Donna Brown was ready to walk into Rio Mirage Cafe in El Mirage to enjoy an early dinner with friends with little to no problems.
However, an issue arose before her arrival. She had planned to bring her service dog, Mocha, to the restaurant. Ms. Brown’s friends were there before her to reserve a table. Upon telling an employee they were expecting another woman and her service dog, the employee said animals were not allowed inside.
“I was flabbergasted,” Ms. Brown said about the situation. She is a Sun City resident of 11 years and has frequented Rio Mirage Cafe for about 15 years. Mocha, a black Labrador weighing about 102 pounds, helps Ms. Brown from falling over; or in the event she does fall, Mocha helps her get up.
Ms. Brown spoke to the manager present at the time, and even tried to show papers saying service dogs were allowed in public places. She requested a letter saying the restaurant would not allow animals, but she was told the order came down verbally from Rio’s corporate office.
Ultimately, they let Mocha in, but after the night no more animals would be allowed, Ms. Brown recalled the restaurant telling her.
Back home, Ms. Brown called the Rio Mirage Cafe’s location in Surprise to see if it, too, did not allow service animals. One of the managers there, Rafael, who used to work at the El Mirage restaurant, told Ms. Brown they allowed them.
A manager of the restaurant said the claim that the establishment shuts out service dogs is not true. While not at the restaurant when the issue occurred, he said he has heard about Ms. Brown calling in over the past week. But he said there are no signs up prohibiting service animals from entering.
However, Rio Mirage Cafe does have an outdoor patio, which the manager said is open to animals.
“Service animals are service animals,” the manager said.
Ms. Brown attempted to call the corporate office, with owners Alex and Rachel Gomez, but no one returned her message.
While the El Mirage restaurant has clarified its stance on allowing service dogs, Ms. Brown hopes something like this does not continue anywhere.
“This can’t be happening,” she said. “What happens if other people come and don’t know this? What if the dog is in a vest and the owner is turned away with friends or by themselves?”
The Arizona Revised Statutes 11-1024 does state, however, that public places can deny entry to service animals under one or more of the following:
• The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others,
• The animal fundamentally alters the nature of the public place or the goods, services or activities provided,
• The animal poses an undue burden,
• The animal is out of control and the animal’s handler does not take effective action to control the animal,
• The animal is not housebroken.
Based on information from the University of Arizona, 0.9 percent of persons with disabilities are partnered with service dogs. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Congress found there were 43 million Americans with disabilities, suggesting there were about 387,000 service dogs across the U.S. at the time. The number is likely higher due to the country’s population increase since then.
While Mocha was eventually allowed in, the restaurant’s manager said there may likely be a case where another patron is uncomfortable with a dog in the restaurant. Sanitation of the place is another concern.
It is often the case that Ms. Brown calls a restaurant ahead of time or prior to arriving, like with her friends, to alert employees of her pending appearance with Mocha. She usually requests a table where Mocha can sit under and be kept out of sight in case another patron is uncomfortable seeing her.
Despite the problem, Ms. Brown said she does not have any ill will toward the establishment.
“I love going there,” she said. “It’s close to my house.”