TX. Dog

Pet dogs don’t belong in stores.

Service dogs are the only legitimate exception.

I was standing in the aisle at the local Walmart, stopped in my tracks by the sight of a family walking toward me. A large, stocky pit bull strained against his leash, held by the mom of the group. Trailing behind her were a couple of motley children. Startled, the words slide out of my mouth before I censure them. “That dog should not be in this store.”

“Yeah, well, he’s a service dog,” she spit back.

Sizzling in my throat is the obvious comeback question of where are his vest or tags that prove he’s a service animal. But there’s something intimidating about a pit bull and his owner who glares at me through several piercings and tattoos, daring me to say anything more. I shook my head and turned away, repeating, “That dog should not be in this store.”

I spotted them a few more times as I shopped. Shoppers turned their shopping carts aside or slide down another aisle as the “service dog” cleared a path for his owners.

That dog wasn’t a service dog. I know that and she knows that. But for some perplexing reason, she and far too many like her believe they are somehow excluded from the signs on store doors everywhere that read, “No Dogs Allowed,” or “Service Dogs Only.”

Before I say another word, I acknowledge those few people who need a legitimate service animal with them wherever they go. An acquaintance of mine is unable to function without his service dog, and I’m glad he has that little morsel to help him get through his life.

But aside from those legitimate claims, regular dogs and pets should never enter any store. For starters, there’s a matter of hygiene. Folks tuck their little mongrels into the seat of a shopping cart as though it doesn’t matter. But when that cart is shoved back into the line of shopping carts, and the next person to pick it up is a mom with a little kid she slides into that same seat, it matters. Especially if that little one is teething and uses the bars of that seat to cool her gums. Or sits there where the dog’s furry bottom just sat. Don’t weary this conversation with the argument that dogs are clean. Dogs are animals, and some kids are allergic to them. Moms shouldn’t have to wonder why their little kid breaks out in a rash after a store run.

Even worse — one day I watched an older woman pick up her fluffy dog from the shopping cart seat and the little critter was so excited he peed all over the cart’s seat. Whether or not she noticed, she scurried on her way, leaving a trail of dog pee behind her. Furious, I motioned over a store employee to point out the puddles on the cart and floor.

This should never happen, especially in a grocery store — a place where people go to buy the food they take home to consume. Stores generally go to great lengths to provide a clean environment for the food they sell. But that’s tough to control when a furry animal strolls through the place.

Another genuine reason dogs should not be in a store is because dogs are not loved by everyone. In fact, some people, especially young ones, are terrified of dogs. The store should be the last place in the world they unexpectedly come face to face with a furry terror.

Dogs on a leash, in a purse, in a baby stroller, or in a backpack (I’ve seen all of these in stores) should not be there. The big question is what to do about it? Ignoring it feels like condoning it, but confronting the dog owner doesn’t work. If someone is defiant enough to disregard the signs, then some meddling stranger isn’t going to change their mind. Protesting to a store employee doesn’t seem to produce results either. The answer lies in somehow persuading dog owners to leave their mutt home. Don’t pretend he’s a service animal if he’s not. Have some consideration for people who want to shop in a fur-free, pet-free, pee-free environment. Use the store’s food service order to pick up groceries in the parking lot.

This one is a head scratcher. It seems store owners have to weigh which group of shoppers they are most willing to lose — the pet owners, or the shoppers who decide to not come back because there are too many pets in that store — and then act on it by enforcing their “No Pets Allowed” signs.

Or here’s a novel idea: Pet owners, stop bringing your animals to the store.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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