HIDALGO COUNTY – Life with a service animal can be a constant struggle in the Rio Grande Valley.
Albert Valenzuela says businesses must change their reluctance to accept customers accompanied by service animals.
Valenzuela said he fights weekly for the right to go into businesses with his service dog. State law dictates that it is a criminal offense for a business to deny a service animal.
Valenzuela was diagnosed with epilepsy after his time in war. The military paid for his treatment. Then, he met George. The wirehaired dachshund is in training to detect impending seizures.
“He alerts me to a seizure before hand. He senses it … through the scent in my sweat glands,” Valenzuela said.
Doctors told Valenzuela that his odor changes 10 minutes before a seizure. It’s enough time for George to warn him and to get help.
“Any little thing can set a seizure off – bright lights, noises, irregular activity,” Valenzuela said.
George can handle the basics and wears a service-dog vest. Still, many businesses reject him. He was not allowed to enter a flea market in Alamo because George was with him.
“One of the young men at the gate said, ‘you can’t go in with an animal. We have a no-animal policy,'” Valenzuela said. “They denied me access.”
Valenzuela, though, has the law on his side.
“I don’t think they understand what types of medical conditions are out there for people who use dogs,” Valenzuela said.
He said people don’t understand the role service dogs play in a person’s life.
“You’re both tied to each other for life,” he said.
Texas it is a criminal penalty to deny access to people with disabilities because of an assistance animal. Fines range from $300 to $1,000.