Chasing Fido Out of the Food Aisle
By Tom Ryan
In dog-loving Portland, Oregon, it’s not surprising to see a pooch shopping alongside its owner in food retailers even though it is illegal. In response, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is launching a public awareness campaign to remind shoppers and retailers of the law.
According to The New York Times, the food safety division of the Oregon Agriculture Department has received more than 600 complaints about animals in food stores with a heavy portion coming from the upscale Pearl District of Portland. Whole Foods in the area has had some complaints while a nearby Safeway had even more, the Times reports. Complaints usually arrive after a customer witnesses a canine licking meat packages, sniffing food or urinating in the aisles.
“There’s a trend, a growing trend, for people to treat their pets like a member of the family but they forget we still have to draw the line between our furry children and those without paws,” Vance Bybee, the head of the ODA, told The Oregonian. “Interestingly enough, we get more complaints in Bend and in the Pearl District of Portland where people are more affluent and have the opportunity to pamper their pets and feel this pet is a part of my family so I am entitled to do with it what I like.”
As a result, Oregon in September began distributing dog-shaped posters and pamphlets to about 4,500 retail food stores bearing the message that only animals trained to help the disabled are allowed in stores.
Apparently, many stores decide either to ignore or enforce the law sporadically. The Times’ article noted that one Safeway employee had walked up to a dog-in-tow shopper to let her know that dogs weren’t allowed in the store.
While wanting to please its dog-loving customers is one reason to float the law, another is that stores are leery of asking customers personal questions about service dogs in fear of lawsuits. The new law states, “Animals that provide support or companionship are not regarded as service animals.” But limits on questions that can be asked around disabilities presents challenges.
“It’s this weird gray area,” Caitlin Lomen, a deli worker at Whole Foods in the Pearl District, told the Times. “Like when you see little Foo Foo in someone’s purse, you know that’s not a service animal.”
Co-worker Carl Anderson added: “Some people are kind of grossed out by it, but it’s a comfort thing for a lot of people, to have their dog with them. Who am I to judge someone else’s needs?”
Mr. Anderson added, “Unless they’re jumping up and eating out of the salad bar, we try to roll with it the best we can.”
Discussion questions: Should food retailers allow dogs in stores if it’s a commonly accepted practice in the region? On the other hand, what do you think about allowing dogs in non-food retailers?
[Author’s commentary] Although it seems to draw the line at full-line supermarkets, my hometown of New York City is also very dog-friendly. Most delis and few mini-markets let them in. Many bars face fines for allowing the practice. Meanwhile, scores of non-food retailers court dogs as much as their two-legged friends. Water bowls can be found inside or outside many doors. A few (J. Crew, Patagonia, Kiehls, etc.) have dog treats ready as furry traffic drivers. Indeed, it’s always a shock to head to the suburbs to find such dog-unfriendly shopping options!
- Oregon wants ‘dog friendly’ to be less so – The New York Times
- Oregon Department of Agriculture to launch campaign to keep dogs out of grocery stores – The Oregonian