ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's not a new policy, but Publix's new pet signs are causing a stir online.

  • Only service dogs allowed at Publix
  • Signs: No dogs in shopping carts
  • Service dog groups: Policy in line with ADA rules

The supermarket chain posted new signs last week, reminding people that only service dogs are allowed in stores:

"For food safety reasons, only service animals that are specifically trained to aid a person with disabilities are permitted within the store. 

"Service animals are not permitted to sit or ride in shopping carts."

"While our policy on service animals in our stores has not changed, in an effort to raise awareness and understanding, the decision was made to post this note as a reminder," Dwaine Stevens, a spokesman for Publix, told Spectrum News.

The policy comes in the wake of growing complaints about service animals, particularly on aircraft. Several airlines have changed their policies, particularly with a category of service animal called "emotional support animals."

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as a dog or miniature horse that performs a specific task for a person with a disability. These animals are allowed public access because they help a disabled person with specific needs. They are considered working animals, not pets.

Also, the animal must stay on the floor or be carried, according to ADA regulations:

"Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, or the person must carry the dog. For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose alert dog, he may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to his face to allow the dog to smell his breath to alert him of a change in glucose levels."

Emotional support animals provide comfort to an individual who needs it based on a medical evaluation. They are covered under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, but they are not permitted in other public places, particularly places that handle food.

That's why several service dog organizations trumpeted the new signs on social media over the weekend: 

Meanwhile, Service Dogs of Florida, which trains dogs for assistance work such as mobility, post-traumatic stress disorder and diabetic alerts, said the following on its Facebook page:

"Nothing wrong with this policy, it's exactly as intended by the ADA. The last revision updated the shopping cart issue in 2010."

Concerns about people trying to pass off their pet as a service dog led Florida to pass a law in 2015 to make faking a service dog a crime punishable by jail time.

Publix, based in Lakeland, Fla., has stores throughout the Southeast, including Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Americans with Disabilities Act service dog rules

According to the ADA, service dogs are permitted to go anywhere the public normally is allowed.

There is no formal licensing system for a service dog. A vest and ID card do not make a dog a service dog. They must go through special training, but you don't have to pay a special trainer to get the dog trained.

They should be harnessed or leashed, unless the harnessing interferes with the service animal's work, in which case the animal must be under the handler's control in some other way.

Businesses are only allowed to ask two questions to a customer with a service animal:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Employees are not allowed to request any documentation, ask about the person's disability directly or require the pet perform its trained task.

More frequently asked questions about service animals can be found on the ADA website.