BY AARON CLAVERIE March 07, 2014; 10:25 PM
Dog bites are on the rise in San Bernardino and Riverside, a stat linked to the rising number of people who bring dogs into public spaces.
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A waitress holding small bowls of rice bounded to the table with a big smile. It was lunchtime for Tom and Yolanda Williams’ dogs, a bushy Pomeranian and a mixed-breed rescued from Mexico. The dogs wagged their respective tails and dove in while their owners finished up appetizers.

The Williams family drives to Temecula’s Promenade mall from Valley Center in San Diego County a few times a month to visit the Lazy Dog Café, a chain that has embraced patio dining for patrons with dogs. The also visit pet-friendly wineries in the Temecula Valley.

“We like to take them out once and awhile,” Yolanda Williams said.

Increasingly, people are bringing their dogs when they go out to dine or visit a farmer’s market or stroll in an outdoor mall. And where the family pet once was clearly unwelcome in retail settings, the list of businesses that are dog friendly or even cater to canines is growing.

“Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon,” said Carol Roquemore, founder of a Menifee-based company that trains service dogs. “I see dogs in strollers, backpacks, purses …”

But as much as dog lovers might relish the trend, it can have serious consequences.

On Dec. 28, a 3-year-old boy was attacked by a leashed Akita inside a Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Murrieta. The boy suffered injuries to his jaw, neck and forehead that required 50 stitches, officials said.

Owner Robert Steven Kahn, 62, has been charged with felony negligence and has pleaded not guilty. The dog was quarantined and then shipped to an Akita rescue shelter.

The boy’s family in February filed a civil lawsuit against Lowe’s. The family has declined to comment about what happened, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

Clinton Sanders, a University of Connecticut sociologist and author of the book “Understanding Dogs: Living and Working with Canine Companions,” found that many people consider dogs to be an integral part of their family, which explains, in part, why they would want to include them in familial outings.

There also is “institutional support” for taking dogs out in public or outdoors on adventures, he said. That support includes public dog parks, dog-friendly businesses and a wide array of products such as special packs and jackets.

In addition to those drivers, Sanders said there are cultural influences — including celebrity trendsetters such as Paris Hilton and dog-friendly customs in other countries — and pragmatic reasons that can be traced to the rise of dual-income households where both partners work most of the day.

“There is some impetus to get the dog out in public for exercise,” he said.

Kelly Carter, author of the “The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel” and creator of the website, said she feels the trend partly can be explained by demographics.

As the nests of the nation’s baby boomers empty, many are getting dogs and taking them along on trips.

That’s become significantly easier because of the internet, which has allowed people to sift through reviews of eateries, wineries, hotels and more to find dog-friendly landing spots.

“It’s a huge benefit to businesses,” she said.

Williams said he and his wife never take their pets to places where they aren’t welcomed, but they do search ahead of time for dog-friendly establishments.

“We Yelp them,” he said, explaining that he logs on to the website,, to read reviews. If a location is not dog-friendly, they’re not going.

That’s just the sort of customer that Jennifer Buffington wants to attract to Cougar Winery, located on De Portola Road in the Temecula Valley Wine Country.

Most of the big wineries in the area are off Rancho California Road, so Buffington and some of her fellow De Portola Road colleagues have banded together to make their places welcoming to dogs.

“We’re smaller and mostly family owned and operated so we can be a little different that way,” she said.

Although there have been some awkward moments over the years – one person brought a dog that “didn’t like people or other dogs,” Buffington said – there haven’t been any major incidents.

Buffington said the winery asks that all dogs be put on leashes and they are restricted to the patio area. If they are visiting with an unfriendly dog, the owners are asked to stake out a spot away from the other guests.

“You try to make it so you don’t ruin their experience but they can’t ruin the experience for others,” she said.

State and federal laws require businesses to allow service dogs, which includes those who assist the blind or deaf, people prone to seizures, veterans with post traumatic stress disorder who suffer anxiety attacks and people who suffer motion-impairing maladies.

In recent years — a Google Trends analysis shows a sudden spike of interest in mid-2010 — some dog owners have attempted to expand the definition by calling their pets “emotional support dogs.” The push has been supported by the government in some selected cases, specifically with regard to housing and dorms and access to airplanes.

Though some psychologists say pets do provide benefits to their owners, those pets often aren’t trained for use as a service dog and they can expose their owners to lawsuits if they end up biting someone or contribute to someone tripping and falling.

Nina Hutton of Murrieta said she has been shocked to see dogs popping up on airplanes, in stores and even at area casinos.

“I like dogs but I don’t think they belong on airplanes,” she said. “There is an allergy issue for a lot of children, and some are afraid of dogs or have had a bad experience.”

Sylvia Wonzo, a Moreno Valley resident since 1983, says she is deathly afraid of dogs, and she believes the animals can sense that. To protect herself, she said she has left businesses that won’t tell people with dogs to leave the premises.

“About a year ago in a supermarket I walked up to the manager and pointed out the lady who had a dog in the shopping cart where people put their food,” she recalled. “His comment to me was, ‘At our next meeting I will remind the cashiers to tell customers not to bring dogs in the store.’”

Mark Smith of Riverside said he also has seen dogs in supermarkets and his local home improvement stores.

“I think it’s gotten out of hand,” he said.

Smith, a Riverside resident since 1960, said it has become an epidemic in the last five or six years, and even the Murrieta incident wasn’t enough to get local home improvement stores to start enforcing the rules, which are complicated by the safeguards to access baked into the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“My granddaughter goes in with me and now I’m paranoid,” he said, adding that he’s so fired up about the issue that he wants to start a petition to get stores to enforce the rules against non-service animals.

Kenneth Phillips, a Beverly Hills-based attorney who specializes in dog bite lawsuits, said he’d like to see some sort of legislation that would increase penalties for people who fake support dog credentials, which is fairly easy to do as there are numerous companies that will send a dog owner a certificate or vest in the mail for a small fee.

In California, someone violating the state’s service dog rules could be convicted of a misdemeanor that could lead to jail time or a $1,000 fine. But Phillips said there is little money allocated for enforcement and people take advantage of that.

“What I’m not comfortable with is people claiming they need a dog for emotional support. That’s where everyone has gone wrong … that sounds like ADA, no it’s not, emotional support is not,” he said.

There was a state Senate committee hearing last month on fake service dogs that included testimony from lobbyists representing the hotel, retail and restaurant industries who asked lawmakers to help staffers and management separate the legitimate service dogs from the fakes. No legislation is pending but the chair of the committee, Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said the issue will be studied.

Contact Aaron Claverie at or 951-368-9698.



Five reasons why there are more dogs in public

  1. Businesses are hoping to get noticed by pet-friendly websites and review sites and grab a slice of what is becoming a lucrative market.
  2. Some people use their dogs to broadcast their identities. “It’s an element of one’s presentation of self in public,” said Clinton Sanders, a sociologist who has studied the interaction of dogs and humans.
  3. Dog owners have actively worked to expand the definition of “service dogs” to include dogs that assist with “invisible disabilities” such as epilepsy or veterans who suffer from panic attacks. There also are some dog owners who refer to their pets as “emotional support dogs,” a blurry designation that is accepted by airlines and some landlords but not included in the official ADA policies.
  4. Businesses don’t want to police corporate policies with regard to non-service animals for fear of being branded anti-dog and some pet owners take advantage of the situation and bring their animal where it’s not allowed.
  5. There are more dogs in the country. In 1991 there were around 50 million dogs. That number jumped to 70 million in 2013, down a tick from the pre-recession highwater mark of 72 million in 2006.


For owners/companions:

  • Work out a dog before taking it to a restaurant or public setting. If it’s tired, the dog is more apt to sit peacefully through a meal or relax in social situations
  • Avoiding rewarding anxious behaviors and instead reinforce good and relaxed behaviors
  • Be mindful of a dog’s behavior after a move or the absence of a dog’s favorite family member
  • Socialize a dog at a young age, 6-8 weeks. Socializing can include sitting in front of a supermarket with the family, allowing a dog to experience different voices and smells in a controlled setting
  • Dogs that are anxious may need a “gentle leader” muzzle

For parents/children:

  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog
  • Do not run from a dog or scream
  • Remain motionless (e.g., “be still like a tree”) when approached by an unfamiliar dog
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and be still
  • Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult
  • Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior
  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • If bitten, immediately report the bite

Source: Kelly Carter, author of “The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel,” the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, Animal Friends of the Valleys, veterinarian Ron Kelpe, president of the California Veterinary Medical Association


  • Total nationwide: 5 million per year
  • Requiring medical treatment: 800,000
  • Number of children seeking medical treatment: 480,000 (77 percent sustaining injuries to the face)
  • Average yearly cost to treat dog-bite victims: $160 million
  • Dog-bite fatalities: 15-18 yearly

Source: Center for Disease Control


U.S. spending on pets (America Pet Products Association)

  • 2012 – $53.33 million
  • 2008 – $43.2 million
  • 1994 – $17 million

Stats provided by

More dogs in public, more risks