WILBRAHAM, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A local veteran has quit his job after claiming the company he worked for would not allow him to bring his service dog to work.
James Chesnis is retired from the military and for the last year and half, he worked at Home Depot on Boston Road in Wilbraham. He said the company's corporate policy for getting service dogs approved was unfair as it asked his psychiatrist to take on the onus of responsibility for his pet.
"I served in Germany, I did two tours in Iraq. My first tour was 2004-2005 and then my second tour was 2010-2011," Chesnis said.
Chesnis has spent the last several decades in the Army and National Guard protecting the country.
"I was struck with an IEd about 10 feet from my truck," Chesnis added.
Now, Chesnis needs someone to protect him when the PTSD and brain trauma cause his thoughts to turn dark.
"There was a lot of moments when I was getting depressed. There's been a few times in the past where I'd contemplated committing suicide and he's helped me through a lot of times," Chesnis noted.
'He' is 120 pound St. Bernard named Tank. After a year of training, Tank is certified to wear, not a barrel of brandy, but a service dog vest.
"He's allowed to go anywhere with me," Chesnis explained.
So when Chesnis got Tank certified, he was ready to follow whatever steps his employer - Home Depot on Boston Road - required to bring his service dog to work.
"I started the paperwork and I filled out everything that needed to be filled, and it ended up going to my psychiatrist, he filled out all the paperwork again," Chesnis said.
However, the corporation needed one final sign-off from the psychiatrist before Tank could be allowed in the store.
"When they called me into the office, he said 'Well, he won't sign off on it, stating that he'll be safe in that environment' and I am like 'Well, he's not a dog psychiatrist. He can't justify whether he's going to be safe in that environment,'" Chesnis said.
The Home Depot corporate offices confirmed that, telling Western Mass News: "We allow service dogs in our stores and we make this accommodation commonly. This is an unusual case where the doctor would not sign off on the safety of the animal inside the store."
The corporate communications officer for the company went on to say: "And I’m told the verification process we follow is the standard practice for most companies."
We asked a lawyer familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said that accommodations made for employees with service pets are implemented on an individualized basis.
"You have to look at the essential functions of the job and the limitations that individual has to do those essential functions," said Attorney Mary Jo Kennedy.
Also, that medical professionals may be asked to consider a service animal's safety, Kennedy added, "Depending on the environment. I mean, if it was an office setting where there aren't safety issues, that could be one thing, but if it's working in an environment where there's other equipment moving around or other factors that may affect someone's safety, then those are things that might be taken into consideration."
Chesnis quit his job and said he will look for another one that allows Tank to be by his side. In the meantime, enjoying the freedom that public accommodations allow for under the ADA.
"An individual might be able to take their service animal into a store shopping, which might be different than taking your service animal into work," Kennedy said.
Chesnis noted, "I've been to Walmart with him, I've been to other stores with him. We've had him in 99."
However, Chesnis misses the community he found at the Wilbraham Home Depot - the people who made him feel less alone.
"I made a lot of friends. There's a lot of good people there," Chesnis said.
For now, it's just him and Tank.
"It kind of was a slap in the face," Chesnis said.