Restaurant apologizes for turning away veteran who had service dog
By AMANDA MARRAZZO | Chicago Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 27, 2015
CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — A national restaurant chain has fired a local manager and issued an apology after an Army war veteran who says he has post-traumatic stress disorder was refused a table because he was accompanied by a service dog.
Garrett Loughran, 32, and his 5-year-old labradoodle named Hershey, donning a red service dog cape, went to Houlihan’s in Algonquin, Ill., with Loughran’s parents for lunch the day before Memorial Day.
“He’s very important to me,” Loughran said about Hershey.
According to Loughran’s mother, Laura Wills, when the family walked in, a hostess and then her manager questioned the need for the service dog and told them they were not allowed to bring the dog into the restaurant.
They left, and Wills said they were welcomed and served at another restaurant nearby. But afterward, Wills wrote about the experience on her Facebook page and on Houlihan’s page. The posts generated thousands of shares, likes and comments.
And they also prompted Houlihan’s to acknowledge a mistake had been made.
Amy Fasholt-Fisher, vice president of operations for Houlihan’s Restaurant Group, said she and her company were “mortified” to learn of how the veteran and his dog were treated.
She said the manager, who had been employed at the restaurant about two years, has been fired and the restaurant is making a $2,000 donation to Pets for Vets.
“We are sincerely apologetic for the lack of respect and compassion that this veteran and his family experienced in our restaurant,” Fasholt-Fisher said.
It is company policy that all service dogs are always welcome in all Houlihan’s restaurants, she said. According to its website, Houlihan’s has almost 100 restaurants throughout the country.
Loughran said he held the rank of specialist and served as a tank mechanic for more than nine years on tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials confirmed Loughran had been in the Army and had deployed but could not provide specifics.
Wills said that Hershey helps her son cope with being in large crowds, and that the dog wakes him up when he is having nightmares.
“He’s constantly on guard, constantly looking around, especially when a lot of people are around him,” Wills said of her son’s need for Hershey. “He is always looking for a threat. The dog calms him.”
She said that since her son moved back to her Huntley, Ill., home from Wyoming about five weeks ago they had gone out to several restaurants with Hershey and had never been treated that way.
Wills took to Facebook to share the story in hopes of spreading awareness.
On Monday, Loughran, his parents and Hershey, at Houlihan’s request, went back to the restaurant.
“They were very nice people, very understanding and very forgiving,” Fasholt-Fisher said.
She said they “had a nice conversation” about how the restaurant could do a better job in such a scenario and asked how they could make things right.
Loughran and his family suggested the donation be made to Pets for Vets to help cover the costs of training another service dog.
Loughran bought Hershey for about $1,000 from a service dog training facility in Colorado about three years ago.
“He helps keep me calm … alerts me when there is something wrong,” Loughran said.
Loughran said that after he was turned away from the restaurant Hershey “was just there to comfort and calm me down afterwards. I was rather upset.”
He said he had never had a similar experience at a restaurant.
Loughran and Wills said the situation, though unpleasant, has raised awareness for a better understanding of PTSD and service dogs and a better appreciation for veterans.
“That’s all I wanted,” Wills said.
She was shocked to find her Facebook posts garnering so much attention.
On Memorial Day, she and her son were visiting family in downstate Savanna and had no cellphone service, so she was unaware of the flurry of activity on Facebook. Once she was back in range, a call came in from her brother saying Houlihan’s was trying to contact her.
Loughran said that Houlihan’s management “apologized profusely” and that he believes the company is sincere.
Tribune reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz contributed to this story.
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