Dealing with animals in shops, centres and other unusual places

Taking your dog with you to the coffee shop may be common practice in parts of Europe. There is an increasing number of “pet friendly” outlets in South Africa where socialised dogs are welcomed. Yet there are also instances when the situation is uncertain and there are enquiries from “both sides” regarding the rights of the shop or shopping centre owner and the rights of the animal owner.

The National Council of SPCAs adds a voice for the animals themselves and includes in our short guide below, the welfare aspects for consideration as well as the public interest in terms of health, safety and responsibility.

A documented instance was the case in Midrand when a customer sat down and ordered a meal – with a snake wrapped around his neck. Customers fled, the owner called the police who called the SPCA. In the mêlée that followed, heated discussion took place on the rights of the owner, the clients, the pub owner/manager as well as the welfare implications for the snake.

When the concern relates to health, safety or ethics of having a live animal in a shop or café, and the outlet’s policy is unclear or there has been no resolution through consulting the Manager, then the local by-laws on heath and public safety would apply.

The example given may be extreme instance but there are frequent occurrences of people bringing pets into stores, shopping centres and other places. The instance of the youngster with his pet hooded rat in a supermarket is a further example of the owner thinking this is acceptable whereas other shoppers were unimpressed and called for the store manager to take action.

The relevant regulations in each of the above instances include the by-laws relating to hygiene, health and safety. These are not enforced by the SPCA so despite there being animals involved, unless there is an element of cruelty or the animal’s welfare being compromised, the SPCA is not the appropriate authority to summon to the scene.

Disability and the use of “service animals” is different. South African law protects people with disabilities and this includes permitting so-called Guide Dogs into stores and centres. Any discrimination will bring dire consequences not only legally but in also in reputational terms for anyone denying or restricting access to such working dogs.

A genuine service dog is not the same as what is loosely referred to as a ‘comfort’ pet. That is, there have been cases of people claiming that their disability is emotional or psychological, even post-traumatic stress disorder. There is no officially recognised or registered system relating to service dogs for these issues in South Africa and so circumstantial evaluation of each instance needs to take place.

Many instances hinge on what is acceptable behaviour. Any animal running around freely, sniffing and licking other people, will undoubtedly lead to complaints, no matter how “animal-friendly” the location is.

Staff need to be briefed and trained to deal with these situations, to handle them with sensitivity yet firmly if need be. Staff need to be aware of the laws of the land with respect to disabled people and pets, to avoid giving offence as well as avoiding any litigation.

Above all, do businesses have clear policies as well as procedures for handling matters that may arise? Who handles them – and how?

There are an increasing number of eating places that allow dogs under certain conditions. If so, signage should make this clear. Special facilities or areas can be provided for clients with pets in the same way that many restaurants and business have been forced to do with anti-smoking legislation.

Planning a strategy to handle a situation when something has gone wrong is prudent. It is wise to be prepared. There is no excuse for unruly behaviour – of people or their pets. Deciding who will expel the offender/s and how, needs to be decided in advance.

Have the telephone numbers of security, police and the local SPCA easily available. Record exactly what happened if, for example, a dog on the premises nips or bites someone.

In many cases, there are no straightforward answers or obvious solutions other than advising that anyone feeling uncomfortable with regard to a live animal in an outlet should engage with management to express why the situation is uncomfortable and to seek a solution.

If that fails, then take notes and report the matter to the relevant authority. Please see http://nspca.internetsite.co.za/spcas-in-sa/ for a list of all SPCAs with their contact numbers. Please DO NOT report instances of animals whose welfare has been compromised on Facebook or via Twitter as these platforms cannot be monitored around the clock. But each SPCA has an after-hours service for genuine emergencies.

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