No paws in the door
Despite the urbanization of the United States, there are more dogs in the country now than when it was an agrarian society. But unlike the old days, when dogs were used as hunting partners, herders and warning devices, more and more dogs have become a part of the family. And sometimes that can be a problem.
Take a grocery store for example. Dogs aren't allowed in them unless the person with the dog needs it to perform a task for them; in other words, a service dog is allowed, while all others are not. But, often, people, particularly in affluent areas, think their dogs are different.
Recently the state of Oregon has decided that the problem has become so big that they are going to start a public service campaign to stop people from bringing their dogs into stores, unless, of course, it is a service dog.
"There's a trend, a growing trend, for people to treat their pets like a member of the family, but they forget we still have to draw the line between our furry children and those without paws,'' said Vance Bybee, to an Associated Press reporter. Bybee is an administrator in Oregon's Food Safety Division.
Utah's laws defer to the federal laws when it comes to animals in food areas. Federal code states that "live animals may not be allowed on the premises of a food establishment." There are, however, exceptions. Patrol dogs accompanying police or security officers are allowed. Also, service animals that are controlled by the disabled employee or person are allowed as long as they present no hazard to food in the area.
But this final section of the law presents a problem for store owners and managers. If a dog comes in with a person, how do they find out if the dog is a service dog or if it is not an animal there to provide help? And, as recently as three years ago, the state legislature passed laws that service animals can be there for more than helping with a physical disability, but also can be present for "emotional comfort." However, in the last session of the legislature, State Senator Margaret Dayton R-Orem sponsored a bill which removed those kinds of animals from under the definition of "service animal." The bill passed and Governor Huntsman signed it on March 20.
During the debate on the bill, Dayton said that she understood the use of animals in therapy, relating it to a comment from the late President Ronald Reagan, who once stated that horses were therapeutic. She also said that she thought all pets fit the category of comfort animals when one comes right down to it.
At the Price Smiths' Food King, Leslie DeCaro, store director, says her operation hasn't had problems with animals just coming in with customers. But she does check the credentials on ones that come in as service animals.
"I have one regular who brings their dog in and I have checked their credentials so it is okay," she said last week. "But people get upset sometimes about even service dogs being in the store. A few years ago there was a guy in a wheelchair who came in here with a golden retriever and there were people that would get upset about that even though it was legitimate."
Dean Armstrong, owner of RA Market in Helper says he has had only one problem since he bought the store last year.
"There were these people and they wanted to bring some kind of bull terrier inside and I said no," he said in an interview on Sunday. "Dogs can't be in grocery stores, especially the ones like mine that have a butcher shop. They can smell the meat."
At Albertsons on the west side of Price, Corey Smith, the assistant manager of the store, says people try to bring their dogs in every once in a while.
"It's mostly the little dogs, you know the ones that they carry with them," he said. "We just tell them politely that dogs can't be in a place where food is."
Other food venues, not only grocery stores, are also suffering from dog mania. Sidewalk cafes and coffee shops have found themselves inundated with dogs which often come with their masters into the order area and then walk outside to a table. It would seem that for conventional walk- in restaurants, the practice has always been a no-no.
Those who dislike seeing dogs in any kind of eating or shopping environment have a huge list of complaints. Most say dogs are dogs, regardless of how well they are trained. They tend to mark territory, go when they need to go and can be scary, no matter their size, to some people.
Confined space is another problem, such as on an airplane. Most airlines only allow small animals to travel in carriers that will fit under the seat in front of the owner. No big dogs are allowed and most won't let animals travel in the cargo holds, due to dangers to the animals and the baggage handlers. Recently, Southwest Airlines became a little more dog friendly, as they are allowing very small pets to be held by their passengers, but this is not a general rule, nor is it official yet on their travel rules website.
The main problem still seems to involve grocery stores. Part of the move for people to bring dogs in may have come from the fact that some big box pet stores have encouraged people to bring dogs in stores for some time. Individuals with dogs they love may just be translating the move from big pet stores into the grocery isles as simply the same thing; so many are just big box stores, they reason, so what can it hurt.
When it comes to service dogs, store personnel also have to careful about how they question someone with a service animal. They can't walk up and ask someone who has a service animal in their store what their disability is and what they need the dog for. That is infringing upon privacy rights. Lawsuits have been launched in the past concerning these kinds of questions. So the problem with more and more people trying to get pets into food establishments is possibly resulting from stores hesitating to ask in fear of what may happen.
However, store personnel can ask how the animal helps the person or what it does for him or her that they can't do for themselves.
As the population gets older and more and more people require service animals, the situation in retail food outlets, it seems, will only become more complicated. And as it does, the meaning of what a service animal is will become more important to many people.
"The change in state law taking away the ability of people to use emotional support animals as a reason to bring them into establishments came from some incidents where people took advantage of the law as it was before," says Nancy Bentley of Active ReEntry. "In one instance someone brought a boa constrictor on a Trax train and said it was a service animal. In another instance, someone brought a pot belly pig on a Delta Airline's flight and it ran up and down the aisle squealing during the flight, as well as making a mess on the plane. It was those kinds of incidents that brought the legislature to change the law."
(This is part one of a two part series about animals in public places and how service animals come to be exempt from those rules).