NC mother says son’s service dog not allowed at drive-thru wildlife park

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. — A North Carolina mother says her autistic son couldn’t go to a drive-thru wildlife park because his service dog is not allowed there.

Ashley Collard told WSOC-TV that it recently happened to her and her 7-year-old son Ethan at the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville.

Ethan and his service dog Thor. (WSOC-TV)

Ethan and his service dog Thor. (WSOC-TV)

Ethan always has his dog Thor by his side. His mom says they wanted to go to Lazy 5 to see the animals, like zebras and giraffes.

But when they called an employee, the employee said dogs, even service dogs, aren’t allowed. The mother says the owner repeated the same rule when she talked to him.

“Thor makes it so Ethan can access places,” Collard said. “So by not allowing Thor, they’re not allowing Ethan access.”

Collard believes Lazy 5 is discriminating against her son, but owner Henry Hampton told WSOC the rule is about safety.

“We have had one very bad experience, about 10 years ago, where a couple let a dog get out in the drive-thru and the zebras killed it immediately,” Hampton said.

Hampton says the animals at Lazy 5 will react to a dog, service trained or not.

“It’s going to change the way the animals act,” Hampton said. “And there would be a portion of animals that would want to threaten or challenge and want to fight what’s in there.”

Hampton said he did agree to allow Thor to stay in the car, but not go into the drive thru portion of the ranch. But that would have still separated Thor and Ethan if Ethan wanted to see those animals. Collard wants the rules changed at Lazy 5.

“They need to allow access to all people with disabilities and not pick and choose who they want,” Collard said. “It’s a public place. They need to allow everyone to go.”


  • Lynn Hardee

    So this lady is willing to possibly let her son and the rest of her family get into harms way just so she can prove a point? I have been to the Lazy 5 ranch and it is a very good facility but no animal other than what is already there should be out there. I suppose if they let her take it through and something happened to Thor then they would be suing Lazy 5.
    I say WAY TO GO LAZY 5 RANCH. You are only trying to keep things safe for people. Although I am sorry that she couldn’t take her child there she could always take him to the NC Zoo.

    • A. Nance

      I agree with Lynn. If I were in her shoes I wouldn’t risk the dogs life or possibly injury to another person over seeing some animals at the ranch. I’ve also been to Lazy 5 and it’s a great place. I can completely understand not allowing a different species that their animals are not used to into the ranch regardless of the reasoning. It’s a safety matter not a discrimination case. They are a ranch. They love animals. They wouldn’t risk injury or possibly death to the service dog or their own animals. This mother needs to get a grip and realize they are doing this in best interest for her child, the service dog, and nearby patrons safety. They are not trying to call out her autistic child or be rude to her for fun.

      • A. Nance

        Also, I do disagree about leaving the dog in the car 100%. Just leave him at home if they do decide to go.

      • Renee

        They can’t leave the dog at home, it’s a service dog. Ethan, the child, needs that dog with him, that’s the point of a service dog. They can’t “just leave him at home,” he’s not a pet.

  • Grayson Kirk

    People curse us out when we close the OUTDOOR POOL at our hotel when it’s thundering/lightning. People complain to complain. Ashley Collard is getting her 15 minutes of fame. If an animal killed the dog, they would sue the business for pain/suffering/emotional damage. Then the business would be forced to close. Then MY family could not enjoy the Lazy 5 Ranch.

  • Smh selfish..

    I feel like someone should look into her ability to care for/ make decisions for her child if she is so ready and willing to put him in harms way. I also feel that the rest of us and our children shouldn’t be limited because ONE child can’t have his dog in the park. She is so quick to say “NOT FAIR” but how fair is it to everyone else if they have to take out that portion of the park so ONE child doesn’t feel left out? If it gets shut down because her dog or son dies while there? How fair is it to the dog if he gets stomped to death because she couldn’t accept a sensible rule? How fair is it to her child if he looses his best friend or gets hurt himself because she wants her way? You can leave a dog in a car and leave the air on, leave the dog at home, take your son to a different park, find another fun activity for him to do, find an activity specifically for children with autism/ service dogs (no way he is getting left out there.) Not everything is your way or no way. Stop pretending like you don’t have options and for goodness sake! Stop trying to limit the rest of the world because YOU have limitations!!! This isn’t me being “mean” in any way, my nephew has autism, and we would never expect anyone to limit themselves because HE cant do certain things. I wish other parents would stop expecting that. There are a LOT of things he can still do. Find one of those things, it will probably be a lot more fun for him anyway.

  • Cat

    This rule has absolutely nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with safety. This mother definitely needs a dose of common sense. And lets face it, I’m sure there are lots if kids who never visit a zoo or wildlife park. Does that scar them for life? I’m sure it doesn’t. Would watching their service animal and constant companion get mauled or trampled to death by wild animals scar them for life? Oh yeah, definitely. Find a different activity or leave the dog at home. These are wild animals, to them a dog is a dog, and any dog would constitute a threat to them. Why in the world would anyone want to intentionally put their child or his service dog in harms way?

  • Greg

    Is this an ADA certified service dog, or is this a comfort dog? There is a difference… A service animal performs a job, a comfort animal does not perform a job. The protections that apply to a service dog do not apply to a comfort dog… For information regarding ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act start here:

    • heidi

      Greg, the problem is that the wild animals at the ranch don’t know the difference between a service or comfort animal, they all taste the same.

    • Kelly M

      There is no such things as an “ADA certified service dog.” The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law. The law does not certify service dogs. There is no official certification at all for service dogs. Under the ADA, service dogs can be excluded from places where their presence would cause a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business, such as a wildlife park where the presence of a dog (service dog, pet, whatever) would upset or threaten the animals and affect their behavior.

  • David Ritterskamp

    secure the dog inside the vehicle so it can’t jump out. Is that so freaking complicated? have we as a culture gotten so stupid that nobody thinks that’s worth doing?

    • E Moseley

      Have you been to Lazy 5? Whether or not the dog were to be secured in the car, the Lazy 5 animals would sense the intruder. I’m pretty sure this mom would crack open her windows so her son could experience feeding the animals. But even if she didn’t, the Lazy 5 animals climb onto cars. Her son’s service dog….if it’s even a service dog….would be in danger and would thereby cause others to be endangered.

  • bella 07

    It is pretty simple If dogs are not allowed there,and the boy cannot be without the dog,then you just don’t go there.Find something else to do.This story is not even worthy of being news anyway.

  • FaithC

    This may be a service dog, but to the animals in the park it is just a dog and a threat. Yes, the dog would be in the car, but the animals don’t know it can’t get out.
    She just needs to use common sense. Does she think she should be able to take her service dog to a cat show? The dog may be fine but the cats may not be. She could disrupt the entire show, as she could disrupt the entire park.
    There are times when the needs of the whole outweigh the needs of the few.

  • Bob

    Obviously many of you know little or nothing about the relationship between a service dogs and their handler. To the person who questioned if it was a comfort dog, there is no such thing as a comfort dog. There are Emotional Support Animals but Thor is a qualified Service Animal that mitigates a disability, in this case autism. The ADA of 1990 is very specific about where a Service Animal is allowed and where it is prohibited. The owner of this animal park is basing his decision upon a family that disregarded rules and let their animal out of the car. I doubt, especially if warned in advance, if this family would repeat the act. Nobody should ever exit a vehicle in a drive thru safari, whether it is a dog or a human being. I own a service dog. I choose where to take him based upon his safety. I certainly would not let him out of my car where there are wild animals roaming. The park is discriminating based upon the stupidity of the family from 10 years ago. Allow the service animal into the park but make sure he never leaves the car. Service dogs should never be separated from their handlers. If you do not know about these relationships, do not make dumb comments.

    • Amber

      Seriously, Obviously you have never been to Lazy 5 Ranch, You roll down your windows to feed the animals; and just like the service dog is there for you and to be aware of its surroundings, the animals are going to do the same thing. They come up to get fed and if they sense that dog is a threat they will try to get in the car. The park is doing what is best, if her dog got killed because of her bringing him she would be suing them! Sometimes its not always about discrimination and more about what’s the logical thing to do!

      • Bob

        If part of the experience is rolling down a window to feed the animals, in the case of this family, they should be instructed that this is not an option. Common sense must prevail. If I went to this park and knew there were potential dangers if windows were open due to my service dog being in the car, I would certainly not risk his life or ours by doing something dumb like opening the windows. A service dog is like a cane, wheelchair or any other device that assists a disabled person. The park must allow that service dog full access to the park or make provisions to protect it. If not, they are opening themselves up to steep fines. There are reasons that law was enacted in 1990 and whether people who do not own service dogs like it or not, every business in the USA must abide by those rules.

        I was once in a movie theater where a patron complained that she was allergic to dogs. The movie theater, fully compliant with the laws that protect service animals, explained to the patron that they would have to change their seat but that the service dog had precedence over their allergies. It is a law. Abide by it.

    • Lex

      Then they should stay out of the Lazy5… I’m sure the wildlife there don’t give a flying flip about the relationship between a service animal and his handler. …

  • Bob

    Just to add, if there is a safety risk, no matter how small, the Lazy 5 did do the right thing. I have never been to this place so I do not know but safety comes ahead of everything. There are places some service dogs are not allowed in for the safety of the animal. One is any psychiatric facility, Since sometimes the patients can be unpredictable as well as violent, service animals are kept out.

    • Amber

      I really do believe that its a safety risk no matter how contained she thinks she can keep the dog, Obviously its not because they don’t like animals or trying to discriminate. And I think we all understand you want your child to be able to do anything any other child can do. But you don’t want to do at the risk of your family safety including your dog, I think that is what she needs to understand.

  • Barbara Potter

    I have a son who is handicapped and I totally support the use of service dogs, BUT you need to use common sense. Is this woman going to insist that the dog go on a roller coaster ride with her son? There are always people who take a good thing too far.

  • bella 07

    To Ashley Collard,If you want the boy to go there so bad,leave the dog at home! Go find something else to complain about!!

  • Bob

    It appears the owner of the park explained to this woman that he was not being stubborn nor was he attempting to discriminate. He was merely trying to protect all the visitors to the park. Had I been me with my service animal, I would not have accused the owner of discrimination. Instead I would thank him for taking the safety of my service dog and family into consideration. Sadly, this woman will make it worse for others, tarnish the good name of the park and most likely initiate a lawsuit. When we have gone to theme parks like Disney and Universal, my service dog is not allowed on many rides due to safety. I totally understand why. Would it be safe to take the dog on a roller coaster? Of course not and it is not discrimination. It is for safety. Same rules apply in this park. Would this woman complain if Disney denied her dog access to a looping roller coaster? I hope not. Case closed.

  • Tabitha

    Bob, you sound like a very reasonable guy with a service animal. I have been to this park, I’ve taken my kids to this park. Would I take my beloved Jasper, who is a cocker spaniel, here…not in a million years. Not even if he was in the car the whole time. Windows rolled up or not those animals are going to be coming up to your car expecting you to feed them or pet, because that is what everyone does there. They will not be expecting to see another animal in your car. That is a danger to you, them, & your pet. Lazy 5 did do the right thing so that everyone involved is protected; especially the animals.

    • Bob

      Thank you Tabitha. I first thought the park was out of line because as long as the family follows the rules and keeps the dog secured in the car, what was the big deal? However, if there is even the slightest risk to the dog or any member of that family, it is a reasonable request by the park owners to refuse access for that service dog. If the child cannot go to the park because of this rule, it is better that the family follow the rules than risk the life of the dog or the boy. It is not discrimination. It is concern for the well being of the people who attend the park

  • syrensilly

    As a service dog handler that has been through several places with animals I agree that the safari does not sound like a safe place for a dog. Where there are loose animals that are coming up to people is never good to bring a dog. They are right that the wild animals will smell that dog and be on alert and have odd behavior. It would cause a fundamental change to the park. Service dogs go almost anywhere the handler goes. There are exceptions, just not many. This is not a case of discrimination, it’s a case of people not using common sense. I realize mom wants her son to experience everything, but in reality there are still going to be limitations.

  • LolaMarigolda

    The ADA specifically lists places where SDs can be excluded this includes areas where the animals are roaming free, areas where the dog would stress/upset the animals, and areas like petting zoos. In this case, the mother needs to sit down and re-read the ADA before calling in the media over a non-issue.

  • MariMarie Morrison

    This is ridiculous. As an avid animal person of many years just the sound of having a dog in your car while an ostrich/emu, antelope, zebra, ect shoves half it’s body in there to get food is terrifying as it is for a human, much less a dog that has never seen one before. Serive dog or not it could frighten the dog and cause it to bite or chase after the animal, or in other turn the animal could harm the dog, passengers of the car ect. Once one animal in the large pasture lets out any distress symbol it changes the attidue and way of going of ALL the animals. It is not discrimination! It’s just a bad idea that is an accident waiting to happen. It is very unfortunate for the boy,
    It’s a fun trip and a great experience… But the dog is just a bad idea. I hope a good understanding will come out of all of this. Zebras in the wild have to attack any cat or doglike animal as a group in hopes of not falling under the food chain, so when that instinct sets in it could be very very bad! Possibly even if they saw the dog once in the car they could become violent towards the passengers as a threat too. This establishment has been open for many years too… These animals are used to screaming, laughing people… Not dogs, well behaved or not..

  • Joy Wolf

    It sounds like the only problem they have ever had with dogs in the park was 10 years ago when a dog was let out of a car in the park. So why not just make the rule that service dogs are allowed but must stay in the car at all times. Leaving a dog unattended in a car is not a viable option, especially in the hot summer weather. Leaving a service dog home goes against the whole point of having the dog in the first place. Service dogs are trained to remain calm in all situations. so seeing animals outside the car should not be an issue. Perhaps the dog owners could sign a waiver stating that they will insure that the dog does not leave the car and will bring it into the park at their own risk. I assume that people are not allowed to leave their car in the drive through area, and that, if the animals were likely to approach or attack the cars they would not have the drive-through park in the first place. In my experience a well trained service dog is better behaved than many kids in public places!

  • Linda Doggett

    My heart breaks for Collard family. Most of the comments here are hurtful and unsympathetic to an unfortunate situation. I myself have a service dog and was advised be Lazy 5 that she was not welcome there also. I would like the Collard family to know that there is a place they can take their son AND his service dog that will provide him the excitement of seeing the animals up close, feed those same animals AND keep the family, the dog and other patrons safe. Go to Zootastic. They were very welcoming to both my granddaughters, myself and my service dog. Everyone in our group touring the animals on a tractor pulled wagon were never in danger and none of the free animals paid my service dog an ounce of attention. It was a great experience. You could take the tractor ride, walk around to see secured animals, picnic and just have a great day. I personally would like to thank Zootastic for their hospitality and welcoming ALL patrons, disabled or not.

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