. I just wanted to go home from the mall. It was awful.”
Olivia and her family, Romeo too, waited in line to see Santa, like the rest of the kids who were there for pictures with Saint Nick that day. However, when she approached Santa with Romeo, she was told she couldn’t bring the dog with her.
“When he said Romeo can’t go in it made me sad.”
The reason she was given was that the actor playing Santa that shift was allergic to dogs.
Once she was told Romeo and Olivia couldn’t see Santa, Jill stated that a confrontation started brewing.
“The woman taking the pictures told me I needed to remove the dog off the red carpet. I said no I’m not going to move him. He has to be able to see her. She said that was not acceptable.”
Jill also pointed out that Romeo is not a pet: he is a trained and certified service animal. He goes to school with her. When he senses a seizure coming, he signals it by laying across Olivia’s lap. What’s more, says Jill, Romeo was not going to touch the Santa or even pay any attention to him – his only focus is Olivia.
She was offered an alternative, however: she could come back at a later time when the mall, and the actors who play Santa, would be equipped to handle children with disabilities (the program is called Caring Santa). Jill is having none of that.
“I don’t want to take her to Caring Santa. I want her to have a normal experience. She’s on a normal cheerleading team with normal children. We want to make sure she feels completely comfortable going wherever she wants at whatever time she wants.”
According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, it’s not acceptable to discriminate against people with service animals on the basis of “fears” of allergies or of the animals themselves.
Now that Jill’s story has made national attention, the agency that manages the mall Santas that turned Olivia away that day – Cherry Hill Programs – is trying to make things right by Olivia. They plan to send a Santa to visit Olivia at her home.
[Featured Image by Syda Productions/Shutterstock]