Debra Reyburn, a disabled Boise woman who requires a service dog, says she ran into a good amount of pushback from other citizens at Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve while walking there. Some recreators even told her that she had no business bringing her dog into a city park.
"Some were very confrontational and hostile about my service dog. I had people taking photographs of me and my license plate," said Reyburn. "I just had to stop going there because people were really nasty."
The signs at the entrances to Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve read that dogs were prohibited in the park—no exceptions allowed—but Reyburn and her dog Bella had every right to be there. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that any "state or local government, business or nonprofit that serve the public must allow service animals...in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go."
"It's not as if there was any question about Bella being a service dog," Reyburn said. "She's not what some people call their 'emotional support' dogs. Bella is a service dog with very particular things that she can do for me."
Reyburn was struck by the West Nile virus and encephalitis 12 years ago. She said the disease nearly killed her, and triggered issues with her speech and movement.
"It's been a long process, but I look at that as being my life's greatest teacher," she said, adding that she thought park users at Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve needed to learn a lesson as well. That's why she penned a letter to the City of Boise, and sent copies to the Idaho Attorney General's office and the U.S. Department of Justice, writing: "I do not have an equal opportunity to enjoy Hyatt Lakes because of the signage and the interpretation of those signs by patrons."
City officials quickly fixed the error, installing new signage making it clear that service dogs were indeed allowed in public spaces. The city also updated its web pages to confirm the clarification. That prompted Reyburn to write another letter—but this time with a word of thanks.
"The new signs actually make me feel that I and my service animal are welcome in this wonderful community," she wrote.