EXCLUSIVE: Incident at Columbus restaurant shines light on ADA service dog regulations

(Source: WTVM)
(Source: WTVM)
(Source: WTVM)
(Source: WTVM)

(WTVM) - "We are not phonies. This is an actual service animal and I need this dog," says Cynthia Wolters, a service dog owner.

Wolters, a longtime Columbus resident,  has been using her service dog, Gemma, for almost a year.

"In my case, Gemma is an alert animal," says Wolters.

Wolters takes prescribed medication for both post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Gemma monitors Wolter's medication levels and helps retrieve her medication along with other services.

"I am grateful because Gemma has given me the ability to go out alone in public and not feel afraid," says Wolters.

Gemma is a certified ADA service animal through Paws For Life, a local ADA training facility out of Marietta, Georgia.

Wolters says on April 24, she and her husband, a retired Fort Benning officer, decided to eat lunch at Hartz Chicken in Columbus off of Veterans Parkway.

"So I grab my little buffet plate and proceed to serve myself," says Wolters. "As soon as I started, I was greeted by a tall gentleman who says he wants for someone else to serve my food. I said 'Sir, I don't understand.' He said, 'Well you have a dog,' and I said, "Well yes, she is a service dog'."

Wolters says she was taken back by the request since she's never had any situations similar to other restaurants in the area.

"There's no restaurant in Columbus that I honestly couldn't tell you that I haven't been to with Gemma," says Wolters.

Wolters says she told the Hartz Chicken Buffet employee she would be happy to show him Gemma's documentation and papers, but she says the employee declined. Wolters says she asked and received a refund then decided to leave the restaurant.

We stopped by the Hartz Chicken Buffet location where Wolters claims the incident occurred and asked to speak to the manager for more information. News Leader 9 spoke to General Manager Jack Lin on the phone and he explains Wolters was not refused service, but an employee did ask her to have someone else serve her at the buffet line so that she and Gemma would not be in the area of the restaurant where there is exposed food.

According to the Disability Rights Section of the U.S Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, service animals must be allowed to accompany their handlers to and through self-service food lines  and you are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws.

We spoke to the manager of this Hartz Chicken Buffet Location once again and asked him if he was aware of those guidelines and explained those ADA regulations to him. Lin says he is sorry for the way the situation was handled and would be open to speaking with Wolters about any concerns she may have about the situation. Lin says his employees were ultimately trying to offer assistance in serving Wolters her food.

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