By Joe Beck
A Winchester woman has filed a criminal complaint accusing the manager of the PetSmart Inc. store at 2310 Legge Blvd. of interfering with a service dog's performance of his functions while inside the store, a misdemeanor offense under state law.
The complaint by Sherri Worthington-Waits identifies the defendant as Michelle Funk. The case is scheduled for an arraignment at 8:30 a.m. July 31 in Frederick County General District Court.
The complaint by Worthington-Waits states that Funk "did throw me out of the store" on June 25. Worthington-Waits said she was removed from the store when she tried to have her dog help her recover from a fall in the aisle.
"My dog is a certified service dog, and I am a person of disability," Worthington-Waits wrote, adding that, "Funk interfered with my service dog performing his duties and told me I was not allowed in the store if I called upon him to perform his duties as a service dog."
The court file contains a letter to the clerk of General District Court office from Joleen R. Okun, an attorney with a Washington, D.C., law firm, identifying herself as Funk's attorney. A telephone message and email to Okun on Friday did not receive a reply.
Okun's letter states, "I am interested in resolving this matter without my client having to appear at the July 31 hearing. Could you please direct me to someone I may discuss this matter with to come to an amicable resolution?"
No one at PetSmart's corporate headquarters was available Friday to comment on the Worthington-Waits complaint.
In an earlier interview, corporate spokeswoman Michelle Friedman said the company had been conducting a full investigation of the incident. Friedman said Funk is an assistant manager at the store.
Friedman said the company was still trying to determine what had happened between Worthington-Waits and Funk.
Friedman said the company had concluded that Worthington-Waits had entered the store with another customer to conduct some training exercises, which are normally permitted in the store.
Friedman said they had been training in the store for about an hour and that Funk "was aware of it and permitted it."
"Service animals are always allowed in the store, and we simply ask that the training is not too disruptive," Friedman said.
Friedman said Worthington-Waits cried for help at some point and Funk ran to Worthington-Waits and her companion to see what the problem was.
"From what we gather, they were simulating a scenario in which the guide dog would help (Worthington-Waits) get up. There was quite a bit of confusion and some concern and at that point, the (assistant) store manager intervened and asked them to leave the store," Friedman said.
Friedman added that the company was "trying to understand what we can do to help support training of dogs in that store."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org