Disabled veteran turned away from Alva winery
By Kelli Stegeman. CREATED Apr 3, 2013
ALVA, Fla. - A veteran vacationing in Southwest Florida from Kentucky says he was discriminated against because of his disability.
Wounded Iraq War veteran Alex Brown says it was at Eden Winery in Alva that he got turned away because of his service dog.
Four in Your Corner's Kelli Stegeman talked to the winery owner who says this was all blown out of proportion and that people are using Alex's wounded status as a weapon.
"In every aspect of the statement, he has given me my life back," Brown said of his service dog, Skip.
Skip came into Alex's life after his second tour in Iraq when Alex came back with PTSD.
"I totally felt unsafe wherever I went and he gives that back to me, that sense of security," said Alex.
Skip wakes him from nightmares and shields him from strangers. But, Skip couldn't shield him from what happened Tuesday. While alex was getting skip ready to go into Eden Winery, the manager told his cousin the dog was not welcome.
He says his cousin explained the situation and that Skip was a service dog.
"He said 'I don't care what kind of dog he is, he's not coming in here,' and slammed the door," said Alex.
"Is that what happened?" asked reporter Kelli Stegeman to the manager, Jay Vargo.
"No ma'am," Vargo replied. "I never slammed anything, I never yelled at them, nothing."
"I want to start by apologizing to Alex and his service dog, Skip," Vargo said.
He said he had problems with the dog at first because he was trying to avoid a dog fight with the Winery's dog Myla.
"She's very protective of the property," said Vargo.
He says Alex then left without getting the chance to put Myla away and explain the situation.
Vargo thought nothing of it until K9's for Warriors, a non-profit organization based in Florida that paired Alex with Skip, learned of the story and put it on Facebook..
By Wednesday afternoon, more than 5,000 people shared the story.
"I don't know what else I could have done," Vargo said. "I wish I could have done something else."
Alex says he's moving on, with Skip by his side.
"It's a battle," said Alex. "Every day is a battle for me and with him I don't have to go through that alone."
Alex says if this story educates even one person, then it was worth it what he had to go through.
Winery owner Earl Kiser tells me he too would like to apologize to Alex and his family. He added that service dogs are welcome at the winery.
This note went up Wednesday night on Eden Winery's Facebook page:
"First and foremost, I sincerely apologize to Alex Brown and his family for not permitting Alex and his service dog to enjoy the hospitality we extend to all our guests. This was not appropriate in any regard and just should not have happened. We are very sorry and hope that this sincere apology will be accepted in the manner it is extended.
Second, as you might expect, there is another side to the story.
It was in the late afternoon, our Tasting Room manager was resting on our porch with our winery dog Mila, when a car pulled in and a lady and a large dog got out. Mila, who is a gentle, sweet tempered winey pet, friends with all our guests, took exception to the large dog and began growling. To avoid a possible dogfight, the employee shooed Mila inside and as the lady started up the walk, said a dog was inside and to not bring the dog in. The lady said "this is a service dog", immediately turned around and with no further discussions or comments, left the premises. The subject of all this, the Veteran, never approached the winery and had no part in the conversation. At no time did our employee see any K9 markings on the dog or have any idea of the disabled vet; he was trying to prevent a dogfight; did he go about this properly, no; did he behave correctly; no; is he sorry for the incident; yes and not just because of the uproar, but because a guest, who just happened to be a disabled vet, was not treated properly.
Next, I want to acknowledge that the Internet and Facebook and the whole social media environment can be a wonderful help and assistance to a small business. It can, as in this instance, also be the vehicle for tremendous harm. The Viral nature of an event or incident, regardless of whether it is true, false, good or bad is very real and even frightening. I guess it is just human nature, to automatically believe the worst and immediately indite and condemn the "bad guy". To the few people who, in this instance, e-mailed us saying "I can't believe you did that" and asked for an explanation, Thank You!
Eden Winery has been here for over thirty five years and in that entire time we have always been mindful of our obligations to all our guests. We are a typical, small family owned business, very proud of our country and supportive of our Armed Forces and all our Veterans. That we would purposely and knowingly dishonor or slight any who have honorably served our country is simply not true or justified.
Despite all of this, again we apologize to Alex Brown and ask his pardon. "
Earl Kiser, Owner