The Holiday Bar in Grand Rapids kicked a veteran and his service dog out on Friday, Nov. 10, which is illegal and could be grounds for charges.
But Jerome Smith, the Marine Corps veteran involved, said he'd rather have this be an educational opportunity.
Smith served in the Marines from 2002 to 2006 and experienced severe post traumatic stress once he returned. Joey a.k.a "JoJo", the service dog, came into Smith's life five years ago.
"Having a service dog gave me something to care about and gave me a new perspective on life," said an emotional Smith over FaceTime.
Smith, who is from a town near Charlotte, said he was in Grand Rapids for an annual Marines birthday event. He'd been to Stella's Lounge with no issues prior to stopping at The Holiday Bar.
The incident spread first due to a Facebook post a stranger posted after witnessing the encounter. Then, the owner of the bar reached out to Smith shortly before issuing a statement to media outlets on Sunday, Nov. 12.
Smith initially asked that the bar volunteer their time at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans to gain a better understanding of the trauma a veteran endures on a daily basis. Instead, the bar donated a days of sales to the veterans home.
"It felt cheap to me," Smith said.
Smith said a monetary donation does little in the grand scheme in terms of furthering the staff's personal understanding of service animals. He said a best case scenario would be for The Holiday Bar to sponsor the training of a service animal.
"I believe if The Holiday Bar was to sponsor a service dog and follow that dog's journey from a puppy to the point that it gets its master, or its veteran...and then they watched that graduation process and heard what that person's been through," said Smith. "Maybe they could connect with that individual and see what life is like with a dog."
Deb Davis from Paws With a Cause said that quite often restaurants and businesses break the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"It's unfortunate that this still happens given that the ADA does spell out so many rights for handlers with disabilities, with service dogs. It's unfortunate but it all boils down to education...just simply ignorance and the lack of knowledge that this is a law."
Smith said shortly after entering the bar a manager told him he needed to leave. He reached for his papers to prove that JoJo was a in fact a service dog.
But his efforts to explain the law to the manager were dismissed. However, Smith said other employees, who were summoned to kick him out, apologized for their boss' decision.
Smith asked that the police be called to settle the matter. Two officers responded to the scene around 11:30 p.m. But Smith said they made little moves to help remedy the situation. A statement from the Grand Rapids Police Department said Smith was advised to follow up with investigators today, but he has not.
The statement also noted that Smith's dog was not on a leash and 'wearing a tuxedo,' but neither of these details break ADA requirements.
"We feel that this case would have a better outcome if used as an educational opportunity for all involved, but ultimately, it will be up to Mr. Smith to decide if he wishes to pursue with charges," said a representative for GRPD in an email to WZZM.
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