Blind woman wants ID program for service animals

Blind woman says the Fred Meyer policy isn't being enforced

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — A legally blind woman who says her service dog was nearly attacked by a pit bull inside a Northeast Portland Fred Meyer is looking for answers on why uncertified dogs are allowed in stores.

Laura Westerhuis said she does not feel safe inside her local grocery store because Fred Meyer’s policy on keeping dogs who are not service animals out is not stringent enough, and isn’t being enforced.

“It’s not safe for a blind person but it’s the closest store for me to go to as a blind person,” she said

Carol Westerhuis, who is legally blind, says her service dog was nearly attacked inside a Fred Meyer, and does not feel safe in the store.
Carol Westerhuis, who is legally blind, says her service dog was nearly attacked inside a Fred Meyer, and does not feel safe in the store.

It is against Fred Meyer Store policy for animals that are not service animals to be inside the store.

Due to the Americans with Disabilities Act, store staff can ask customers who have dogs with them inside the store whether or not the dog is a service animal.If the customer says yes, the store must allow the animal to stay.

Still, Westerhuis said on two-separate occasions inside the Gateway location, she had run-ins with dogs who were not service animals. In one instance, a Fred Meyer staff member witnessed the incident and did nothing, she says.

Fred Meyer spokesperson Melinda Merrill said the company’s hands are tied in many instances. She said people abuse the store’s policy.

Issues of safety 

Westerhuis’ Labrador-Golden Retriever mix “Carol” is essential to her functioning. In fact, she calls the dog her eyes.

Carol guided Westerhuis through the aisles of the Gateway Center Fred Meyer for years. She recalls the incidents with other animals with fear.

“The first one was the pit bull lunging at my service animal and the manager saying there’s nothing they can do about it,” said Westerhuis.

“I went above him and the store director said the same thing,” she said.

Westerhuis said the pit bull that attacked “Carol” two months ago was clearly not a service dog – animals trained to behave in public spaces like grocery stores.

 How to enforce the policy

Stores can ask customers if their pet is service animal, but if the customer says yes, staff cannot ask the customer to leave.

Merrill said if a dog growls, attacks, licks or sniffs merchandise, it is grounds for removal.

Stores are reminded about the service dog policy several times a year, she said.

Merrill said the Gateway location is reaching out to Westerhuis to address her issue.

Westerhuis is calling for an identification program for service animals.

“I think the solution is it’s just like an I.D., when you buy cigarettes and alcohol you pull out an I-D and say here it is,” she said.

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