Bringing a Dog to the Mall – Folly or Fair?

Carlos Granda, a reporter with KABC-TV (ABC in Los Angeles, CA), called me yesterday. He said people have been writing to his station, complaining about seeing dogs in malls and stores. Would I care to comment, he asked?

That’s like asking the home plate umpire if he would care to say whether the last pitch was a ball or a strike. “Of course,” I told Carlos.

Just an hour before, I walked around a corner at a mall near my house, and what did I almost collide with? A pit bull, sitting on a wall, with a New Year’s Eve party hat on. About 10 feet away, his owner (I assume) was taking photos of him, using a cell phone camera. Although my elbow grazed the dog’s shoulder, the pit just looked at me, far calmer than I was looking at him.

A dog on a wall in a mall. Now, that’s unexpected! Which is why a California court, during the 1950′s, ruled that a store that allows people to bring their dogs can be held liable for any type of accident that the dog causes. In that case, a lady who was shopping either tripped over the dog or got tangled in its leash, but she fell and was badly injured. The court ruled that a store designs its aisles so that people will be looking at merchandise, not checking the floor for pooches and leashes. Consequently, a store can be held liable for negligence if a shopper sustains injury in any encounter with a dog on the premises.

And that’s not all. What about the pee and the poop? What about the shedding? If a customer has an allergy, or is simply afraid of animals, what about that? All things considered, it seems completely unreasonable to allow dogs (and other pets) to come into malls, stores and restaurants. There are only two exceptions: police dogs and service dogs. By law, the latter are allowed everywhere, for a very good reason, namely to assist those people who require help.

Well, the interview ended a few minutes ago. It did not go well. Carlos, his cameraman and I laughed so much that I’m not sure he will be able to use me on the segment. We were laughing at the folly of all this. Not only the pit bull wearing the party hat, but, for example, the ice cream store that gives free ice cream to dogs and little children. What happens when you put an ice cream cone between a dog and a young child who have never met? While the answer (facial injuries for the child, possible euthanasia for the dog) is not funny, the utter stupidity and selfishness of the store is truly laughable.

In my line of work, representing mostly kids who have been bitten on the face by dogs, I have to laugh to keep from crying. I have almost never reviewed a dog attack that was not the fault of the dog owner, whether because the dog was put in the wrong place at the wrong time (a daycare center, a crowded apartment building, on the wall at the mall), or it was not trained or badly cared for, or the owner failed to warn that the dog was injured or sick. Sometimes, however, the fault also stems from another human who is not on the other end of the leash, namely a store manager or a landlord. Essentially, accidents involving dogs are the result of people’s negligence. And sometimes, their sheer folly.