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Pet-friendly businesses need clear policies and procedures for how they deal with pet incidents, said a spokesperson for the P.E.I. Humane Society.
Jennifer Harkness, the non-profit organization’s development manager, said they aren’t affiliated with pet-friendly businesses, but they promote them on their page so to help advocate proper animal treatment.
“Pet-friendly stores are a great direction to go in. It’s welcoming animals into our community.”
Her remarks are in response to an incident in May 2019. Judith Meara was bitten by a pet dog at Indigo book store in Charlottetown.
Meara wasn’t pleased with how Indigo handled the incident. She wrote a letter to the editor in the July 4 edition of The Guardian.
“My concern is not just with Indigo but with all businesses that allow dogs. Stores need to take this seriously,” the letter said. “Have a plan ready to help all customers.”
According to Harkness, employees at pet-friendly stores should be prepared to prevent pet-related incidents just as they should with other potential incidents such as shoplifting.
“Whether it’s a corporate organization with multiple stores across the country or a local store,” she said. “I do think prevention is the key.”
It’s up to the business to provide employees with procedures if an incident occurs. This could include how to get incident details and who to contact to help customers resolve the issue, she said.
“Just educate your employees on what to do because they really just might not know.”
Businesses should make their pet-friendly policy specific and clear to the public. Policy might include whether a pet needs to be on a short leash or wear a muzzle in order to enter and ensure customer safety.
Additionally, should businesses have a policy for pet python snakes?
“People do have all kinds of different pets,” Harkness said. “I think it’s a good question for businesses to ask.”
The responsibility isn’t entirely on businesses. Customers need to know their role as well.
Pet owners must gauge whether their pets should be brought into a business. For example, if a pet is reactive to people, they might become uncomfortable or agitated when brought inside, she said.
“Just because it’s a pet-friendly store, it doesn’t mean they should go into the store.”
The public should be aware of how to shop while pets are in-store, and how to act around them.
“Knowing what dog’s language is. Do not approach a dog you do not know without permission.”
Incidents like Meara’s are rare on P.E.I., but the P.E.I. Humane Society will help if a business contacts them. It may consider creating resources to help pet-friendly businesses establish their policies and procedures, Harkness said.
How would locally-owned businesses handle a pet-related incident in their store?
Incidents not comical
Sue Smith, co-owner of The Comic Hunter, brings her own dog to work every day.
The Charlottetown store is one of over 60 businesses taking part in the Paws Downtown program. Many customers love seeing Smith’s dog, Mazzy the mini dachshund, around.
“They’ll sit here and pet the dog while their friends or families are shopping.”
Being a pet-friendly business hasn’t posed many problems for Smith.
“Most people will ask if they can approach a dog.”
Smith hasn’t had any pet-related incidents in her store, and she hopes it stays that way. She isn’t sure what she’d do if something happened.
“It would depend on the circumstances.”
If she notices customers or Mazzy becoming uncomfortable, she has a kennel in the store to put Mazzy in, she said.
Blue Ribbon reaction
Colin Scales, owner of Blue Ribbon Pet Supply, has pets in his store every day.
He’s never had a pet-related incident, either. If something were to happen, he would do what he could to mediate the situation, such as dealing with the customers or the police.
“You want people to still feel safe coming into your store,” he said, “because it’s a pet store. Everybody should be having fun at a pet store.”
If he knew a pet wasn’t comfortable in the store, he would give it and the owner an environment for the pet to calm down, such as a corner of the building. He’d also inform other customers there was an agitated pet in-store.
There should be more pet-friendly stores on P.E.I. because it’s better for the pets, Scales said.
“So they’re not inside all the time and used to people around them.”
But it’s a touchy subject, he said.
“Every pet is potentially dangerous. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cat or a dog or a snake.”
Sometimes it’s hard to predict how a pet will behave. Muzzles for dogs and cats are a good way to ensure people’s safety, Scales said.