SAN DIEGO - A San Carlos woman contacted 10News after she says the San Diego County Department of Animal Services is refusing to recognize her dog as an assistance dog.
Kimberly Ryan has disabilities that may not be visible on the outside, but she says her pain is so debilitating on the inside that some days she is unable to move.
"There are times I go into such severe pain that I can't move," said Ryan from inside her San Carlos home. "Literally, I am on the floor for five or six hours."
Ryan told 10News that she cannot understand why people who have hidden disabilities are discriminated against.
"There are times I am on a cane and people still don't believe I have disabilities, multiple disabilities," she added.
Ryan suffers from fibromyalgia, anxiety and chronic fatigue. She had her certified cocker spaniel Hayliegh by her side through 13 years of pain.
After Hayliegh died earlier this year, Ryan rescued a strawberry blonde spaniel named Chloe. Hayliegh had an assistance tag, so Ryan thought she would get Chloe her own tag too.
Ryan submitted an application in early July requesting the assistance dog identification tag for Chloe.
Three weeks later, she got a denial letter in the mail: a form letter saying the county is unable to issue the tags. It explained that assistance dog tags are authorized for guide dogs, signal dogs and service dogs – not for dogs that provide comfort, support or therapy.
10News contacted the county's Department of Animal Services and were told that these types of trained dogs do not need a special tag. The owner can just explain to whoever is asking that it is a service dog. The establishment cannot ask what the disability is but can ask what service the dog provides.
Deputy Director Harold Holmes told 10News that the Department of Animal Services recognizes not all disabilities are readily visible. But again, no tag is required. They want to help all residents have equal access to public accommodations.
Ryan says that is not enough.
"I've had people at stores deny me access … restaurants deny me access," she added.
She had this message for the county: "Give me my tag. Honor my civil rights, please, because if you lived in my body one week, one month, maybe two years, you may not want to stick around."
Ryan tells 10News she has now filed a lawsuit seeking $10,000 but she says she does not even want a penny. She just wants the tags.