CHARLOTTE, NC (Katherine Peralta/The Charlotte Observer) - It's not unusual these days for people in Charlotte to treat their pets like their kids – you'll hear owners referring to themselves as a "dog mom" or "dog dad," spending thousands on boarding and health care, heck, even using a puppy as a wing man to strike up conversations at the brewery.
I was strolling through the produce section at the Harris Teeter in Dilworth a few weeks ago when I noticed a woman with two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels perched in her shopping cart like toddlers.
Don't get me wrong, I like dogs – especially the two little pugs my empty-nester parents spoil rotten. But what if a fellow shopper is allergic or scared of dogs? What if the dog has an accident in the store? What if it eats something off the shelf?
Surely, I thought, this is crossing the line.
As dogs appear more often in places traditionally reserved for people, you have to wonder: When is it OK to bring your dog to a retail establishment, if at all? Besides the ever-controversial dogs-in-breweries debate, there are other retail spots where a dog's presence might raise eyebrows, including grocery stores, malls and restaurants.
Unfortunately for my new friend at Harris Teeter, dogs are not allowed in Charlotte grocery stores.
According to Harris Teeter spokeswoman Danna Robinson, the grocer follows the guidance and regulation for animals in stores as set forth by the FDA Food Code, so only service animals and dogs accompanied by police officers and security officers.
"These animals are not allowed inside shopping carts, in food preparation areas, etc. They are to remain on the floor or in the arms of their owner at all times," Robinson said.
A Food Lion spokeswoman confirmed only service dogs are allowed in their stores, too.
Service animals often wear a vest or other piece of clothing indicating their designation, although they're not required to do so. So if a customer says their dog is a service animal even if it isn't, there's little a grocer can do about it, since the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits asking for proof of an animal's service use.
With other retail centers, such as malls, the waters seem to get a little murkier. I didn't think twice when a lady walked into Belk at SouthPark with a Pomeranian in her purse the other day (although my mom found it weird.)
The policy for Simon Property Group, which owns SouthPark, states that the only pets allowed are service dogs. At Simon's outdoor properties, like Charlotte Premium Outlets and Concord Mills, pets are allowed on leashes in the outdoor areas, a spokeswoman for the group said.
SouthPark's policy, however, according to Simon, indicates that small dogs are OK. "We love animals and allow pets in strollers or they can be carried," the policy reads. The Simon spokeswoman confirmed that each shopping center has their own variation of policies, and each individual store also has its own policy.
According to the North Carolina Food Code, with the exception of service dogs, pets are not allowed in restaurants, either. Dogs and cats are allowed in the outdoor dining areas, though, as long as they're "physically restrained, and do not pass through any indoor areas of the food establishment."
The Mecklenburg County Health Department confirmed earlier this year that dogs are also forbidden from hanging out in brewery taprooms, which are bound by the same food service codes as restaurants.
Dog owners needn't be dismayed. There are, of course, plenty of explicitly pet-friendly establishments around Charlotte – including shops like Paper Skyscraper and Blackhawk Hardware, bars with outdoor patios like Lucky Dog Bark & Brew and hotels like the Le Méridien and Sheraton hotel complex.