Customers at a Mexican restaurant in Nixa, Missouri, were shocked when a man was allowed to stay despite having a snake with him.
“We had just gotten our meal and in walks this lady and man, and the lady had the snake around her neck at first, and it started to slither off of her neck down into the booth behind her,” El Puente restaurant customer Lisa Loeffelholz said.
“She was pulling it, and I just started trembling and, "We've got to get out of here; we've got to get out of here,” Loeffelholz’s mother, Terri Pitts, added.
Loeffelholz approached the manager to express her concern, but was told that the snake was the man’s service animal, so they were obligated to let the couple and their snake stay.
“So that's when my mom and I and the girls decided that we would not stay,” she said. Doubting the legitimacy of the man’s claim, Loeffelholz confronted him before she left the restaurant.
“He said, 'No, it's my service animal,'" Loeffelholz said. "'And I'm allowed to have it because it helps me with my depression.' So I said, 'Well, I'm very sorry about that, but a snake in a restaurant probably is not the best thing.’ He said, 'It's no different than having a dog service animal sitting here.' I said, 'Well, a little bit, it is!'"
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 2011, service animals are defined only as dogs. Jill Finney, communications director for the city of Nixa, said that “other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals,” according to the ADA.
“Management didn't know what to do, because they didn't want to violate anybody's rights, and that's understandable, but the patron could have then called 911,” she said. "It doesn't have to be the restaurant that does that.”