I am constantly annoyed with pet owners that take their little dogs to the store, especially the grocery store. Oregon is too. The state Department of Agriculture started a public awareness campaign last month reminding Oregonians that it’s illegal for dogs to enter grocery stores – unless it’s a service dog. Stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Home Depot aren’t good places to be bringing your pet, but there can be legal consequences in stores and restaurants that serve food.
There have been some arguments made for and against patrons bringing pets to stores. Some say their personal pets are like “children” to them, as if they are another family member, but bringing pets into stores is not a good idea for public safety in a microbiological sense and also a physical sense. I hate tripping over toddlers at Walmart, and I don’t want to add tripping on leashes or small dogs to this problem.
By law, grocery stores must allow service dogs into grocery stores. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, business owners may ask if an animal is for service, yet they cannot require a customer to show certification or other proof that an animal is certified. In fact, legitimate service animals aren’t always certified. (For more information on the law, call 1-800-514-0301.) A quick search on Google brought up Service Animal IDs for $30, no verification paperwork needed. This ID doesn’t classify the animal as a service animal, but most people aren’t able to tell the difference between the real thing and phonies. IDs such as this one could allow anyone to bring a pet into a store selling food, and most likely store managers wouldn’t do a thing about it.
Separating the true service dogs from the personal pets makes it hard for those that rely on their service animals for help with a disability. The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
Most people think of service dogs as performing functions such as leading the blind and opening doors, but they are also psychiatric service dogs that help people with psychological problems. Unfortunately there is where the lines become very grey. Assistance Dogs International has three categories: guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing and service dogs for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. Service dogs may be needed by people with disabilities that are not visible and perform activities such as alerting of oncoming seizures or a variety of psychiatric disabilities. While grocery store owners are allowed to ask if an animal is a service animal or pet, they are not allowed to ask what their disability is (if not visible).
This issue spins round and round. Untrained animals shouldn’t be brought into areas of food. But disabled people need service animals present to help with disabilities. But pets may not be able to be distinguished from service animals, and patrons may abuse the fact that the store owner can’t ask what their disability is. But the store owner has a right to exclude pets from areas with food for sale.
The long and the short of it is, there isn’t a federal regulatory agency that dictates how these animals are certified as service dogs. Even if we did have the regulatory agency, would that ensure resolution of all the service animal disputes? Of course not, just as the existence of the FDA and USDA doesn’t ensure the 100% safety of our food supply.