While waiting for a stall inside of a busy Target restroom recently, I felt something nudge my back.
As you might have guessed, it was a weiner dog.
What surprised me more than the weiner dog, was the utter lack of embarrassment/apology from the weiner dog’s owner. It was clear that this was her special dog and they were on a special outing to Target. I wondered who exactly would be using that restroom.
The Paris Hiltonization of America
My immediate reaction was to come and write a rantastic post on the growing entitlement of dog owners to bring their precious pooches wherever they so pleased – regardless of the feelings, concerns (or *ahem*) allergies of others. I wanted to go off about how one celebrity is likely to blame…
… but then I took a deep breath, and paused (or “pawsed”). Perhaps that would be a one-sided oversimplification of this issue. After all, I do not own a dog. Never have. In fact, it’s quite possible I have my own hang ups (in elementary school, I once watched a dog run through the playground and proceed to attack a girl).
No, there was no way I capable of telling this story on my own. So I’ve mused on this topic for well over a couple months, took the time to hear from the dog phobic, dog owners, dog trainers, and stores. Turns out there is more to the story than I thought.
The Big Caveat
Let’s just make this 100% clear: I am not talking about service animals. I think it’s also important to point out that service animals are being increasingly used to assist people with an array of special needs.
(Image credit – Flickr – hmmlargeart)
While at a McDonald’s last summer, I met a woman who told me their service animal was for her son. He was off playing on the jungle gym, and by all accounts and purposes, seemed like a healthy, happy little boy. Turns out, he’s autistic and that dog lays on him when he begins to panic. While it might sound like a different approach, it completely works and I thought it was terribly sweet that this dog could help that boy in such a powerful way. I also recently saw a Pomeranian wearing the service dog garb at an REI. All this to say, one must be careful to judge the person or dog involved in a situation like this. You truly never know. Bottom line = service dogs good. All others = up for discussion in today’s post.
Diana at The Cultured Canine makes an interesting argument for allowing dogs in stores. “In my opinion, children are often less sanitary, cause more disturbances and are under less supervision than healthy, well behaved, leashed dogs,” she says. On one hand, my Mama Bear instincts rear up at her assertion. After all, as moms often we have no choice – we must bring our children to the stores and we’d like to believe for the most part, they’re well behaved. (Except maybe for the occasional outburst involving a car cart.) Carol Bryant, a writer and dog owner, feels similarly to Diana on the point about dogs vs kids: “Meantime, I see children screaming, throwing temper tantrums, moms yelling at their kids, and my dog sits and watches like ‘what is that all about?’”
But are all dogs so pleasant and well behaved? In a word, no. I heard a number of dogs gone bad stories in my efforts to collect opinions on this story:
- One dog bit an employee in the face, causing the store to strictly enforce a “no dogs allowed” policy
- One dog owner shared that her dog managed to mark his territory inside a Home Depot
- One employee told me of a dog that peed in her high end clothing store – and the owner did nothing and the employees were left to deal with it
Another dog trainer who responded to me had a different take than Diane and Carol. John runs the site Ask the Dog Guy and is based out of Toronto. He feels that dog owners are “sometimes insensitive even dismissive of other people that are uncomfortable when dogs enter into their comfort zone uninvited.” He believes that many people here in North America are just not ready to share the stores with dogs.
A gal named Holly who wrote me would be one of those people. “I didn’t grow up with pets, so I never really got comfortable with them,” she explains. “When you’re in your house-let Fido rule, if you so choose. But I have the option of not coming to your home if I prefer not to. I lose that option, when Fido is at the store.”
Even though many stores around here seem to prohibit dogs going inside stores, some folks still do it anyways.
So what makes one dog OK to bring in and what makes others, well, not OK? Is it size that matters – and if so, what’s the cut off size? A pug is small, but a Welsh Corgi has small legs, so is that OK? Or is it only small enough if it can fit in a handbag? Or does breed or how well the dog is cared for matter? For instance, if he wears Louboutins does he get a free pass? How about puppies? Puppies are soo cute, and everyone ooohs and aaaahs when they see someone walking around with one in a blanket like a newborn, so you can’t possibly kick them out, I mean have a heart already?!
(Image: Amazon’s Mr. Winkle Complete Collection)
I decided to ask Diane and Carol above about their feelings about sneaking dogs into stores that have a clear “no dogs allowed” policy. Carol said she absolutely abides by that, but Diane had a different story to tell: “Elliott has visited many places, sometimes out in the open, other times incognito in his bag or stroller. And yes, this includes the grocery store, hidden in his carry bag. I try to limit those visits to when I desperately need something and can run in and out quickly.”
Am I to blame, too?
A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with my mom about this story and she made a very good point. Grocery stores have worked to make themselves more convenient to shop at than ever. Consider:
- Many stores are now 24/7 and offer store hours even on major holidays
- Some offer in-store coffee shops, such as Starbucks
- A few may even offer childcare (my Fred Meyer does)
- Some offer online shopping
Has all this convenience groomed us to think of the grocery store as an extended part of our living room? My husband and I have been known to sneak up to the QFC at 10 or 11 at night for “essential snacks” before – not gonna lie. I’m also going to admit there are times I justify wearing sweats or not doing my hair because “oh, I’m just going in for a few minutes, no biggie.” Maybe you’ve done similarly or at least entertained the idea (against your better fashion judgment!) of wearing yoga pants, PJs, slippers, rollers, or what have you. Maybe that’s not too dissimilar to Diane thinking she can run and out of the store with Elliott stowed away in her handbag, before anyone notices.
What the Stores Think
Of course, I also wondered: “um, what about the stores?” I mean, for as many times as I’ve seen folks bring dogs into “no dogs allowed” stores, I have never seen a store manager or employee escort a pup out of a store. So what’s going on here?
I decided to try to find out.
I contacted a grocery chain I’m in contact with who has a very clear “no dogs allowed” policy for their take on it. Since this is not an official statement, I can’t quote them or name the store, but suffice it to say, here’s a summary. The store will enforce the “no dogs allowed” policy, but they do so very carefully, and here’s why. Service animals are not required to wear a vest or have paperwork. What’s more, the ADA regulates what businesses can do/not do when approaching non-identified service animals. So this particular store operates under the assumption that the dog is a service animal, in compliance with the ADA. That sure opened my thinking on this issue A LOT.
I did tweet Target, by the way, and here was their response:
So where am I after all this musing, and searching? I still think there are reasons for some stores to not want folks bringing their non-service animals into the store. Goodness knows here in America we’re lawsuit happy – shoot we’ll sue Nutella for lying to us about telling us their product is healthy (what?! it’s not?! shocker.). Supposing another customer sues the store for something another customer’s dog did? (Yeah, I know it sounds far fetched, but it could happen – and all puns intended there.) Supposing there are insurance or other legal considerations at play?
Some of the folks I chatted with suggested there could be some options like having dogs screened and tagged so everyone will know they’ve passed the AKC Good Citizen test. Another person suggested special carts to push the dogs around in (but seeing that there are often a shortage of car carts for kids these days, I have little faith in that suggestion). I’m going to go on a limb and guess that stores have bigger fish to fry right now.
(Image credit – Flickr – DomiKetu)
No matter what side of the fence you’re on (and I better quit soon as I’ve maxed out the pun quota on this post), it’s easy to see why this is a complex topic with many considerations. I mean after all, we’re talking about man’s best friend. Even the contact at the grocery store I exchanged emails personally admit to being torn on the issue as he happened to be a dog owner himself.
And I now think I’ve thought and said enough about dogs in stores to last me a long, long time to come. And I’m out.
Except, I do also wonder about that one man who sometimes brings his parrot to the QFC…..