On Aug. 1, I watched a woman and her service dog-in-training as they were asked to leave a store in Madison. The young puppy was remarkably well behaved, and his handler was clearly a skilled trainer. So why were they asked to leave? Because the woman did not possess documentation stating the dog was a service dog.

Knowing this to be a tragic misinterpretation of American with Disabilities Act regulations, I politely reminded the store manager of the woman’s right to bring her dog here. But in trying to raise awareness for that right, I was shut down. In trying to stand up for the well-being of that person, I faced the unprovoked, defensive reaction of the manager.

To protect the people of that store, I will not mention any names or places.

Business owners, I beg you to know the truth. Service dogs do not require documentation of any kind, by law. It is illegal to ask for credentials.

People of Somerset County, I am a 17-year-old working to become a service dog trainer and raise awareness in our community. What I witnessed that day, the way that woman was treated, and the way I was treated, are devastating examples of misinformation and selfish indifference.

Puppies in training are not only allowed by state law into public establishments; they must be exposed to these places for training purposes. Without constant confidence building, literally hundreds of hours of careful socialization, puppies will be never be ready for their mission: to bring freedom and independence into somebody’s life.

When trainers and owners bring these dogs into our establishments, it’s compassion we must practice, not judgement. Please, embrace these people, and their dogs, in understanding. And know the law.

Hannah Gaudette