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Are non-service animals such as dogs allowed in stores that sell food?

Ken Little
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Q. What is the law concerning non-service animals in grocery and retail stores that sell food? I have noticed a lot of small dogs in shopping carts in area stores such as Walmart, Harris Teeter and Big Lots. These are not service animals but expensive pets that people take shopping with them. One manager said he would rather allow the pet than turn away a customer yet other customers in line were clearly upset. I understand not leaving an animal in a hot car, but taking it shopping where food is prepared or sold is questionable. What is the law?

A. There is no law in New Hanover County against non-service dogs or other animals coming into businesses with their owners, County Attorney Wanda Copley said.

“The establishment can determine whether to allow the dogs in,” Copley said.

However, it is a violation of federal and state food safety rules for pets to be in grocery stores. Guard or guide dogs may be allowed in some areas of a store “if their presence is unlikely to result in contamination of food, food-contact surfaces or food-packaging materials,” said Brian Long, public affairs director for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Long said that if someone sees a non-service animal inside a grocery store, the person should contact the Food and Drug Protection Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at (919) 733-7366.

“The division will investigate,” Long said.

The law allows the division to assess penalties of up to $2,000 for violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, depending on the degree and extent of harm caused by the violation.

UPDATE: Pat Hairston, program manager at Canines for Service, a Wilmington-based nonprofit, asked us to include this comment:

I believe the above response does not accurately answer the “are dogs allowed in grocery stores” question.

According to the North Carolina Food Code Manual, live animals are not allowed in premises that are considered a food establishment. Grocery stores come under this code.

So a pet — a “non-service animal,” as the reader phrased it — would not be allowed in a grocery store.

The Food Code manual exempts service animals accompanying persons with disabilities in areas that are not for food preparation.

It is my opinion and our professional understanding as a service dog provider that service animals are allowed access into all customer areas of a grocery store or supermarket.

This is based on the Americans With Disabilities Act, which defines that access.

Grocery stores are covered by the Food and Drug Administration, Code of Federal Registers, and therefore are considered “food establishments” under the Food Code (http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/RetailFoodProtection/FoodCode/UCM374510.pdf).

In New Hanover County, the North Carolina Food Code Manual is the published reference (http://www.nhcgov.com/Health/enviro-health/Documents/NC-FoodCodeManual-2009-FINAL.pdf) and includes section 6-501.115 Prohibiting Animals.

It states “(A) Except as specified in ¶¶ (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the PREMISES of a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT.” This manual was an adoption of the US Food and Drug Administration Food Code Regulation in 2009.

In addition to the food codes, other state and federal laws govern animals in business establishments.

The NC State Statue 168 specifically addresses service dogs and service dogs in training in North Carolina and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) with revision in 2011 addresses service dog access on a federal level.


Is there a state law banning dogs from businesses where no food handling occurs?

Can Wilmington Downtown Inc. keep dogs out of the Friday concerts?

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3 Responses to “ Are non-service animals such as dogs allowed in stores that sell food?”

  1. On July 22, 2015 at 5:13 pm Beverly Anderson wrote:

    I’m not clear on this matter, is it safe to say in the state of North Carolina it is left up to individual stores to dole out their on beliefs as to whether or not allow DOGS into their establishments? Also just a thought could there be some sort of I D TAG placed on these animals from the state of NORT CAROLINA that reads and has the same NOTATIONS on them so at FIRST GLANCE we’ll know what dog is legitimate to come into stores where there is FOOD? Let’s try and KEEP humans as healthy as possible.

  2. On February 2, 2016 at 1:00 pm Andrea wrote:

    A service animal is classified as any animal that serves a purpose for a individual with a disability. They do not have to tags, I’d, or any marking they donates them as such. There is no national recognized organization that yes or no to a service animal. Service animals do not have to come from a program that trains them.

    There are only 3 questions you can legally ask about a service animal.

    1. Are you disabled?
    2. Is this a service dog?
    3. What service dose the dog fill?

    You can not ask for id for the animal or handaler, or proof of disability. If the dog is not well behaved, dirty, or is being loud they can be asked to leave. Legitimate service animals will be under control of the handler, clean, and will never be on a retractable leash.

    We have a small service dog, he serves as a medic alert dog for my son, as well as keeping him calm while in different situations. He’s still being trained at 7 months old of course he is. As long as people leave him alone we have no problems. He rides in the shopping cart laying quietly in the bottom of the basket to be close to my son (18 months old). He does not bark unless someone comes toward the basket (we don’t mind as our son has a compromised immune system and its his job to protect him) a quick its OK and he stops. This is also how we know to check his breathing, pulse, and his eyes for seizure activity (yes he can pick up on all this). Lack of information amongst stores and the public is the reason why I hesitate taking this dog that helps our family into stores,.

  3. On September 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm Chris wrote:

    Andrea’s response is incorrect. If the nature of disability and the service are not readily apparent, one may ask (per ADA):
    1. Is this a service animal?
    2. What task(s) has it been trained to perform?

    The specific task is the requirement. It may “keep me calm”, or “help me focus”…but unless it is a task that is demonstrable (even though you may not require a demonstration) or reasonable, a business or entity may restrict access.
    Further, a service animal may be appropriate in the general area of a grocery store but would not be generally allowable in food prep areas. So cook/create your own areas may be a No-Go for public health.

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