Laws Regarding Dogs in a Grocery Store
Dogs are everywhere in this country's dog-friendly culture. You see them in stadiums, big-box stores and boutiques. Some stores even keep dog treats on hand for their customers' canine "kids." With food safety at risk, it's important for grocery store proprietors to understand the laws that apply to them regarding dogs in stores.
The Food and Drug Administration's Food Guide lays down the law: with few exceptions, live animals of any kind are not permitted on the premises of a grocery store, a restaurant or other food establishment. The prohibition applies to dogs, cats, birds and other animals. Animals are unsanitary, and the law protects the national food supply from contamination from dog drool, urine, feces and other material that dogs carry on their coats and paws and might leave behind on store shelves or counters.
Some dogs are allowed access to grocery stores in spite of the general rule that they are not. For example, law enforcement dogs can come inside, as long as they're accompanying a police or security officer. Without this exception, a canine-officer team in hot pursuit of a criminal would have to stop the chase if the bad guy ran into a grocery store. A similar exception permits service animals for the disabled to be in grocery stores under certain circumstances.
Laws that regulate dogs in grocery stores must not interfere with the rights of disabled people who use service dogs. The FDA requires grocery stores to allow disabled employees, customers and other business visitors to bring service dogs into their stores. The disabled person must be in control of the dog at all times, and the store can restrict the dog's access so it is only allowed in parts of the store where its activities don't pose a health or safety hazard.
Best practices for enforcing the no-dogs rule can vary depending on where your store is. You are generally within your rights to ask a dog's owner whether the dog is a service dog and what function the dog performs, but you can't require the owner to show you proof of his disability or the dog's status as a service animal. State law may add another layer of regulation. In California, for example, service dogs wear special tags so merchants can easily identify them.