Stores, Food, Dogs and Oregon

Apparently, folks in Portland like to bring companion animals into food stores, a predilection that the Oregon Agriculture Department (Food Safety Division) wishes to discourage.  The law states that only “service” animals may enter food stores.  However, enforcement of the rule is complicated by a Catch-22 created by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The ADA bars business owners from questioning people about the nature of their disability.  Though an animal may fall outside the category of service animal, the business owner cannot inquire if this is the case because that would involve asking why the animal’s presence is necessary.  Thus, though non-service animals are banned, enforcing the ban is illegal.

This situation raises a host of legal and ethical issues.  First, as a legal matter, the rule clearly is unenforceable.  Unenforceable laws (or laws that are routinely disregarded) serve no social purpose and undermine the legal system.  We must therefore ask: should this law be abolished?

Turning now to the ethical realm — should people have to leave their companion animals tied up outside or unattended in a vehicle when service animals are permitted inside the store?  What rationale justifies this exclusion?  The obvious reply might be that service animals enable some people to enter the stores.  However, that response does not really answer the question posed.  It explains why service animals gain entrance; it does not address why non-service animals get excluded.

Another reason to exclude non-service animals might be because they cause a lot of disruption.  The Oregon Agriculture Department received 600 complaints in the past year.  However, 600 complaints for 4,500 food stores that see millions of user-visits over the course of the year seems like a comparatively small number.  Furthermore, it  must be counterbalanced against the many people who either do not mind or actively support allowing animals in these establishments.

This may seem like a long post for a comparatively small matter but it offers a segue into murkier ethical waters into which I hope to venture soon.  The question over whether to allow dogs in stores is a subsection of a larger debate about the role of dogs (and all service and companion animals) in society. Some in the animal advocacy community feel that the existence of these animals is inextricably linked to an exploitative relationship between humans and nonhuman animals.  Consequently, a society in which animals enjoy full membership in the moral community is one in which such animals do not exist (no one advocates that they be killed but rather that no more be brought into being).  Others believe that such an approach does an injustice to the animals — that they would prefer to live and propagate rather than go extinct.  The fact that humans brought these species into existence does not give humans the right to decide whether that existence should continue.

In a forthcoming post, I hope to explore both the ethical and legal implications of these opposing positions.

–David Cassuto

8 Responses

  1. Personally I would like to see such laws repealed for some of the reasons mentioned above, the most important being their unenforceability which weakens respect for the Rule of Law.

    I have discussed bans on dogs (for all practical purposes since it is rare for a cat to be brought into an emporium) with store owners and managers and the most common responses I’ve received were that service animals are well trained and that dogs in general can get out of hand in a strange environment. Of course I’ve also heard that many people are uncomfortable around dogs, especially large ones. That is true.

    I can see the store owner’s concerns that in a narrow aisle with many shoppers when two dogs seek to become acquainted or declare war on each other there is a problem.

    Repealing the law mentioned above or similar ones will not remove a store owner’s potential tort liability if someone is injured as those instances are very fact specific and the mere allowing of dogs into a store does not negate such exposure.

  2. i fully believe that a (service animal) should have to be identified so that abuse of the law is limited. I also believe that it should NOT be illegal for a business owner to ask for the dogs license. Its required if a checker asks you for you id to buy alcohol so why is it illegal to ask for a dogs ID. Do you think a customer should be harassed because they show concern when a “service dog” walks up and sniffs the meat in the case, and a person butt, tugs at the leave and nips at people.

  3. Yeah that is definitely a Catch 22. Perhaps the owners of service dogs should let an employee know when they come in the store so no one has to ask?

  4. Personally I would not like to see animals in the stores. I love pets, especially dogs. But unless a person is blind or has other health challenges, I would be opposed to animals in stores. Again though this would be hard to police and decide who gets to bring in their animal and who does not.

  5. Trixie and I certainly agree with that and know first hand about reactions from the public regarding large working dogs in stores, movie theatres, etc.

    As the ADA law states, business owners do have the right to ask what the dog does to assist the person. It also is very vague on identifying a service dog. Which by law, one can train their own dog with no official certification. As long as the dog is trained in at least one task to assist its owner its ok.

    Trixie travels with me where ever I go, she is considered another assistive device like a wheelchair, crutches, etc. If people have a fear of dogs in public places they can go around, avoid my path completely. We both have the same rights!

    Karen Conley
    Skype me = cashqueenkc

  6. Animal has their rights also. Let them live.

  7. this rule is unenforceable

  8. I am sick to death of dogs in stores, barking, growling and shedding!!! What about those of us that are allergic and fearful of being bitten. What is wrong with our society? Have we all lost our minds! They are pets, loved pets that for years survived at home when their people (not dog parents) were away.

    Separation anxiety, my foot! Train them, it actually works.. Someone will be bitten, then sue everyone in sight and this insanity will end. By the response I see on all sites those of us against this craziness are in the majority. We need to push our rights!!!!

    Where is the ACLU when we need them? We wonder whats wrong with our country! Looks like this is a big part of it! Leave them home, they will survive, or is it you???

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