There's an inseparable bond between a pet and their owner. But for combat veteran Chuck McGuirk, his dog Maddie is his entire life.
“It’s just that bond between us that keeps me going,” said McGuirk.
Maddie has been McGuirk's service dog for the past three years.
Before her, the Air Force vet spent a decade on the couch, suffering from PTSD.
“It becomes a task in your family, as well, when dad can’t go to the park,” he said.
With the help of Maddie, everyday errands have become easier. She's even allowing him to look forward to his future — and dream — of being a chef.
"My earliest memories were with my grandfather making sauce in the kitchen,” said McGuirk.
Imagine his excitement when he was accepted into the culinary program at Schenectady County Community College — and then he found out Maddie wouldn't be allowed in the kitchen.
That’s when he involved local veterans advocate Joni Bonilla.
“You don’t get to say, ‘Thank you for fighting a war, too bad you need a dog to live a regular life — if you didn’t, this could be yours,’” said Bonilla, founder and president of Operation At Ease.
According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, service animals must be allowed in public areas of businesses that sell or prepare food, even if local health codes permit animals on the premises. But it says nothing about kitchen spaces.
“There was no indication at all in their application process that this would not be achievable for him,” said Bonilla.
McGuirk says he was planning on working with the school to come up with a solution, even asking if Maddie could be crated under a table in the kitchen.
“I just never expected a flat-out ‘no’ with no reasoning behind it. I can’t untrain my condition to be without her, which is essentially what I was asked to do,” he said.
Which is why he’s now believes it’s discrimination.
“Chuck McGuirk does not need to defend his disability to them,” said Bonilla. “Nobody with any disability owes anybody an explanation.”
The community college and the Department of Health say they are working with him to resolve the issue. In a statement, the school says, “Schenectady County Community College supports all individuals with disabilities and works to foster an inclusive environment that is accessible and welcoming for all students and employees.”
But McGuirk says it’s a bigger issue.
“This is for future veterans that are just trying to get their education, to move on in life. What your choice may be in life, this shouldn’t stop you from furthering your education and bettering himself,” said McGuirk.