OXFORD –The owner of Big I’s diner apologized this morning to a crowd of about 500 people, many of them veterans, for turning away an Iraq war veteran and his service dog from his restaurant.
“I apologize to you all,’’ Russell Ireland said, addressing the crowd gathered at Greenbriar Park, just yards from his restaurant on Main Street. “I was very uneducated about post-traumatic stress disorder . . . I now realize how important the love of the animals are’’ to those who suffer from the disorder.
Just steps away, James Glaser, the veteran who was turned away, stood with his dog, Jack, a long-haired Jack Russell terrier.
Glaser said he accepted Ireland’s apology — the second he gave this week since the incident occurred last weekend. But it was the first in the presence of Glaser.
“This isn’t about me,’’ said Glaser, a disabled Air Force veteran. “This was about an ADA law that was not known.’’
The American With Disabilities Act allows service dogs in public places. But Ireland said he did not know that Glaser’s terrier was certified as a service dog when he refused them entry at lunch time last Saturday.
“You have opened my eyes to the problems and effects the disorder has on your brains, your emotions.’’
This morning’s rally was organized by the Massachusetts chapter of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association to raise awareness about PTSD and the use of service dogs after the incident drew national attention to the small diner in Central Massachusetts.
The 8 a.m. event started with a motorcycle ride, which drew about 300 veterans, who first rode past Big I’s, before gathering at the park for a 90-minute ceremony. Ireland, who said he received death threats over the past week after news of the incident spread across the country, now plans to help educate other businesses about the rights and responsibilities of people with service dogs.
“I will start with my own staff,’’ he said to cheers from the crowd.