LEE COUNTY, Fla.- A combat-wounded veteran of the Iraq war is claiming he and his service dog were turned away from Eden Winery near Alva in Lee County. 27-year old Alex Brown says he is embarrassed and upset by what happened.
"Us veterans are a proud group. It is one thing to walk around as a combat wounded vet, and to have your service dog with you all the time. To have someone point that out, and dismiss you, well that can be embarrassing, especially in front of your family. I don't want anybody else to go through that," says Brown.
The Army veteran says he and some relatives went to Eden Winery on Tuesday afternoon of this week. Brown says he was getting his service dog, Skip, out of the car, when he heard the manager of the winery store.
"He was screaming, 'that dog is not coming in here, that dog cannot come in'," says Brown. "My cousin said, 'it's a service dog', and still he said, 'that dog is not coming in', and he shut the door."
The Brown party left the winery, and later in the evening, Alex posted his version of events on Facebook. Since then, hundreds of people have responded, mostly with very negative comments toward Eden Winery.
"We want to start by apologizing to Alex and to the dog, Skip," says J Vargo, the manager at Eden who was involved in the incident with the Brown party. "My dog Mila is very protective, and does not like other dogs. I was just trying to avoid a dog fight. If I had known earlier that it was a service dog, I would have put my dog in the back of the store and there would have been no problem. The fact is, the woman who came to the porch, turned around and the group just left. They did not indicate a problem to me. I did not scream at anyone. It was a misunderstanding on my part and I feel terrible."
Eden Winery owner Earl Kiser issued an apology on Facebook Wednesday afternoon. Kiser says his place of business would never dishonor veterans, and he thanked those people who have asked for Eden's version of events.
Alex Brown says he suffered traumatic brain injuries in a roadside bombing in Iraq in July 2008. He also suffers from post traumatic stress. He says having his dog, Skip, the past few months, has improved the quality of his life. He got Skip from the group K9s for Warriors. Brown is from Louisville and is here for his brother's wedding in a few days.
Brown says federal laws allow service dogs in most places. The few exceptions include sterile environments like hospital operating rooms.
"We do not need to be disrespected," says Alex Brown of wounded veterans. "We have done a lot to help civilians have freedom to operate their businesses as they want and so forth. It just hurts."