Couple booted from bar after dispute over service dog

by Sue on December 13, 2013

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — A woman and her husband were booted from a Halloween party after a dispute with the management over whether her service dog could be inside, according to a police report.

Bennie and Mary Gray were attending a Halloween costume party at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge at Pier Park. Police were called there about 9 p.m., according to the report, after a bouncer told the couple they weren’t allowed to have the dog inside the bar. Bennie Gray, 56, explained to the bouncer it was a service dog, and the bouncer asked to see the dog’s papers.

Bennie Gray told the bouncer the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not allow such paperwork to be requested, and the bouncer told them to leave, according to the report.

The manager of Tootsie’s, Melissia Pennington, intervened at some point during the dispute, according to the report. She told officers she spoke to the Grays and told them the dog could stay. But she also alleged Bennie Gray became very aggressive toward her during the dispute, and she ultimately decided to tell the couple to leave.

In a brief phone interview, Bennie Gray said his wife has multiple sclerosis and that her service dog, which she has had for eight years, alerts her to oncoming seizures. Mary Gray, 36, spent days making a Halloween costume for the dog, he said. They also were celebrating Bennie Gray’s birthday at the party.

“She cried all night long,” Bennie Gray said this week. “They ruined her night.”

Bennie Gray said the dog was wearing service badges during the incident and that he asked a Tootsie’s bouncer to look up ADA on a computer, but the bouncer refused. Bennie Gray said he has reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Justice.


Pennington said the Grays were kicked out because they were “unruly and difficult patrons.” She said the couple was getting in the face of security staffers during the dispute.

“The people were not kicked out, obviously, because they have a service dog. We wait on people all the time with service dogs,” she said.

Pennington said a security staffer did try to verify the dog was a service animal, but she wouldn’t say how.

According to the ADA, businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal and what tasks it has been trained to perform. However, businesses may not require special identification for the animal or ask about the person’s disability. If an animal has been trained to assist a person with a disability, the ADS says it is considered a service animal regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by state or local government.

Violators of the ADA may be required to pay monetary damages and penalties.

Bennie Gray said he and his wife have lived in the Panama City area for 12 years, and that Tootsie’s allowed the service dog inside on previous visits to the bar.



NOTE FROM SUSSIE: This situation is the reason I never get in anyone’s face if they deny my Service Dog. I just call the Cops. That way they can never use the excuse that I was being confrontational. Most business do not like to have the Cops show up.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Renee Rendon 12.16.13 at 11:21 am

My daughter has a Service Dog to keep her in one place following a seizure, long enough for her to become lucid and oriented before trying to get up. We looked into a pre-trained Service Dogs and found that we could not afford one living on a fixed income (SSI disability).

We called the ADA and got specifics on the training needed. We found a Border Collie puppy from a local farm for $75. My daughter worked very hard for 18 months to train her own Service Dog for her specific needs. When I developed an Anxiety Panic Disorder, my daughters dog took a hiatus to have a litter of puppies. One of those puppies my daughter spent yet another 18 months training my Service dog for me.

Service dogs require much training before going out in public and also require to do their jobs constantly or ongoing training to remind them that when they are working they are expected to do their jobs and do them well.

I am proud to say that our Service Dogs are the most well behaved Service Dogs encountered on our many trips using public transportation. Other Services dogs have lunged at our dogs where as when our Service Dogs are told to “leave it” they will ignore other dogs but are still social enough to have fun at a dog park. Border Collies are very smart, fast learners, and so active that they need a job to do anyway to keep them out of trouble. They are not too big and not too small, I recommend the Border Collie highly.

We have been asked if they are Service Dogs by bus drivers, waiters/waitresses, grocers etc. Most places we go are places that know us now and our dogs are never questioned because they are extremely well behaved. I just wish people would all learn to ask before petting a working dog. My daughters dog is good with pets while my dog gets too distracted so I discourage petting.

Anyway I just wanted people to know if you are diligent, patient, and can spend the time, you can train your own Service Dog. We were told that in our first phone conversation with the ADA. Find the breed that is right for you but try to stick with the smarter breeds, they’re easier to train.

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