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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Good Pets, Better Neighbors

By Sherri Collins

Editor, Pet Product News International

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Like most people in the pet-product world, I adore animals. I know more of my neighborhood’s dogs and cats by name than I do their owners. I also greet “unknown” dogs and cats wherever I encounter them (please tell me this is “normal”), be it on the street, outside a strip mall or inside a store. I do know that not everyone shares my level of pet love, but I’m still taken back a bit when complaints arise about the presence of animals. Based on a recent article in the New York Times, however, it’s something all pet lovers need to take into consideration.

According to the article, the city of Portland, Ore.,, received more than 600 complaints last year about animals in food stores. Service dogs are allowed, of course, in all types of establishments, yet it seems that some dog owners may be taking advantage of law they’re probably not even aware of. The disability law “limits the extent to which a private business can question people about their disabilities and the service an animal provides.” In addition, there are no state or federal rules that detail what qualifications a service animal must have. This gray area is causing problems for Portland and Oregon. So much so that the New York Times reports the state is distributing posters and pamphlets to retail sellers of food with the message: Animals, except those trained to help the disabled, are not allowed.

As representatives of the pet industry, it is our responsibility not only to promote responsible pet keeping, but to engender “good-neighbor” behavior as well. Pets should only be brought where they are allowed and welcome. Pet stores are obvious destinations for dogs and the occasional cat or bird, as are dog-friendly parks, beaches and outdoor malls. Using Portland as a reference point, there are probably a lot of people throughout the country who would not welcome a canine companion at a food shop or restaurant—and may even avoid an establishment that is animal tolerant. (European countries, especially France and Belgium, are a bit different, where dogs are welcomed practically everywhere. I will always remember sitting next to a beautiful Alsatian in a very chichi bar in Paris.)

One way to help get the good-neighbor word out is to work with other shops in your area on promoting specific dog-friendly venues. A few cases in point: Our 2009-2010 Retailer of the Year Four Your Paws Only in North Conway, N.H., does just that by publishing in print and online a pet-friendly guide to the Mount Washington area. The Outstanding Merchandise Award recipient Piglet’s Pantry in Mount Dora, Fla., offers a list of pet-friendly lodging on its website. In addition, the Outstanding Specialty Award winner Sloppy Kisses in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is creating and launching a dog-friendly program by way of a window decal denoting which businesses are dog-friendly in the upstate town.

For many, pets are wonderful to have and behold, and by ensuring pet owners respect those who don’t share these enthusiasms; we will all be better neighbors with good pets.

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