Here’s an interesting one: A customer walks into your business with a service dog. Is that okay with you?
Why not, right? First of all, dogs are awesome. Besides that, it seems like dogs are everywhere nowadays, and service dogs are growing in number. When traveling, I’ve had a dog as a nearby seatmate on numerous flights, and I often see people walking around town with service companions. It’s also not uncommon to be greeted by a dog when I visit a client. Some companies — like Amazon — openly allow their employees to bring their dogs to work. Dogs seem to be more and more welcome everywhere.
Well, not exactly. One business in Colorado turned away a customer because he had a service dog with him — and didn’t have the paperwork to prove it.
“She [the dog] helps me with my conditions,” the customer, a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, told a local television station. “It’s just an important relationship.” So what was the problem?
The problem was that the business served food, and customers were complaining to management about the dog’s presence — so the owner took action. Unfortunately, state law in Colorado wasn’t exactly on her side. The law states that service dogs are allowed in restaurants (but, even though their manners are likely better than those of many people I’ve seen eating out, they’re still not allowed to actually sit at the table).
The problem was the lack of paperwork. The owner contended that there was no indication that the dog was a service dog. But here the rules were not on her side either. Colorado regulations only require the owner to ask and rely on the customer’s response. “There’s no documentation required; it does not need to be present with the service animal,” a state official said in the television report. It is, however, a crime in Colorado if someone misrepresents an animal as a service animal.
Business owners in the state do have some recourse. If an animal, regardless of its status, acts aggressively or attacks someone, the animal and its owner can be asked to leave. This was not the case here. Bottom line: The customer was within his rights.
I’m a dog owner and don’t mind seeing dogs on planes and at clients’ offices. In fact, I think it’s fun, and it makes me smile. But I get that some people don’t like this — they may have fears, allergies, or just prefer not to be around animals while they travel, eat, work, or shop. In the end, dogs are dogs.
Even Amazon requires its employees to get permission from both managers and their teammates in their immediate work area in order to be allowed to bring their dogs to work. The company also requires vaccinations and has its own set of etiquette rules for both dogs and owners that require the owner…sorry, the dog…to be housebroken, well behaved, social, and healthy.
So, should you allow dogs in your small business? When it comes to your customers, you need to be familiar with your state’s laws, particularly as they apply to service dogs. Most I’ve found are similar to Colorado’s. For your employees, it’s all about the workplace. It’s not fair to make anyone feel uncomfortable at their job, so ask first. Do a test period. Come up with a policy similar to Amazon’s. Always reserve the right, as the business owner, to override your policy if you feel there are safety or happiness concerns.
But, if all goes well, then sure — let ’em in. There’s no better way to bring a little happiness into your office then introduce a friendly dog.