Veteran with PTSD says service animals shouldn't be turned away

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Midlands veteran says his service dog is vital to his life.

After being diagnosed with chronic PTSD Jose Rabitti struggled with depression and nightmares, making it hard for him to handle being out in public. His service dog, Patches, changed that for him.

The two are inseparable, but even though Patches is certified and allowed to be with him at almost any time the two are still turned away from certain public businesses. Jose says he thinks this is because some people just aren't familiar with how service dogs operate.

Sgt. Rabitti says he served multiple tours overseas while in the Army.

"When you are in a war zone and actually under fire and losing close friends like I did – all that stuff, it just changes you. Not sleeping, very jumpy, irritated, have bad dreams," Rabitti said.

After seeking medical attention, Rabitti was diagnosed with chronic PTSD.

"I talked to some friends and they said, 'A service dog – they're doing a study for PTSD.' So, I said, okay, I'm going to contact them," Rabitti said.

Rabitti was selected for an all-expenses-paid trip to New York for a two-week study. It was there that he was paired with his service dog, Patches.

"She's trained to sense when I'm getting irritated, depressed, or having a bad case. She will come to me and put her head there and rest," Rabitti said.

They've been together now more than two years, going just about everywhere together except for the times the pair is turned away.

"They just tell you, 'no, you can't have your dog.' And I'm like, I don't have a dog. I have a service dog," says Rabitti.

Kevin Strain moved into the house next door to Rabitti in 2014.

"Jose was really friendly, helped me move in. We've been neighbors and friends ever since," Strain said.

The neighbors were together when a local restaurant said Patches couldn't stay.

"This lady had no clue. So, even after Jose explained to her that this was a service dog she still didn't."

Strain continues to say that a manager was eventually called and Patches did not have to leave.

"People need to be educated," Rabitti said. "I mean if they don't know they don't know."

Rabitti says Patches is well-trained to handle most public spaces. Without Patches, the retired Army sergeant says just being out in public used to be a challenge.

"I didn't want to leave my house. I didn't want to do anything. I didn't want to socialize. I didn't want to hang out with people. I can't do a lot of stuff that normal people do out there. Thanks to her, I get to do those things," Rabitti says.

He said having to be separated from his service dog can be devastating for him. Rabitti is hoping that businesses will begin to incorporate how to handle customers with service dogs in any training sessions for new employees.

Copyright 2017 WIS. All rights reserved.