A new bill would allow you to bring your dog into more Wisconsin businesses

MADISON, Wis. — The general manager of Fleet Farm’s Deforest location Robert Nilo said he gets up to five complaints a day from customers wanting to bring their dog into the store with them while they shop. A sign displayed on the front automatic sliding doors states, “We love your pets. But because we sell food, Wisconsin health laws do not allow them in our store.”

Wisconsin follows a model food code put out by the FDA which states animals are not allowed in any food establishments.

But, a bill currently circulating through Wisconsin legislature could change that.

The idea for the bill was started by Fleet Farm’s Executive Vice President Frank Steeves.

“There is no single topic that causes more anguish and anger to our Wisconsin customers than have the Wisconsin laws impacting whether they can bring their dogs into our stores. Regularly we receive letters and calls demanding to know why, when they are able to bring their pets in other stores, dogs are not allowed in our stores,” Steeves said. “Our customers have a hard time understanding, or believing us, when we tell them it is because a small amount of floor space is used to sell pre-packaged snacks.”

Steeves took his frustrations to lawmakers, who widely supported legal changes to allow dogs into stores that sell prepackaged foods.

At an Assembly and Senate Committee Hearing, Steeves testified, “With pets in almost 70%, and dogs in 40%, of Wisconsin households we think that this small change – one with no cost or budget impact – will make a lot of people and their pets happier and safer.”

Section Manager of Retail Food and Recreational Programs with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection James Kaplanek said members of DATCP were on board with the potential law change because having animals around prepackaged foods presents a low risk of contaminating those items.

“Like your Home Depots and Menards and your Fleet Farms that could allow individuals to bring their animals in because they only food items they have are prepackaged,” Kaplanek said. “I think the legislature was happy with that and DATCP was happy with that.”

Fleet Farm’s Divisional Vice President Mark Stelzl added that they also want to be able to partner with vet clinics and humane societies in the future to be able to host pet adoptions and provide vet services in rural areas where access to these services are in short supply.

“Many of our stores are in rural areas where they don’t have access to veterinary care,” Stelzl said. “One of the things we want to do is have vet clinics in our stores that allow people to come in and have treatments for their pets during the non-traditional hours of a vet clinic”

Steeves said at the hearing, “In some places it is the only reliable source of day-to-day products for agriculture and rural living. What happens then is that the occasional customer will leave their pet in their car while they shop, thereby endangering their pet. What also happens is that we are prohibited from sponsoring store animal welfare programs, such as serving as a host for pet adoptions, and from providing the desperately needed veterinary services that many rural areas lack.”

The bill already passed through the Assembly. The Senate will vote on it in September.

“I look forward to this,” Nilo said. “It will be tremendous help on all retailers that have prepackaged food.”