The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Northwest Indiana Apple Orchard Accused Of Discrimination After Clash Over Service Dog

By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 9, 2017 11:06PM

County Line Orchard / Facebook

A woman said she was made to feel like she "wasn't even a human being" after she and a group of queer and trans friends were ejected from an apple orchard in Northwest Indiana after a dispute on Saturday over the woman's service animal. The company says the group was uncooperative when employees inquired about the dog.

LaSaia Wade, a Chicago-based transgender activist, said that during an ultimately short visit over the weekend to the County Line Orchard, in Hobart, Indiana, she was asked by an employee to place some kind of marker on the dog that distinguished it as a service animal, although federal law does not require special leashes or vests. After being asked about her dog by multiple employees, Wade and her group were made to leave the venue after staff summoned a police officer to direct them off the grounds even though, according to Wade, she showed proof of certification. Wade said she felt intimidated by the officer and believes that the dog's breed (a pit bull) and the fact that Wade is a "big-bodied black person" were factors in what she thought was unfair treatment.

A portion of the encounter with the police officer was posted on Facebook and went viral, with some social-media commenters blasting the company for harassment and discrimination.

Wade said she returned to the front area shortly after arriving to show a photograph on her phone of the dog's service certification after she was stopped by an employee and asked about the animal. The same employee had questioned her previously about the animal near the entrance, Wade said. Wade said she suffers from occasional seizures and the dog assists her during those episodes, but she prefers not to outwardly distinguish the animal as a service dog because she prefers to not broadcast herself as disabled.

Wade considered the matter resolved at that point, but there was apparently another confrontation when the group tried to take a hayride at the orchard. She was pulled aside there by two more employees, she said, and the officer arrived shortly thereafter.

Wade told Chicagoist she tried to show the officer the photo of her certification but he demanded they go. "If you refuse to leave again, you're going to be arrested for criminal trespassing," the officer says at the top of the clip above.

County Line Orchard said in a release sent to Chicagoist that the group was "uncooperative in regards to information about their pet being a service dog."

"Due to their unwillingness to cooperate with our staff and security team the decision was made by ownership to ask this group to leave the Orchard," the statement reads.

The statement highlighted that the orchard has had "multiple incidents where dogs or pets have become agitated due to interaction with crowds, petting zoo animals and or farm equipment at the Orchard." Wade said she and her group had hardly made it inside the venue and never approached other animals and said the issue was never framed in that manner to her at the time.

County Line Orchard added:

"Despite being harassed and blamed for discrimination, the officer was professional and diligent in their actions. We want to acknowledge that we appreciate the officer’s ability to keep the situation from escalating, despite the continued taunting from this group.

Shortly after the incident this group made the decision to portray via social media that County Line Orchard, its staff and the Hobart Police Department were discriminating against the group based on race, gender and or sexual orientation.

We find this claim to be offensive and disturbing based on the fact that none of the staff, the owners and or the police were aware of any description or characteristics of the guests other than their unwillingness to answer questions in regards to the pit bull... We find it incredibly sad that this group chooses to use our attention to a pet policy to label us as something opposite of our beliefs and integrity."

Wade said that she is considering legal recourse and has also been the target of violent threats on social media.