Publix is a place for produce, buy-one-get-one prices and its selection of sandwiches known as Pub Subs.
The famed chain of Florida supermarkets are places where all are welcome, perhaps especially world-renowned soccer stars like Lionel Messi. Pets? Not so much.
Customers are starting to notice large signs placed at the front of Publix grocery stores throughout Florida, reminding shoppers that only service animals are allowed in the store – not personal pets, and not even emotional support animals.
The difference between service animals and emotional support animals is a distinct one, as the sign on the door explains in detail.
“Under federal law, service animals are dogs or miniature horses trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities,” the sign reads. “Non-service animals are not allowed in grocery stores by the FDA. Dogs, pets, and other animals whose sole function is to provide comfort, companionship, or emotional support do not qualify as service animals and are not permitted in Publix, even with a doctor’s note.”
The company’s policy on service animals has existed for years. However, it’s not clear what led Publix to roll out the new in-store signs, and a spokesperson for the company’s South Florida region did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
Customers agree Publix’s policy is a smart safety precaution
A regular at the Publix on Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach, who identified himself only as Jeff, said he relies on a service dog to cope with his ongoing cancer battle and his past experiences in the military. He said the store policy is a smart safety precaution.
“A lot of other dogs aren’t friendly,” he said. “You don’t want mean dogs in there because they might get a scent on somebody and bite them.”
Another man, who identified himself only as Mark, shopped directly next to the Southern Boulevard Publix on Saturday morning, at the neighboring Pet Supermarket. He said the new signs are a valuable reminder that animals and grocery stores don’t mix.
“I like that there’s no pets,” he said. “Pet shed gets into things. That’s stuff that I don’t want around my food. And when they put them into the cart, you’ve got that dog – excuse my French – wiping its butt inside the shopping cart.”
It seems Publix would agree. The company policy says that all animals, including service dogs, are “prohibited from being carried in a Publix shopping cart (even on a mat) or in Publix wheelchair basket attachments.”
And all animals, the policy continues, can be removed if they pose a risk to other shoppers.
“We also ask that service animals that are out of control, pose a threat to health or safety, or are not housebroken be removed from the premises,” the policy reads. “The individual may continue to shop at the store without the animal. Publix will gladly provide personal shopping assistance to such an individual upon request.”
Misrepresenting pets as service animals is a crime
The new signs also remind shoppers that Florida law prohibits people from misrepresenting their pets as service animals. The crime is a second-degree misdemeanor, and offenders are required to perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves people with disabilities.
“Misrepresenting your pet as a service animal negatively impacts the quality of life and independence for service animal users,” the Publix sign states.
The policy seems to be popular among many Publix customers, but such rules can be hard to enforce, said Josephine Grace, the owner of Dog Training Elite in Palm Beach County.
That’s because some dogs are well-behaved and their handlers have control over them, but they aren’t necessarily service animals, which are trained to carry out specific tasks for their owners.
It can also be hard to identify service dogs because they come in all sizes and breeds, and they help with disabilities both seen and unseen, Grace said, giving the example of a dog that’s trained to help with anxiety attacks among people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The handler doesn’t have to provide documentation that their service animal is trained, and staff can’t ask about “the nature or extent of an individual’s disability,” according to state law.
However, the law goes on to say that “a public accommodation may ask if an animal is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform.”