A Dog's Tale

Peter Chapman (in white) is general manager of Alaska Auto Rental in Fairbanks.
Peter Chapman (in white) is general manager of Alaska Auto Rental in Fairbanks.

“I was charged $125 for an automobile that was left clean,” the voice mail starts. “I’m a disabled man with a $50,000 service dog. Never, ever, ever have I left dog hair in a car to warrant a $125 cleaning fee. It’s against the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The caller goes on to explain that he will call the credit card company to stop payment for the rental and inform the rental company’s chamber of commerce to explain how he was unfairly charged. “It’s not cool, it’s not fair. It’s unwarranted. You took advantage of me,” he concludes.

Immediate Action

For Peter Chapman, general manager of Alaska Auto Rental in Fairbanks, it was a fine way to start his Fourth of July holiday weekend. But he knew he needed to deal with this as quickly as possible.

So Chapman crafted a carefully worded email to the renter, with photos attached revealing the extent of the dog hair covering the vehicle’s upholstery and interior. He reminded the renter that upon signing the rental contract, he would be subject to cleaning charges for vehicles returned substantially less than clean.

For the cost to clean the car, Chapman informed the customer that he was charged $125, which is half off of the standard $250 charge for a full auto detail.

In the email, Chapman wrote that his company does not exclude service animals from its rental units, nor does it impose any extra deposits or surcharges for service animals.

He corrected the renter on his interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which permits car rental companies to charge a renter with a service dog for the cost of repairing or cleaning a rental car in the same way non-disabled renters with dogs would be charged.

Further, Chapman let the renter know that his threats to contest the actual car rental bill — not in dispute — were unfounded.

Nonetheless, Chapman made the decision to reverse the credit card charge for $125. “A refund was approved solely in an effort to provide the best possible customer service and resolution of your issue, in spite of the fact that your cleaning charge was valid,” Chapman wrote.

The Renter Responds

Upon seeing the emailed photos, the renter, Davis Hawn, wrote a follow-up email to Chapman. “Please accept my apologies and know that no charges have been questioned or commentary posted,” Hawn wrote.

Hawn explained further that he had not personally returned the car — his friends did. On the last day of his Alaska trip, a bridge flooded, creating a change of plans and a stressful return to the airport. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding,” Hawn wrote. “To err is human. I will speak to my friends.”

Chapman responded by thanking Hawn for the apology, saying that his travel circumstances helped make sense of the condition of the vehicle and that he would be happy to do business with him again.

To that, Hawn replied:

“You sir, are a prince amongst men. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever dream a vehicle could have been turned in like that and I [was] reassured it was personally cleaned. [Let me] note that my service dog doesn’t shed so profusely normally. He was and is still recovering from Rocky Mountain spotted fever from a tick bite. He came within 24 hours of death and stumped the medical professionals. His hair loss is a side effect and not a usual occurrence.

I have learned from this experience and [I’m] also humbled. I did not handle it properly, presumed, and succumbed to stress. 

Thanks, Peter. I owe you a dinner as well as my apology.”

CONTINUED:  A Dog's Tale
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