Ride’s over, Rex: No service animals in Publix shopping carts

Out of the shopping cart with your paws up.

Signs at Publix supermarkets forbid pets to enter the store except as trained service animals, and make it clear that they may not ride or sit in shopping carts.

“For food safety reasons, only service animals that are specifically trained to aid a person with disabilities are permitted within the store,” the sign reads. “Service animals are not permitted to sit or ride in shopping carts.”

The signs come with the symbol of a paw with a slash through it.

A Publix spokesman did not address whether the signs followed complaints or incidents, but did say the policy is not new.

“Our policy on service animals in our stores has not changed,” company spokesman Brian West said Monday. “In an effort to raise awareness and understanding, the decision was made to post this note as a reminder. Publix is an associate-owned company that cares about its customers, and it is important for us to create a pleasant shopping environment.”

In Wellington, customer Maria Pose studied the sign Monday and smiled.

“I love the dogs and cats, but I think this is fine,” she said.

So did at least one group that advocates for people who rely on service animals.

“I hear people say, ‘You have babies with poopy diapers in there, so what’s the difference if a dog is in the cart?’ ” said Toni Eames, president of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. “But I think Publix is within its rights to make that demand. Any well-trained dog should be able to heel next to you.”

Other companies have grappled with efforts to balance the needs and preferences of consumers with service animals against other health and safety concerns. Earlier this year, Delta Airlines announced stricter guidelines for service animals, such as asking for documentation of vaccinations and training 48 h0urs before flying.

A guide dog for a blind person might be one thing, but the rising popularity of “emotional support” animals has posed challenges about how to set rules and boundaries.

Under published Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, Publix can only ask two questions regarding animals in the store, company spokeswoman Nicole Krauss said.

The first question: “Is the animal a service animal?” If the answer is yes, Krauss said, then the second question is: “What task does the animal perform?”

She continued, “Managers have to make a decision based on the responses received. There are potential civil penalties under the ADA if Publix wrongfully excludes a true service animal. However, service animals will not be permitted to ride in our shopping carts due to food safety and sanitation concerns.”

The store’s policy “has been implemented based on guidance issued by the Department of Justice,” Krauss said. ” We hope this helps explain our position in this regard.”

Owners sad to see their would-be cart riders shut out do have one alternative: Delivery service is becoming more widely available from Publix and its competitors.

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