Doctor Kicks Blind Man and His Guide Dog Out of Clinic

A Bensalem, PA man and his guide dog were not just refused service by a local doctor’s office – they were actually asked to leave the building.

Dr. Priya Punjabi demanded that Joseph Cichonski and his dog Hero leave her clinic on the 4th of August, saying that a large animal could frighten patients. Punjabi maintains that she has every right to decide who can and cannot enter her office.

Lawyer and advocate for the disabled, Rocco Iaculla, strongly disagrees. “You cannot exclude service animals except in very specific situations,” he said in an interview with phillyburbs.com. “Unless the animal is out of control or not housebroken or someone nearby has a severe allergic reaction, you must permit them in any area that the public is permitted. It has to be more than someone feeling uncomfortable with an animal present.”

Cichonski and his wife visited Punjabi’s office for her previously scheduled physical. While Cichonski’s wife was waiting to be treated, Punjabi approached him in the waiting room and told him that pets weren’t allowed in the office. The doctor told him to take his dog and leave the premises.

“I told her that it’s not a pet, it’s a guide dog, but she still said I couldn’t have him in there,” Cichonski told the newspaper. “How many pets do you know that can be declared on your federal income tax forms?”

Punjabi would not back down, so Cichonski left the office in order to avoid causing a scene. And then he called the police. His wife joined him after being told that she would not be treated unless the dog left.

Cpl. Michael Wojnar of the Lower Southampton Police Department arrived shortly thereafter and spoke with Punjabi. On Wednesday, Wojnar confirmed that a complaint had been filed.

Punjabi, who said she is afraid of dogs, maintains that the matter was handled appropriately. “We simply asked him to step outside,” she said. “I have my rights and my phobias, too.”

Meanwhile, Cichonski says he’s exploring his options. “I’m not trying to cause a fuss,” he added. “I just want to let people know that things like this are happening and I’d like to prevent them from happening to other people with disabilities.”

20 thoughts on “Doctor Kicks Blind Man and His Guide Dog Out of Clinic”

  1. I’m confused, if the man and his dog were in the waiting room, how does that effect the doctor examining the wife? If this doctor is afraid, don’t go in the waiting room…IDIOT!!

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  2. Well I’m not much one that holds for lawyers but in this case I hope the lawyers are beating a path to this guy’s door. There is NO EXCUSE for denying access ESPECIALLY for medical attention to a blind person or indeed any physically or mentally challenged person who has a service animal to help them navigate life. IMO this doctor should be hauled up on not only criminal charges but also sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act AND AS WELL be called to account before the state Medical Board and probably lose her license. This is unbelievably disgusting. I wonder if this doctor’s problem is cultural for her as well, with the name she has, perhaps along with a medical education and upbringing in her home country she absorbed that country’s attitude toward dogs but also an attitude of complete disregard and disrespect of the disabled which includes shunning them. I don’t know, just a surmise and I’m not being racist or bigoted in saying these things, but I believe most American citizens especially health care workers are fully knowledgeable about the fact that disabled cannot be denied access like this. This doctor needs some re-education in a BIG hurry and she better pray she doesn’t get herself sued big time.

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    • I believe it’s time for those of us with service dogs to make more awareness on those of us who do have service dogs, or for someone that very much wants to have a service dog. By education and about people who are disable, whether we are visual or not, we don’t bring pet along because we love our dogs, these dogs are working dogs and do have dress jacket for public awareness and most will see “DO NOT PET ME, I’M WORKING”.
      For a doctor to say what she did, I think she going to find out quickly how wrong she was and that SHE DOES NOT have the right to turn this person away because of his service dog. No one like to create a fuss or to have people look at us as we are trouble person. Because of something they do not know or care to know about. I hope this person realize he has more support and more rights then this doctor and to go ahead and let his lawyer do his job. If the lawyer doesn’t fully understand the rights to having a service dog, there’s great information on line to educate them about service dogs right and their owner. The world is going to see more and more of these beautiful dogs working for those of us with disabilite whether it’s a child or adult and think about our troops coming back from war. I just spend a day seeing 1000 service dogs with just our vets. “Beautiful!”

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  3. But I bet this Dr doesn’t turn away Medicare or Medicad payments.

    What threat could the dog be in the waiting room. I have never seen a service dog that did anything but behave and ignore people around them except for the person they are guiding.

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    • Actually Mr. Zandy the opposite is the problem. It is very very difficult for Medicare and Medicaid patients to find a doctor to treat them because Medicare especially is strongly holding the line on what doctors are allowed to bill to Medicare for services. Because so many doctors can’t get away with sending their often ridiculously high charges on to the guvmint to pay they simply turn away all Medicare and Medicaid patients. I help take care of a 62-year-old disabled man and experienced this “medical discrimination” against him, plus one of my friends is retired from the prosthetics profession and says the same thing. Because so few doctors now will accept Medicare/Medicaid patients they will actually put in their phone book listings that they accept Medicare/Medicaid but as there are so few the wait list is very long to see one of them.

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  4. Not sure about that – recall that in the days of abundant anti-war protests many shopping malls tried to label themselves as “private property invitees only” (those signs are still up on shopping malls all over the place) but the courts under this challenge pretty much said oh no you don’t. And at any rate if the gentlemen needing medical attention had an appointment with the clinic he was an “invitee” and at any rate the doctor/staff knew or should have known of his disability. Physicians’ offices as well as any office where the public might reasonably expect to come are required to be accessible to those citizens covered by the ADA. Though private offices might come into a grey area of the law I frankly don’t think there could be found a single (educated) juror who would think that turning a blind man with a service dog away from a physician’s office was acceptable behavior on the part of that doctor!

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    • No. Time and time again this comes up and it does not matter that this is a private practice. Service dogs are allowed.

      What would be nice to see is a complaint filed w/ the state licensing board.

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  5. The Dr. will have a tough time with this, provided the dog was under control, which it sounds like it was, the dog is allowed. The office is not a private residence, it is in a public building. I will go out on a limb and say the Dr. is from a different culture. I have encountered very similar situations. My previous Dr, with a similar ethnic background could barely treat me the two times I went in with my dog, as she was concentrating on questioning me about the dog, and expressing her distaste for the animal in her prescense. I think that is what this situation stems from. Many cultures view dogs as filthy creatures, and they do not want them in thier prescence. However, in the US, per ADA, the DOG IS ALLOWED. END OF STORY !!! I have actually had women from other cultures, hold the bathroom door shut so I could not leave as they were trying to enter, because of my dog !! Exactly Leslie, SHE DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT !

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    • Well said Anne and I do agree I believe this so call doctor very well could be: from a different culture. If that the case, then this doctor needs to bring it’s self up on the ADA law. I do hope we get the follow up on what’s happening here with our friend and his dog. I wish him well and know, he is in his rights to file a complaint against this doctor.

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