Last updated: July 30. 2014 1:01AM - 435 Views

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Months ago at the sports bar and restaurant in Wildhorse Casino, a well-dressed man walked in with two large, leashed canines. Each wore little vests that read “service dogs in training.”

They were behaving fine, lazily stretched across the floor until one got up and defecated right in the middle of the restaurant. It was a real stinker. The man apologized and quickly took the dogs, leaving the gallant but repulsed staff to clean up the mess with gallon after gallon of bleach.

You can bet there were fewer entrées than usual served that night, as the guests that remained had certainly lost their appetite.

It is becoming more and more common to see a dog inside a business or in a public place, and less likely to see that same dog in a fenced yard or a kennel. Try getting on an airplane that doesn’t include a dog nestled against their owner, who refuses to let it leave their lap. They are now referred to as “comfort animals.”

Now don’t get us wrong. We love our pets. And we want to be empathetic to those who have clear medical need for animals.

But it’s clear the system is being gamed by a rapidly expanding segment of the population who like having their animals nearby. And we have real worries about hygiene, safety and manners as the number of dogs in restaurants and grocery stores and banks increases.

We’re not disputing the healing power of canines. We’d all love to have our pets next to us more often. Heck, right here at the office, the words would probably come a little easier if Fido was curled up at our feet. And that grocery trip sure would be more enjoyable if we brought the dog along. Many people plain feel happier with their dogs around, and we know how happiness and health often go hand-in-hand.

But we must also remember other people: the employees that must clean the muddy paw prints, those allergic or scared or otherwise inconvenienced, the people who just don’t want to purchase any produce after a dog has sniffed it with its adorable, slobbery snout.

This debate is clearly representative of a changing culture in America, where pets are quickly becoming just another member of the family. Dogs and cats and other animals have gained a remarkable amount of rights in the last few generations, marking a more humane society in general.

But there are limits, and organizations and individuals should have the ability to ban animals from public places and private businesses unless there is a real medical need and the animal is professionally trained to provide care. It may be helpful to have all medical needs dogs go through a training, licensing and registration process. They could have an identity tag that would confirm their usefulness and their owners would not feel obligated to reveal any personal medical information.

For those people who have legitimate animals providing necessary care, we think they would highly support a regulated service dog registry, no matter the cost. For others that just like having their dogs nearby, the extra hurdles might persuade them from bringing their dog with them anywhere they go.

The great goal of society should be to promote getting along. There are those who love animals and there are those who don’t. There are people in the best of health and those who suffer debilitating mental and physical disease. Our society could decide that dogs are welcome everywhere. To some people this would be great step forward. To others, this would be a slip backward into the Middle Ages.

We can find a place to meet in the middle.

Dogs have a special place in our world. For most of us, it should be on our deck and in our heart — not in a grocery store, a restaurant or an examination room at a hospital.

— East Oregonian, Pendleton, OR

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