GLEN ALLEN, VA (WWBT) - A Henrico County woman says she's traumatized after getting kicked out of a Central Virginia mall while shopping with her emotional support dog.
Mae Palmer said she was shopping in a store at Virginia Center Commons Monday afternoon when a security guard aggressively told her she was not allowed to have the dog with her.
"He's like, that dog has to go, you have to leave with that dog," Palmer said. "I said well sir let me explain, it's my therapy... no, no - I don't care, I don't care, you've gotta go now."
The shih tzu, named Pooh, has been comforting Palmer for more than a year now at the suggestion from her therapist.
"I take her literally everywhere... amusement parks, interviews," she said. "She calms me down."
Palmer hasn't had any issues at the mall in the past, but when she tried to show the guard Pooh's certification card, and the carrier she has, he ignored her, according to Palmer.
"She wasn't barking or anything… I offered it to him and he was like no, I don't care, he just refused," she said. "The way he was so hostile actually [brought] me back to my situation and caused me to have a breakdown."
"How it was handled was totally unprofessional," said Alvin Palmer, Mae's father.
There's no official national registry for emotional support dogs, but owners can get certification cards online. Experts say the best way to avoid flak from fake cards is to show your doctor's note.
"People need to understand it's more serious," Alvin said. "They need to understand some people need their dog."
A lieutenant with the Henrico Police Department said officers were called to the mall at 4:55 p.m. for a man who refused to leave the property.
Alvin said he spoke to the officers after they were called by security.
"The officer was very understanding," he said. "[The officer] said I understand with your daughter and I'm surprised you didn't do more than this."
Messages to VCC about the incident were not immediately returned.
The mall's policy on service dogs and emotional support dogs are not listed on the mall's website.
However, a notice is posted at 'mall only' entrances stating, "No animals excepts trained service animal… in service gear" are allowed to enter. It also listed the public accommodations for allowing service animals.
The notices were not posted at any of the anchor store entrances, which Palmer walked through Monday to get inside.
"That day I was panicking and I had to call my therapist as soon as I got in the car," Palmer said.
"If he understood maybe he would have done something different, but he didn't take the time to even [ask]," Alvin said.
There are differences between service dogs and emotional support dogs.
According to Rover, service dogs have to be allowed into businesses and it's illegal for someone to ask about your disability.
"[They are] trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities," according to the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).
Emotional support dogs and their owners receive fewer federal protections through the ADA than service dogs, and those protections extend only to housing and air travel.
"Emotional support dogs are companion animals that provide therapeutic benefits to people with medically diagnosed mental, intellectual, or physical disabilities," the Rover website states.
Private businesses, such as restaurants or retailers, are not required to allow emotional support animals on their premises, according to Rover.
Palmer said she wants people to be more aware of the need for emotional support dogs in public.
Copyright 2018 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.