What do you think when you see a dog sitting in a grocery cart, either in the basket or in the seat meant for babies? Do you consider it cute because “dogs are people” or do you find it disgusting?
No matter what your opinion, chances are the dog’s owner is violating a state law which says that only service dogs are allowed in food stores. And no, a pocket-size dog isn’t an exception.
But even a service dog accompanying a disabled person must be on a leash or if placed in the shopping cart, must sit on a mat or in a pet carrier.
Officially, stores will tell you they don’t allow pets, but in reality, the situation is often ignored. What about a service cat? There’s no such thing. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act says that dogs as well as miniature horses trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities are the only types of animals recognized as service animals.
Observe in grocery stores, and you will probably see dogs that don’t appear to be service dogs. The truth is that federal laws designed to protect those with disabilities are being abused by people who are bringing pets into stores.
Bill Marler, the most prominent food-borne illness lawyer in America, said, “It’s common sense that dogs carry bacteria that can be harmful to people. There are lots of reports of dogs carrying salmonella.”
Not to mention the fact that some people are allergic to fur floating away as the dog breezes by, taking in the scents of the meat department.
The Internet is filled with stories of dogs biting people in stores, having accidents in the aisles or getting into fights with other dogs. There are also people raging about the injustice of it all after they were told their pet dog could not be in the store.
“Service dogs are usually so well behaved, they are not likely to cause an accident in the grocery store. The bottom line is, these kinds of behaviors are potentially risky. I understand people love their pets and get all upset and that their pets are like their children,” Marler said.
“I understand that grocery stores want to be happy places, but ultimately, they have a responsibility to consumers to make sure nobody is introducing a contaminate into the grocery store,” Marler said.
The problem is that under the ADA regulations store employees can only ask two questions when they see someone with a dog:
1) Is it a service animal? and 2) What task does the service animal perform?
No proof is required, but in most cases pet owners are never asked if the dog is a service dog, because the retailers’ legal team has told employees the business could be sued if it turns out the dog is a legitimate service dog.
On a recent Saturday at a Publix Super Market in West Palm Beach, several customers commented to the cashier about the fluffy, white medium-size dog perched in the cart where the groceries would normally be placed. It was not sitting on a mat. No one wanted to confront the owner, who had no visible disabilities.
The cashier said he wanted to tell the lady, “This is not Pet Supermarket,” but was not allowed to say a word. The woman could say she needed the dog for emotional support.
However, the ADA definition of service animal does not include dogs whose sole function is to provide emotional support, although it does include a dog which is trained to calm a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack.
Later, a manager said that there was nothing the store could do to keep pets out, and that once a parrot was brought into the store, but there was nothing she could do.
At the Palm Beach Publix, employees said they overlook the numerous dogs that owners bring into the store on a daily basis, citing the problem of questioning them. One employee said that “dog carts” are normally tagged, then sanitized after the shopper is done.
It could be that some pet owners think it’s OK when they see others with dogs in the store.
Yet a notice on the store’s front door states: “No pets please. State law allows only guide and service animals.”
Publix spokeswoman Nicole Krauss said Publix allows only service animals, and they should remain on a leash or other type of restraint. If they are in a cart, they must sit on a mat or in a pet carrier. Publix has a procedure to clean and sanitize the carts after use by a service animal.
“Some disabled customers need the service animal in their immediate proximity to sense an upcoming seizure or a drop in blood sugar,” Krauss said.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is charged with overseeing grocery stores. However, spokeswoman Erin Gillespie said its authority does not extend to regulating dogs in stores, except for food preparation areas.
“If there is an animal in the food prep area (deli, seafood, etc.) and we were notified, we would send an inspector to check and the store can be cited. We do not have authority regarding pets in other parts of the store,”Gillespie said.
What the Americans with Disabilities Act says
A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability
Generally, entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.
Examples of such work or tasks include guiding blind people, alerting deaf people, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications or calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack.
Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not quality as service animals.
When it is not obvious what a service animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. No questions can be asked about the person’s disability, and no proof can be required.
For more information, go to www.ADA.gov