A couple weekends ago, I was surprised to see a man bringing a puppy into the Safeway on 15th. He was entering the store right behind me, so I turned around and asked, “Are you bringing that dog into the store?” This of course led to a confrontation, with me pointing out the sign on the door indicating that only service animals are allowed in the store, and him claiming that the dog was a therapy dog and putting it in the grocery cart, you know, where customers after him would put their food.
A few things: First off, that’s bullshit (which I told him in those exact words), and the kind of bullshit that hearkens back to this CHS post, where someone in the comments suggested that dog owners lie and say they have a service animal in order to bring dogs into food establishments. It’s a dick move and an utter abuse of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Besides that, even if a dog is a “therapy dog,” that’s still a step below a service animal as the ADA defines it: “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” (And of course, they’re going by the legal definition of “disability” as well.) Sorry, but just being there for “emotional support” doesn’t count as a service as per federal law. Further delineation of this distinction can be found in the ADA FAQ and this edition of the USDA Animal Information Welfare Center newsletter. It’s pretty clear that a seeing-eye dog or a hearing-ear dog or a walking-leg dog counts as a service animal, while a feeling-fine dog does not.
A bigger problem: When I tried to get a Safeway employee to back me up, he shrugged and said that they generally turn a blind eye. So I took my complaint to the store manager, who stated that he wasn’t able to ask what the dog was for, because they could be sued.
Which is wrong. Again, from CHS:
We spoke to Hilary Karasz, an Information Officer with Seattle & King County Public Health, who confirmed that per state statute, animals are not allowed in eating and/or drinking establishments (nor grocery stores), with the exception of service animals. Karasz advised that employees are able to inquire as to what functions a service animal serves but cannot ask for proof of disability and/or that a pet is indeed a service animal, per federal statute (the Americans with Disabilities Act).
In this case, he wouldn’t have even needed to ask if it was a service animal, because it was an off-leash puppy in a shopping cart and obviously not a working dog. Stop being scared of lawsuits and grow some balls, Safeway. Enforce the law and keep non-service animals out of the store. I can’t do all the work for you.
(No more dogs in restaurants or bars either, but we’ll leave that for another time.)