City, federal law and general public conflict over service dogs in cafes, grocery stores
Loop North News


Chicago’s Municipal Code states that dogs are not allowed into public places where food is being prepared. But the Americans with Disabilities Act says service dogs can be allowed. Resolving this conflict has been seemingly arbitrary.

23-Mar-19 – We have all seen dogs tied up outside a café or grocery store while its owner is shopping or dining. But what does the city say about this in terms of public health?

The Chicago Municipal Code states that dogs are not allowed into public places where food is being prepared. But according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. As long as the service animal is harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in a public place unless these devices interfere with the animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices. This law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and health clubs.

And we have seen how the service dog label is abused by some who drag their emotional support animal everywhere they go, legitimately or not. The ADA states that businesses can ask if an animal is a service animal and ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform but cannot require a special ID card for the animal or ask about the person’s disability.

Florida passed a law declaring the use of a fake service animal a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. That leaves restaurant and store owners with the uncomfortable task of asking customers if their dogs are trained service animals.

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In Chicago, it has led to a testy exchange between a concerned constituent and his North Side alderman.

Gerald Weisberg says he told 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney about the problem of dogs at the Starbucks and Mariano’s at 3030 North Broadway Street. He said that he met with Starbuck’s management, who informed him that their employees can only ask if the dog is a service animal, but not what task the dog performs.

“As for Mariano’s, I would say that I see a dog in the store about one out of every three times I go there,” said Weisberg. “I never see an employee questioning the individual with the dog.”

Weisberg said Starbucks and Mariano’s are violating the city’s public health code. He has taken his complaint further and accused Tunney, owner of an Ann Sather restaurant, of allowing dogs in his restaurant and not upholding the spirit of the public health law.

“We have an alderman with a conflict of interest,” Weisberg said. “His responsibility as an elected official is adherence to all city ordinances on the one hand, and a restaurant owner who is looking out for personal gain on the other hand.”

Tunney’s Chief of Staff, Bennett Lawson, says the ADA that allows service animals takes precedence over city ordinance that bans them.

“My understanding is that [service] dogs are allowed to be with their owners in the establishments but must be kept near them at all times,” said Lawson (right). “They’re not allowed to roam around and certainly shouldn’t be near any food prep or service areas.”

Bennett said he understands the law does not require any type of collar or marking to indicate that the dog is a support animal, but restaurants can ask.

Bennett Lawson

“If the owner says they are, then they are,” Bennett wrote in an email. “The alderman hasn’t taken a position other than we need to follow federal statutes that regulate this issue. He would appreciate more clarity for businesses though.”

Weisberg said he was at a Jewel-Osco and saw a dog being carried by a customer, and when he addressed management, he was told their corporate office told them not to ask any questions.

“Clearly, there are multiple issues at play here,” says Weisberg. “We have three corporations – Kroger, parent company of Mariano’s; Albertsons, parent company of Jewel-Osco, and Starbucks – treating the matter of service dogs in their stores in different ways.”

Lakeview resident Don Morrison said that he also has noticed many dogs at Mariano’s, but he thought after speaking to management, the issue was handled correctly.

“I don’t go out to restaurants very often, but I do go to Mariano’s on Broadway every couple of days,” he said. “I noticed more and more dogs there – obviously non-service dogs. I talked to the management about it and after seeming to get no action, they did post signs on all of the entrances clearly stating their policy that only service animals are allowed, and explaining that does not include emotional support animals.”

He says if more stores posted their policy on service animals, it would help both dog owners and people who would prefer not being around dogs.

By Jim Vail |

Published 23-Mar-19 9:23 PM

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