Publix — a supermarket as much a part of Florida culture as Disney World, sunshine and snowbirds — is taking a stand on dogs.
As in, unless they are service animals, no pet dogs perusing the produce aisle, no pups riding high in grocery carts, no dogs tucked into shopping totes.
Popping up in store lobbies from Asheville to Boca Raton are tall signs in Publix green. The placards counsel customers that, while legitimate service animals are welcome inside, emotional support animals and pets definitely are not.
The signs say that under federal law, service animals are “dogs or miniature horses trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities,” and the Food and Drug Administration does not allow nonservice animals.
That means even with a note from a doctor, “dogs, pets and other animals whose sole function is to provide comfort, companionship, or emotional support do not qualify as service animals,” according to the sign. What’s more, trying to pass off a pet as a service animal is against the law in Florida and other states.
It’s unclear what prompted this very public reminder of a longstanding Publix policy at its 1,348 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. A Publix spokesperson who responded to questions from the Tampa Bay Times did not answer a specific query as to whether there had been complaints, a specific incident or other cause.
“We do have new signage in all stores not just certain areas,” spokesperson Hannah Herring wrote in an emailed response to the Times, “but our policy remains the same.”
People asked by the Times via social media what they thought generally responded: Good. They said not everyone is comfortable with an encounter with a dog while shopping, with the proximity of animals and food, or with using grocery carts that previously held a dog.
“I love animals and own several but the grocery store is not the place for everyone to drag Fido,” Kimberly Evans Skinner Connell posted on Facebook. “Use some common sense people.”
“Finally … a business that will stand up and set rules and (is) not afraid of someone’s feelings getting hurt!” wrote Dean Rodenroth.
Poster Mary Hedrick wrote: “The abuse of the term ‘service’ dog diminishes the importance of these gifted animals to the people who truly need them.”
But, Kirch Linsie wondered on Facebook, “will they enforce it?”
Publix, billed as the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the country, has courted a loyal fan base with an emphasis on customer service. Under the slogan that shopping there is “a pleasure,” employees greet customers, ask if they found everything they wanted and tote groceries to cars, refusing tips.
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The Publix spokesperson did not respond to a question from the Times about whether that hometown vibe may have made some customers feel the rules were lax and dogs would be welcome.
Kathy Saunders, who sits on the board of directors for Southeastern Guide Dogs, applauded the signs. The organization, which prepares pups as service dogs for the disabled and veterans, sometimes takes dogs-in-training to public settings, including grocery stores.
While service dogs are trained not to react to other dogs — or interact with people, bark or sniff food — other dogs often aren’t, she said.
Saunders, who lives in St. Petersburg, stopped taking pups to a local Publix after seeing an untrained dog in a service dog vest jump up on a counter.
Publix managers “have a lot on their plate, and that’s a lot to ask them to get into an argument with a fake service dog owner,” she said. The new signs, she said, “hopefully will empower the managers.”
On social media there were also some dissenters who said they did not mind seeing well-behaved pooches at Publix.
The signs also ask customers not to put service animals in shopping carts or baskets “due to health and sanitation concerns.”
The signs apply to all animals. Social media posters who said they were Publix employees said they saw one customer in a store with a python around his arm, another with a pet squirrel.
Publix has long been a topic of conversation on the Internet. One recent post had a decided Florida Man flair.
Under the heading “Florida memes,” the photo making the rounds features a bearded man wearing nothing but a thong and sandals as he appears to wait in the Pub sub line at a Publix deli counter — a leashed dog lying at his feet.