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I was at the Redding Grocery Outlet last night where I heard it before I saw it: loud barking, somewhere near the dairy section. It was the kind of sound a dog makes when it’s threatened, like, hey, back off. It was a deep bark, like that of a big dog.
And last week I went to JOANN Fabric and Craft store with my sister where I saw a woman standing in line getting fabric cut who had a powerful looking pit bull on a leash. Why oh why oh why? Every time someone walked past the woman, the dog lunged and sniffed at the shopper.
That dog looked strong enough that he could have whipped that woman around the store with no problem.
Yes, I know pit bulls can be sweet dogs, and this one was probably just saying a friendly “hello”. But it made me nervous enough that my heart was pounding and I put as much distance between me and that dog as possible.
Along these same lines, I’m not a fan of shopping at places that have store pets, whether it’s a cat in a fancy Ashland shoe store or a dog in a cute little Redding yarn shop. I’m allergic to cats, and have about 20 minutes in a cat-hair environment before I start feeling the effects and have to bolt for the exit. I’m assuming it’s the same for people who are allergic to dogs.
Let me just get this out of the way: I like dogs. I was raised since age 7 with a spunky doxie named Ginger Snap (yes, she did).
And when my kids were growing up, we had a long-haired doxie named Wes, and then a golden retriever named Emma, and finally, Joe’s little white hound mutt, Bazooka. All great dogs.
Even so, for the life of me I just don’t understand why so many people think it’s OK to bring their pet dogs with them everywhere they go. It’s getting way out of hand. Dogs in restaurants, dogs in stores, dogs in hair salons, dogs at camp sites, dogs on beaches, dogs in the post office, dogs pretty much everywhere, except maybe medical and dental offices, at least not that I’ve seen.
The thing is, as much as I like dogs, I do not like to share my grocery shopping or dining experience with them, for a number of reasons.
First, it’s a health risk. I don’t like the idea that the same place I’m placing my food purchases may have also held a couple of dog bodies (and possible residual fleas, ticks, poop, pee, ringworm, etc.) a few minutes earlier.
Second, it grosses me out when dogs pee inside stores, as I saw one large dog do inside Home Depot last year. He lifted his leg and urinated on a post, most likely to mark his territory because he smelled that another dog had been there.
Third, sometimes I feel afraid of dogs in stores, especially when the dogs get aggressive toward strangers (customers), or other dogs, which is exactly what happened inside Redding’s Pine Street Safeway about a year ago. Two dogs, straining on their leashes, teeth bared, hair standing up on their backs, barking at each other. Freaked me out.
I have no problem with bona fide service dogs. In fact, I love seeing a real service dog in a store, the epitome of precision canine training.
I have known two people who’ve had a real service dog. One was my friend, after her stroke, who relied upon her lovely whippet during her recovery. That dog was a godsend. The second is a young man – a Wounded Warrior – here in Redding, who has a service dog that’s this young man’s constant helper and companion. In both cases, these dogs are highly trained service animals.
They fit the definition of a service dog according to the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) publication on Service Animals: “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
Because of this ADA regulation, service dogs are basically allowed to accompany their owners almost anywhere that’s a public place, from stores, public beaches and restaurants, to sporting events, schools, hospitals and even movie theaters, such as Wednesday, when the young veteran brought his beautiful black lab to La bohème at Movies 14 in Redding for the dog’s first opera. The dog was washed and groomed before his trip to the theater, because it was such a special occasion for both dog and master.
Service dogs are beloved animals to their owners, but they are not pets. They are animals trained to be of assistance to people who have all kinds of disabilities: physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or even mental disabilities, such as PTSD.
Authentic service dog owners know the rules, such as the fact their dogs must be harnessed, leashed or tethered. They know that if that’s impossible because of limitations posed by a specific disability, then the owner must maintain full control of the dog via hand signals, voice commands or other means of control.
There’s more. It can be disaster when the genuine service dogs encounter untrained, off-leash pets in public. That’s exactly what happened to the young Marine Corps veteran at Whiskeytown Lake last year. The veteran’s dog was being trained in the water when two dogs came bounding down the hill, barking aggressively at the service dog. The veteran yelled to the woman, who was far behind her dogs, to get control of her animals. She laughed it off. It was a very tense few minutes with the veteran hollering and the woman getting defensive and belligerent. The untrained dogs eventually lost interest and moved on. This incident supremely rattled the veteran, who had pulled out his bear-strength pepper spray and was at the ready to unload it on the untrained dogs. It took all day for him to recover from the encounter.
But I digress.
So here we are now. More and more non-disabled folks believe it’s unfair that only the disabled can bring their dogs with them in public places. They want their dogs with them, too.
Do you remember how it was in the beginning? At first the pet owners disguised their dogs with fake vests, and brought them in public places with them, trying to pass off their pets as service dogs.
It worked, mainly because so many business owners feared getting slapped with an ADA lawsuit that they didn’t want to take the risk of challenging the pet owners.
After successfully testing the water with family pets in public places for a few years, people soon dropped the pretense of the fake service-dog vest entirely and just brought their pets in the stores as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since.
Many stores, such as Redding’s Safeway on Pine Street and Holiday Market on Placer, have posted signs at the entrance that say only service dogs are allowed.
That doesn’t seem to phase some people, who see the signs as optional.
According to the ADA, when store owners don’t see an identifying service-dog vest, they can ask only two questions: 1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? 2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
That’s it. Just those two questions. They are not allowed to ask to see any documentation for the dog, or ask for the dog to demonstrate its task, or ask about the nature of the person’s disability.
And although most service dog owners make sure their dogs wear a special vest when they’re out in public, according to the ADA, a service animal is not required to wear a vest, ID tag or specific harness. Basically, it can look like any other dog, even a dog wearing a yellow raincoat.
I know a grocery store clerk who said that where she works, employees are instructed by management to not confront shoppers about their dogs, because it’s too volatile a situation with some pet owners, and not worth the potential scene. So the clerks say nothing.
This has been on my mind since last year, when I read a Facebook post written by someone who’d gone out to eat at a downtown Redding restaurant. A couple not only brought their family pet along, but they allowed it to eat at the table. Most of the diners were mortified. Wait staff saw it, looked the other way and did nothing.
Another Facebook friend, someone who is a self-described dog-lover, told of her similar experience at Olive Garden.
We were seated when this lady comes in with a long-haired dog in a basket with a baby blanket. She walked in with an arrogant look, like she knew people probably wouldn’t be thrilled but, too bad. She sat directly behind me.
The dog was put on the seat and was eye level with the table. We had just gotten our food when the lady with the dog started talking about how her dog had just been to the groomer. Well, it seems they found fleas on the little fluff ball and she continued to discuss how she was sure her little baby had gotten the fleas from the groomer and did not have them prior. Then she said they couldn’t treat her because she has a reaction to flea meds. Really? so you bring the dog into a place people are eating? Fleas are like spring-loaded. They can jump far in any direction. How is this OK?</em
Feeding dogs people food and bringing them into restaurants when you know they have bugs is not OK! I have decided if that happens again, I am walking out.
I can’t blame my friend. I think I would have walked out, too, if restaurant staff ignored a dog at a table. I realize that people love their pets. And sometimes, I confess that I’ll see an especially cute dog peeking out from a woman’s purse inside a store that makes me soften my stance against pets in public places.
Case in point is the man who shops at Home Depot on a regular basis who’s accompanied by at least four Australian cattle dogs. Those dogs are a joy to watch. The man signals the dogs, who respond with sharp turns, and stick smartly to the man’s side the whole time.
It’s a tough call, because clearly, those Australian cattle dogs are working dogs of another kind. But bringing them to Home Depot is one thing. I’d probably feel differently if they were in a restaurant, or a grocery store.
And there’s my favorite handyman, who always brought his dog with him when he worked at my house, which was fine with me. He also brings him to Home Depot and Lowe’s. This dog is such a joyful comforting companion to this man that the dog is pretty much serving as a de facto service dog.
I don’t know what the answer is. Many pet owners ignore service-dogs-only signs posed in stores. Most store employees ignore the rule-breaking owners who bring their pets.
Meanwhile, we shoppers and diners; we’re on our own. Like it or not, everything’s gone to the dogs.
For more information, here are some related articles we’ve posted on this subject over the years: