Delaware City argument about veteran’s service dog goes viral

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A veteran, his service dog, a Delaware City restaurant and a woman who believes the animal ruined her dining experience are at the center of a now-viral video. 9/20/17 YouTube/ViralHog

A veteran, his service dog, a Delaware City restaurant and a woman who believes the animal ruined her dining experience are at the center of a now-viral video.

The video begins in the middle of the argument, showing Delaware resident Ciara Miller standing in the middle of Kathy’s Crab House arguing with a small group of people, which included a man holding the leash of a Great Dane wearing a vest indicating it’s a “PTSD service dog.” 

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“I’m not going to keep my opinions to myself. I’m going to voice it just like I did. There’s nothing you can do about it,” Miller says in the video. 

But Miller says she’s the subject of a smear campaign because the video turns on only halfway through the confrontation, by which point Miller said she’d been yelled at and called racial slurs.

The YouTube video has been seen by more than 400,000 people. Miller said she’s been targeted for digital harassment, racial attacks and slander. 

“I am frightened to send my daughter to school with the level of verbal content is being said to and about me, my family and I based on these fake articles,” Miller said in an email.

But the veteran in the video, retired U.S. Army Master Sgt. Bill Austin, said no one ever said anything racial to Miller; that she started the argument; and that his dog, JP, behaved appropriately.

“I really am hoping something positive comes out of this,” Austin said. “This is about bad behavior.”

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When an off-camera woman informs Miller that the dog’s owner is a military veteran, Miller calls that point irrelevant. She says having an animal in a restaurant is “nasty” and that it’s her opinion there should be a separate section of the restaurant catering to service animals.

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The Americans With Disabilities Act requires restaurants to admit patrons with service animals. That law in Delaware is not extended to emotional support animals. Austin said JP is a service dog.

The video runs for about three minutes in which almost everyone present shouts at or over each other, though Miller is the loudest and most animated. She cusses regularly. 

At noon Wednesday, Kathy’s Crab House’s Facebook page posted about the incident. Resturant management did not return calls requesting comment for this story.

“We would like to express at this time how sorry we are over the embarrassing turn of events that occurred earlier this week in our restaurant,” the post read. “It is unfortunate that some of the public are not familiar with federal regulations regarding service animals.”

The post went on to say the restaurant will be sponsoring a fundraising effort for veterans and service animals through the Montana Wounded Warriors. Details on that effort are forthcoming. 

Miller reached out to The News Journal on Tuesday to say the video is portraying her in a negative and unfair light. She said she has military family members and family members with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said she was already seated in the restaurant with her husband and daughter, who is outside for the duration of the video, when the man and his dog entered the store.

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She said everything was fine until the man walked over to talk to someone at an adjacent table, at which time the Great Dane had its rear end on the edge of her table. 

Miller said she mused with her husband about why restaurants don’t set aside a place for people with service animals. She said her comments were made out of genuine curiosity, but that she also was uncomfortable eating with the dog so near. 

“I can’t eat looking at a dog’s butt,” she said Wednesday. 

As she and her family went to leave, she said another woman confronted her about the comments she’d overheard. Miller said the woman quickly grew insulting and others came up to join in. 

Asked about her cussing and shouting, Miller said, “It didn’t come from nowhere.”

Austin said his dog never had his face or rear end near her table and was, in fact, lying on the floor.

“You’re not allowed to do that,” Austin said about her claim the dog’s butt was near her. “I know my rights and the ADA guidelines.”

Austin said his wife went over to Miller’s table to try and explain the role and legal place of service animals, but that Miller blew up.

“This girl verbally attacked my wife, and it just escalated,” Austin said. 

Miller said she’s been trying to have the video taken down from websites that have posted it. 

“There’s now over 1M (million) views on FB this is ridiculous, this content needs to be removed. I have contacted these websites and asked them to remove inaccurate content and slander about me and I have not heard from anyone,” Miller said in an email.

Contact Adam Duvernay at aduvernay@delawareonline.com or (302) 319-1855 or @DuvinDE.

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