OAKLAND -- Schuyler McGraw's Staffordshire bull terrier, Lux, is an indispensable part of her life.
McGraw, 34, of Oakland, said she sees a psychiatrist and takes medication for post-traumatic stress disorder and a complex trauma obsessive compulsive disorder following years of childhood abuse and a history of family alcoholism, and also has seizures.
Lux is trained to detect those seizures and has warned of at least 100 in the past three years by circling McGraw, hovering near her legs and leaning on her master when the dog anticipates a tremor coming.
But after McGraw and Lux boarded a Southwest Airlines flight out of Oakland on Tuesday, McGraw, says, a disgruntled flight attendant forced the pair to deplane because the crew member didn't like the dog's breed.
Southwest officials say they're working to make the situation right, but after being denied the chance to visit an old friend for Thanksgiving, McGraw says the airline's offer of free miles doesn't cut it.
"(Lux) is the light of my life and I love her," McGraw said Friday.
Leaving the house where she works as a writer is rare for McGraw as she works to overcome her history of abuse. Socializing is a thing of the past, she says, and travel is almost unheard of.
After saving up for a year, however, McGraw checked her bags at Oakland airport Tuesday morning, passed through security, spoke to a gate agent, boarded the flight and settled into the bulkhead seat with Lux at her feet. They were headed on a direct 90-minute flight to Spokane and then to Idaho to visit an old friend.
"I clicked the seat belt and I was so happy. I felt 30 seconds of freedom," said McGraw. Shortly after, she said, a flight attendant gave her an angry glare.
"I saw the look in her eye and it was so petty," she said, adding that she was wearing sweatpants and a shirt with the logo of a medical marijuana dispensary on it and felt judged by the way she was dressed. "The look in her eye (said to me), 'That is a stoner with a pit bull.'"
The attendant spoke with two other airline employees and the group asked McGraw to leave the plane because they felt Lux "(was) not a service dog," McGraw said.
McGraw said she provided airline crew with a handwritten note dated Nov. 23, on stationery from her Berkeley psychiatrist that reads, in part, "(McGraw) requires a dog as an accommodation for air travel. The dog has the ability to predict and prevent medical problems such as seizures."
Still, the crew made McGraw and Lux leave the plane, surrounded her in the waiting area and directed her to sit in a wheelchair while they sorted out the matter. Ultimately, they said she could take a later Southwest fight. But McGraw said she had already had another seizure and was too upset to take her trip.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal law which guarantees the rights of disabled people, states that for psychiatric service animals, "air carriers may request very specific diagnostic documentation 48 hours in advance of a flight."
McGraw said she called the airline twice, once two days before her flight, to make certain Lux would be welcome. She said customer service agents told her it wouldn't be a problem as long as she had her doctor's note.
Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, declined to speak about the incident but released a statement saying that "our employees are responsible for the safety and well-being of all passengers and their animals on our aircraft.
"We take customer service very seriously ... and we are working with the customer to resolve the situation."
McGraw said she accepted a refund of her $651 ticket, but when an airline executive called to offer her credit toward future travel, she refused.
"She tried to apologize, tried to offer me miles. I said, 'Save it, this is a discrimination case, this is not about the money.' I don't want to fly on their miles. I don't want to fly their airline again. She called me with a very cheap solution to a very expensive situation."