Keep pets out of stores so service dogs can work

Keep pets out of stores so service dogs can work

By The Herald Editorial Board

A local grocery store recently posted notices at its entrances stating that while the establishment welcomes customers with service animals, it can’t allow people to bring their “comfort animals” into the store. The signs were necessary, because people keep bringing their pet dogs into grocery stores, among other places, which is against the law. Much like laws against driving and using phones, it is widely ignored.

Service animals are a very specific group; and they are rarely, if ever, held in a person’s arms. That’s because as a service animal, they perform tasks for their people. According to the state law, a “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. “The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.

“Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing nonviolent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.”

However, the law specifies that “The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks.”

The problem of too many dogs in retail shops arises from another part of the law that bans discrimination against anyone with a service animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, store owners can only ask two questions: Is that a service dog? And what task does it perform for you?

All the dog vests and certificates don’t mean anything. But those are two very good questions, and store owners and patrons shouldn’t be afraid to ask them of someone holding a dog, or pushing one in a baby carriage. Disabled people with real service dogs are more than happy to tell store owners just what tasks the dog does. People with so-called “comfort dogs,” just make it harder for those with legitimate service animals.

For the sake of public health and safety, more restaurants and stores should follow suit and prominently display a sign restating state law that bans non-service animals from entering.

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