Publix takes on service dog tag abuse

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images
Aug 01, 2018
Tom Ryan

Publix is posting new in-store signage indicating that only service dogs or other animals helping with disabilities are permitted in the store.

The signs read, “For food safety reasons, only service animals that are specifically trained to aid a person with disabilities are permitted within the store. Service animals are not permitted to ride or sit in shopping carts. Thank you for your help!”

The regulations have always been policy, according to the company, and the signs serve as a reminder.

The Florida-based chain becomes the first major retailer to address the controversy over “emotional support” and “service” animals.

The Americans with Disabilities Act allows individuals with disabilities to take service dogs onto airplanes and into restaurants, hotels, stores and other typically pet-restricted areas. Only recently, however, has there been an escalation of people bringing animals, largely dogs, into those places. Many have been met with accusations that they are abusing federal disability laws.

The disagreement typically isn’t with service animals trained to help those with physical disabilities, but with untrained emotional support animals that supposed to help people manage mental illnesses. Fake vests are widely available online along with spotty certifications from therapists to enable people to game the system. On airlines, for instance, support dogs are allowed to travel for free and sit in the cabin.

Publix’s move follows stricter guidelines from some airlines. The chain’s signage was applauded by two groups angered that abuse of the rules is leading to harassment of those who legitimately require support animals in their daily lives.

But there are also reasons why retailers have been lenient in allowing questionable support animals in their stores. Publix’s stricter policy may penalize those who require emotional support dogs, some of which calm people, including ex-military personal with PTSD as well as those who suffer from anxiety, depression and extreme asthma.

It’s also unknown how Publix will enforce the rules. To avoid discrimination, businesses are prevented from requiring certification to let animals in. Only two questions are allowed: “Is that a service dog?” and “What service does your dog provide?”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more benefits than risks to Publix becoming stricter with its service dog policies? Are there ways for retailers to crack down on the cheats, avoid discrimination against those who require support animals and stay within the law?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Publix must have experienced problems in this area, and they’re to be commended for taking action."
"How does one determine if an “emotional support” dog is there for a legitimate reason, or just there because a Millennial is having a bad day?"
"I applaud Publix for taking a stand on this. But really, this is a government regulation issue — local governments need to issue real permits and IDs."

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12 Comments on "Publix takes on service dog tag abuse"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

While I get that it is tough to weed out those who are real service animals and fakers, something has to be done. As a speaker who flies over 100,000 miles a year, the abuse is growing because there is no “proof” required. ADA was never meant to be gamed but clearly it has from people just wanting to bring their pets anywhere to valets using temporary handicap placards for street parking.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
I know this seems like maybe a petty thing to be harping on about, but my brother volunteered for years to train service animals, which takes a lot of effort and time and devotion. It also involved a lot of hassle because service animals in training are supposed to get the same treatment as service animals in service (otherwise, how do you expose them to the situations they’ll be working in?) — and he often had to fight for the right to take his trainees pretty much everywhere. People who abuse the access that these working animals are supposed to get make it harder for the people who really need these animals — not for general “emotional support,” but acting as a missing sense (seeing, hearing), or even alerting to dangerous health situations like seizures, debilitating anxiety attacks or falls. I applaud Publix for taking a stand on this. But really, this is a government regulation issue — local governments need to issue real permits and real ID cards for real service animals and the… Read more »
Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Yes, Nikki, I agree. Retailers are already fighting to maintain loyal customers and they don’t need to be the bad guy in this area too. This is indeed a place that needs an overriding authority to issue real permits. For my 2 cents.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
I think Publix has taken an excellent first step to guide customers with what is allowed and what is not allowed regarding bringing dogs in their stores. However, beyond posting signs, it will be difficult to enforce their rules. What it does provide is the opportunity for Publix to take action should a customer bring a pet into the store which is being disruptive and causing customers to feel threatened. Now they can ask the customer a few questions about the dog and the customer could be asked to leave. Beyond that, all Publix can do for now is hope the signs deter customers from bringing dogs into the store that are pets and not service dogs needed for disability reasons. I think the disability laws need revisiting and perhaps in cases where animals are providing emotional support, those individual’s needs should be added to the list of “service” dogs and the owner’s legal rights. A military person who has PTSD should be able to have the same support as a disabled individual. Unfortunately, everything… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Publix must have experienced problems in this area, and they’re to be commended for taking action. I also like the idea that store personnel will have the discretion to question customers who have brought a dog — or peacock — into the store. Let’s hear it for common sense.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

There is no question people are abusing the system when it comes to service animals. I applaud Publix for posting its policy especially with all the potential food safety issues, but I doubt that it will have much impact. People who would game the system in this way have little regard for rule following.

I agree with Bob regarding people who game the system so they don’t have to pay for their pets to fly. There is a big difference between being in a supermarket with one of these scammers where I can walk away and being seated next one on flying from Chicago to San Francisco.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
This is a sensitive topic. Obviously true service dogs are always welcome; it’s the untrained, emotional support dogs that are the issue. Publix is taking a stand on a topic that is apparently a problem for them. And I would venture to guess for other businesses as well. ADA rules for service animals must be followed. The sad part is that when they are the public rarely sides with the business. A few years ago, a restaurant in my area was flamed online because the manager refused admittance to a customer with an emotional support dog. The dog owner immediately posted a derogatory message about the restaurant on Facebook and it went viral fast. The manager was fired for doing her job. Ironically, the town center mall where this restaurant is located recently adopted a “We’re pet friendly!” policy, welcoming customers to shop with their dogs in its tenants stores. It seems to me that Publix has covered both sides by reinforcing government rules on service dogs, while its policy questions, “Is that a service… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

It is a sorry case when we have to punish a few for the actions of many. Fake service dogs/animals are becoming a real problem. It is just like people who are selling knock-offs of branded merchandise.

Just for the fun of it I bought my dog a service vest. The only problem is he refuses to wear it and this is creating stress for me.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

You can’t blame Publix for trying to do the right thing, but in this case they shouldn’t try to be the final authority. How does one determine if an “emotional support” dog is there for a legitimate reason (PTSD, etc.) or just there because a Millennial is having a bad day? Certainly a supermarket can’t. Maybe the answer is some official state-level tagging like a handicapped sticker for a car which — by the way — are also frequently abused. That would at least put a lid on the most flagrant abuse without turning Publix and other retailers into fraud enforcement agents.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Publix is not going to be alone with this policy. Too many people take too many liberties with the rules as stated by either the store, airline or hotel. I fly many miles a year. I see many people bringing small dogs on the plane. I can understand one dog for emotional support; but not two, which happens often. Stopping the person from putting the dog in the cart will be a good deterrence for abuse. But I see this as only the first step to solving what can be a larger problem. I am hopeful common sense will prevail here.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

It’s hard to imagine a more thankless task than this: enforcing health and safety laws vs. potentially offending — or worse — legitimate uses. And I don’t really have a suggestion as to how to go about it, since there’s no assurance that the most egregious abusers won’t also turn out to be the most vocal complainers.

Good luck Publix!

Seth Nagle
BrainTrust

Good idea and something needs to be done, but Publix might be setting their employees up for failure without the proper training. Management needs to have a few designated workers that can properly handle this delicate situation and ensure that these interactions won’t escalate as shoppers are not going to be happy being sent home empty-handed.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Publix must have experienced problems in this area, and they’re to be commended for taking action."
"How does one determine if an “emotional support” dog is there for a legitimate reason, or just there because a Millennial is having a bad day?"
"I applaud Publix for taking a stand on this. But really, this is a government regulation issue — local governments need to issue real permits and IDs."

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