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Hearing impaired, she’s ... Making her case

Incident at restaurant an example of how little public knows about rights of those who are deaf

Bowling Green Daily News
By Alicia Carmichael, -- 270-783-3234

Monday, May 24, 2004

Valerie Durie was surprised when she and her mother, Sharon Durie, recently were asked to leave a Bowling Green restaurant with her hearing dog, Liberty.

After all, the Americans With Disabilities Act ensures that people with disabilities have the right to take their trained service animals in restaurants and other public places.

So, Valerie Durie, who is completely deaf in one ear and has 5 percent hearing in the other when she wears a hearing aid, showed the person who asked her to leave a copy of the laws regarding service dogs, as well as Liberty’s service dog tag.

Still, the 27-year-old was asked to leave.

“They basically threw us out,” she said.

Valerie Durie was devastated.

“You plan your day and you find out they don’t want you to be in their restaurant,” she said. “It kind of ruins your day. It makes me feel bad about my disability.”

Upset, Sharon Durie contacted the United States Department of Justice.

“They immediately wanted us to file a case, which could have caused the restaurant to close,” Sharon Durie said. But the Duries “didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Sharon Durie said. “We just wanted them to be informed.”

So rather than file a case against the restaurant, Sharon Durie contacted the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission to see if anyone there could help.

Commission Executive Director Linda McCray immediately offered to talk to someone in charge at the restaurant, where she was put in touch with a business adviser who told her the person who had asked the Duries to leave didn’t know about the laws regarding service dogs. They also didn’t speak enough English to understand what Valerie Durie was trying to tell them about laws.

The business adviser “understood and knew right away” what McCray was talking about “because she’s from the U.S.,” McCray said.

Then the woman explained that the person who had asked Durie to leave thought having a dog in the restaurant “was a health department issue.”

To clear up the confusion, McCray gave the restaurant information “that let them know the laws about service dogs and all issues involving the Americans With Disabilities Act, especially for business owners,” she said.

In the end, the business adviser apologized to McCray for the restaurant’s owners, and even asked McCray to tell the Duries “they were sorry, and didn’t turn them away because of meanness.

“They extended an invitation for Mrs. Durie and her daughter to come back to the restaurant with the dog anytime” for a free meal, McCray said. “They were very kind.”

The Duries were thrilled with the outcome, and didn’t accept the free lunch from the restaurant “because that was not our purpose” in reporting the incident to McCray, Sharon Durie said.

“Our purpose was to educate.”

Now, the Duries want others in the community to know that those who have service dogs have a right to have them with them in public, and that service dog owners are not without responsibility. According to the law, the owner of a service dog must pay for any damage their dog causes.

Valerie Durie has had service dogs for years, and said they help her be independent.

“When we have a knock on the door, she’ll nudge me,” she said of Liberty. “When I ask her where, she’ll take me to the door.”

Liberty can also alert Valerie Durie, who works in childcare at Hillvue Heights Church, to the sounds of a crying baby, a siren, a person calling her name, an alarm and more.

“If a police car is coming when I’m driving, she’ll nudge me if the siren is on so I’ll get over,” Valerie Durie said.

The list of what Liberty can do for Valerie Durie goes on and on. But Liberty must be focused to do her job well.

That’s why it’s also important for the public to know that they should never pet or call a service dog.

“Ask before you pet, because it can cause a distraction for the dog and me,” Valerie Durie said.

Liberty is still in training with Valerie Durie.

She recently came to live with the Duries from 4 Paws For Ability, a non-profit, Xenia, Ohio-based organization whose mission is “to enrich the lives of people with disabilities by training and placing service animals to provide them with companionship and promote independent living.”

Liberty has some big shoes to fill. On Feb. 10, Valerie Durie lost her long-time hearing dog, Thor, a Rottweiler, to cancer.

While Valerie Durie grieved the loss, she said she was thrilled to recently get Liberty, who isn’t any known breed, because without a hearing dog “I was lost.

“I didn’t hear anything, like my mom or dad calling me, without my hearing aid ... ,” she said.

Valerie Durie said having a hearing dog also makes life a lot easier in a world where she thinks she has had trouble finding a good job with benefits because she is hearing impaired.
“I know they’re not going to admit it’s because I’m deaf,” she said. She believes are those who haven’t hired her when she’s sure she was qualified. “They always say I’m not qualified.”

Valerie Durie has an associate degree in computer information systems and a bachelor’s degree in theater from Western Kentucky University.

Through the years she has held many jobs. She has been a front desk clerk at a hotel; has interned as a computer programmer at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla.; has taught drama to first- and second-graders at Natcher Elementary School through VSA, formerly Very Special Arts; has been an assistant to the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus at Greenwood Mall (and this year even trained those playing the bunny); and has worked in therapeutic child support with Agape until that program ended.

Now, she’s looking for a job with benefits, and hopes to someday get a master’s degree in elementary deaf education from the University of Arizona at Tucson.

Until then, she must save everything she earns in her childcare work to pay for Liberty, who cost $4,000 rather than the typical $9,900 to $14,300 service dogs cost because she has experience with hearing dogs and can help complete the training Liberty began at 4 Paws.
But the fund-raising effort and the trouble Valerie Durie went through with Liberty at the restaurant recently are minor bumps in a life that has nearly ended several times, according to Sharon Durie.

Valerie Durie was born with life-threatening birth defects, which have since been corrected, and began to lose her hearing at 21/2 because of a bout with meningitis.

“She has got such a fighting spirit,” Sharon Durie said. “She has just about been out for the count several times, so something like this is small.”

If you would like to help Valerie Durie pay for Liberty, you can send a tax deductible donation to 4 Paws For Ability, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, OH 45385. Along with the donation, simply “indicate that it’s to pay for Valerie Durie’s dog, Liberty,” said Karen Shirk, executive director of 4 Paws. To learn more about 4 Paws for Ability, check out the organization’s Web site at



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