Columbus man, 80, kicked out of grocery store after entering with service dog

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A Columbus family is speaking out after they say their 80-year-old grandfather was asked to leave a local grocery store.

They say the reason was because of his service dog.

"It just made me feel bad. I told them it was my service dog, they said, I don't care, get on out the store," said Columbus resident, August Debrabant.

Debrabant says he has been using his service dog for years.

Ruby the Chihuahua helps monitor his medication levels and offers emotional support after the passing of his wife.

August says on Wednesday, May 23 an off-duty Muscogee County Sheriff Deputy, working part-time at Food Depot on Milgen Road asked him to leave the store. He says he was asked to leave without any explanation.

"The dog didn't have a vest on. The dog is a service dog, the vest is really heavy, in the summer it's really heavy. He didn't have it on her," said granddaughter of Debrabant, Lacie Paul.

According to Americans with Disabilities Act, federal law does not require any special identification for service animals, including leashes, vests or on-hand paperwork or certifications.

Head trainer of Off Leash K-9 Training in Columbus, Jeff Gettangs says the only questions legally allowed to ask is "is it a service dog required for a disability?" "And what is the service it is trained to do?"

"If it is disrupting the service or business. If you bring a dog in and it is barking, defecating, can tell it is not trained, at that point, it is legal to ask them to leave with it. If the dog is behaving, that can get you into a lot of trouble," Gettangs said.

The Deputy involved and the situation is currently being investigated by the Muscogee County Sheriff Office.

The Muscogee County Sheriff Office has released a statement about the incident:

"The store has a sign clearly posted alerting that reads "service animals only."  Initial investigation reveals the man entered the store carrying the dog, there was no clear indications it was a service animal. Upon entering, a manager told the deputy to ask him to leave, at that time, the gentleman became noticeably agitated and left the store. Our officers (MCSO) are aware of the importance of service animals. We know very limited questioning is allowed when it is not obvious it is a service animal. This case remains under investigation."

According to the family, the grocery store manager did apologize to the family.

The store manager tells News Leader 9 that the store welcomes all service dog, and the situation was a misunderstanding.

The family says they're speaking out hoping more people are aware of regulations about service dogs and hoping this situation won't happen to anyone else.

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