If you shop at Publix in Charlotte, you may have noticed some new signs reminding customers that only specially trained animals are allowed in the grocery store.
For food and safety reasons, only service animals that are trained to aid a person with disabilities are permitted in the store, the sign reads. And in bold: “Service animals are not permitted to sit or ride in shopping carts.”
The signs were distributed company-wide last month, Publix said, and have begun appearing in Charlotte stores over the last several days.
“While our policy on service animals in our stores has not changed, in an effort to raise awareness and understanding, the decision was made to post this note as a reminder,” Publix said in a statement. “It is important for us to create a pleasant shopping environment.”
The policy is not a new one for Publix, according to spokeswoman Kim Reynolds. And the policy isn’t unique to Publix, either: Harris Teeter, Food Lion Whole Foods are all popular grocers with the same rule regarding service animals.
That policy is also similar to that of other non-food retailers, including SouthPark mall and Northlake Mall, as the Observer noted last year.
What seems to have changed recently, however, is an apparent rise in the use of animals that provide emotional support to their owners. Since those emotional support animals are not trained specifically to assist their owners, they are different from service animals.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. The duties performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability, the ADA says.
Service animals often wear a vest or other piece of clothing indicating their designation. The ADA prohibits asking for proof of an animal’s service use. Some states have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places, although North Carolina does not.
A number of airlines have garnered attention in recent months for cracking down on emotional support animals in airplanes.
Last month, American Airlines enacted a new emotional support animal policy that bans a handful of creatures you’d never expect to find on an airplane, including goats, hedgehogs, ferrets, amphibians, spiders, insects, rodents, and snakes and other reptiles. Delta Airlines and United Airlines also announced similarly updated policies this year.
The trade association Airlines for America estimates that the number of emotional support animals aboard U.S. commercial flights grew from 481,000 to 751,000 between from 2016 to 2017, according to a recent ABC News report.
I’ve seen my share of dogs in grocery stores — including the two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in a shopping cart at the Harris Teeter in Dilworth last year, and the Pomeranian strolling through the produce section of a Whole Foods in downtown Los Angeles in February.
But there hasn’t been any notable problem that’s prompted Publix to revisit its dogs-in-stores policy.
“We simply wanted to remind customers that we welcome service animals in our stores and that service animals should not be in shopping carts for food safety reasons,” said Reynolds, the spokeswoman.