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Stores Need to Do More to Protect Service Dog Handlers

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I am a service dog handler. I am extremely disappointed in how I am treated at stores and how stores do not adhere to their service dog policy. There have been many times I have been inside one store that I love, Target, and my dog has been barked at by non-service dogs. Sales associates never do anything about it, going as far to say “dogs are allowed, look how cute.” This is disappointing and dangerous to any service dog handler.

I believe that any animal and their handler going into a store should be asked the two legal questions allowed of stores: is it a service dog and what tasks does the dog perform? Emotional support is not a service and cannot be passed as a service. Dogs that are not trained for a specific task – mobility, guiding the blind, detecting glucose levels, detecting heart palpitations, prevention and mitigation of debilitating behaviors – should not be allowed in stores. It is dangerous to handlers and makes it harder for handlers to do their job.

Dogs are dogs. Even the best service dogs can be ticked off by another dog’s behavior. If a dog is barking aggressively at my service dog (which has happened), that can set off my dog’s natural instincts. Dogs are descendants of wolves and revert to that behavior as such.

Why are stores not checking whether or not an animal is a service dog? Why are stores so lenient on their policy? Why are stores not consistent? Even further, I thought if an establishment sells food and groceries, you cannot have non-service animals since it is a health hazard. Last I checked, Target sells groceries and pets are allowed in.

This makes me uncomfortable. This makes it difficult for me to shop safely.

My experiences at my local Target have been disappointing. I’ve reached out to their customer service. However, I plead with all stores and restaurants to ask the key and legal questions of service dogs and their handlers to keep it safe for all of us. It makes me sad that we constantly have hurdles to overcome to just make it equal for us to exist in this world.

Please, if you work at a store or public establishment, can you be consistent and ask the proper questions? It makes service dogs handlers’ lives a little easier. It makes us feel included. It makes us feel safer in the world we live in. I’ve been extremely discouraged to go out lately with my service dog due to the treatment we have received. I feel hidden from society. I feel hurt. I feel like my life doesn’t matter and my needs don’t matter.

We matter. All individuals of all abilities matter. Please let our voice be heard.

Getty image by PhotoBoyko.

Originally published: December 9, 2020
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