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Mainers with guide dogs say they're being discriminated against by Uber

Two Mainers who use service animals say some Uber drivers are refusing to pick them up because of their guide dogs.

PORTLAND, Maine — Sam Atwood and his dog Aaron spend just about every waking moment together.

"We're paying a lot of attention to each other's body language," Atwood said.

That's because Atwood is blind and Aaron is there to keep him safe.

"His job is to basically avoid obstacles and provide an extra level of safety around street crossings," Atwood added.

Atwood walks to as many places as he can, but sometimes he needs a ride. While he sometimes gets rides from friends, but he also tries to use Uber. 

However, he says utilizing the ride share service hasn't been the easiest thing to do.

RELATED: UMaine researchers create software that will make rideshare inclusive

"I've had drivers drive by me, and you know I've got my app [and] my phone talks. I'm hearing the driver is 2 minutes away, the driver is 1 minute away, the driver has arrived and I'm conscious of a car pulling up, and then they pull out," he said describing how it's happened in the past.

Atwood says it's because some drivers take one look at his dog and just keep going. He added that he tries messaging drivers before they even come to pick him up that he has a dog, and sometimes they cancel the ride right away.

He's not the only one this has happened to. Patty Sarchi and her dog, Jeff, have also experienced this, so Sarchi hired Kristin Aiello to take on her case.

"Uber claims that they're not subject to the Maine Human Rights Act or the Americans with Disability Act. They claim that because they're an app company they are not required to follow the law," Aiello said.

She adds that taxi companies are required to follow the law so Uber should have to, too.

RELATED: Grant for nearly $450,000 goes to Maine transportation studies

According to Uber's website, drivers are required to follow the laws regarding the transportation of service animals. 

A spokesperson for Uber wrote in an email that when signing up to be an Uber driver, all drivers agree to transport service animals. In a statement, an Uber spokesperson added:

"We have zero tolerance for discrimination on the Uber platform, and these riders' experiences are unacceptable. Drivers agree to accommodate riders with service animals when they sign up to use the app. We have a specialized support team that looks into these types of reports, and takes appropriate action."

The spokesperson also said that there are no exemptions for allergies, religious beliefs, or general fear of dogs.

For people like Atwood and Sarchi, they're just like anyone else using a ride share and want to get from point A to point B with their service animal in tow.

"We need our independence and we need it bad," Sarchi said.

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