Canines may be losing ground in Dog City

Abigail Hickman


Recently, I walked into the Ingles on New Leicester Highway innocently enough. I had no idea the portent that awaited me. I needed a healthy pick-me-up and knew that the store had its chocolate peppermint Christmas bark for sale. And, yes, maybe the chocolate and peppermint contain a bit of sugar, but you can’t fault me on the bark. Bark grows on trees, and everybody knows that tree products are whole foods.

I focused on my goal, a crucial skill for engaging with any large box store lest you be tempted by the rows of treats placed around the establishment to keep you in a confused stupor of desire. It’s the same basic principle the wicked witch used to lure poor Hansel and Gretel into the gingerbread house. And you might well remember how that story ended with a murder.

At this point, if you happen to have a mastiff lounging on your lap while you enjoy the parts of your Mountain Xpress not yet drooled over, it would be best to cover his soft, floppy ears so the word won’t get around through the Doggy Xpress. You may remember the dogs that barked from city street to country lane informing each other about Cruella de Vil’s pup-napping of those adorable Dalmatian puppies. Is Boomer or Brawler or Thunder (I looked up the most popular names for mastiffs) all sorted out? OK, let’s get back to the story.

Before I even got through the cart-holding vestibule, I noticed something odd. I backed myself up and saw it, a sign on the door reading: “Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs and Pets, not allowed inside per Federal/NC State Law. Thank you for your cooperation.” Uh-oh. I don’t think this is going to go well for Ingles. And this has nothing to do with the appalling grammar choices. (Where did they hide that linking verb? Why is that comma hanging after “Pets” like a slow-motion pant?)

I ran into the store searching for the manager. They are very easy to find; they are the guys in white shirts and ties who are breaking down boxes while simultaneously holding clipboards. And they will be smiling. Are they human? I found one such creature right away, and he explained that the corporate office set the rule, or rather, enforced the existing rule, and there you have it.

So, what will this mean for Asheville? Ingles has always been our folksy go-to grocery store. Ingles, born and raised in Asheville, is the fuss-free grocer that serves locals with its plucky mountain attitude. It is our talisman in a city full of frantic growth.

Did you know that the Census Bureau estimates that 89,000 people lived here in 2016? That’s not a giant number on its own, but it feels a bit scratchier when placed in the larger narrative of about 74,000 living here in 2000. And since national statistics indicate that more than one in three households own a dog, you’ll get the idea that Asheville’s culture is about to change.

But you can bet your organic doggie biscuits that Ashevilleans will not take this sitting on their haunches. Up until now, dogs were able to enjoy the fruits of our city’s bounty with impunity. I searched “dog-friendly restaurants and pubs” on Yelp and was treated to a list 250 entries long. Dogs can browse the animal section at Malaprop’s while mocking the cat books with their up-until-now unfettered freedom.

One way that dogs slip into local establishments is by wearing those $33.99 Amazon “service dog” vests people are buying. I’ve seen these vested animals in Ingles and Lowe’s before, and of course these dogs are seen at all the trendy restaurants, sitting on their owners’ laps, licking the remnants of caramelized Brussels sprouts sautéed in maple cayenne from delicate china bowls. I should have seen this coming. I talked to one Lowe’s employee, who said he didn’t mind the growling or the drool. It was the pee that got to him. Apparently, some owners are thoughtful enough to buy an Amazon service vest for Bella Boo Boo, but their interest stops just shy of cleaning up the puddle of urine Boo leaves in front of the paint samples. Maybe the darling was inspired by the pastels and offered a pale lemon of her own.

However, Boo Boo’s owner may need to reconsider masquerading Bella as a service dog. The N.C. General Statutes (Chapter 168-4.5) state that “it is unlawful to disguise an animal as a service animal or a service animal in training.” Yikes. I feel confident dog owners found in violation will have to wear those “prisoners at work” vests logging community service hours by mopping the floors at Lowe’s.

For further insight, I spoke with Alex Henderson from Ingles’ corporate office, who said the company decided to enforce its rules based on safety issues, cleanliness and customers who have animal allergies. He was quick to make the distinction between emotional support animals and those that have been trained to work as disability service animals. They do allow the latter (and are, in fact, required to do so under federal law). They are sticky about it, so merely having a “service animal” vest could get her bounced.

Of course, Asheville is a dog town; we love our canines as members of our own families. I know one family who likes their dog better than their live-in mother-in-law. She is mostly kept at home, but Maisy, a mixed breed, gets to tag along to all their city outings, including one trip to church. If our population expands to such a degree that our homegrown grocer won’t allow our four-legged fellows to shop freely, I fear we will see the doggy water bowls that are left outside the coolest downtown establishments taken in. No longer will our barking balls of fur be allowed to join the tourists at all the hip Asheville eateries.

What’s to become of our quaint little town when it is no longer quaint because it is no longer a town? Ingles’ dog restrictions are a presentiment of more impactful changes afoot in our beloved Asheville. Soon, dogs like Maisy will be banned in the city and mothers-in-law will be allowed to roam freely in their place. Until then, friends, lap up the beer and do your best to avoid the vest.

Abigail Hickman teaches at Mars Hill University as an adjunct faculty member, plus writes and produces a weekly podcast ( for Madison County community radio station WART, 95.5 FM.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Abigail Hickman
Abigail teaches English at A-B Tech and is happily nestled into a Weaverville neighborhood. She enjoys eating Ben and Jerry's ice cream directly from the container.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

11 thoughts on “Canines may be losing ground in Dog City

  1. Kathleen

    The board of health can and will find food providers of non service dogs are allowed entry

  2. Cat

    I have an emotional support (registered) Chihuahua. He’s barely 4lbs and is older so most of the time he looks like a stuffed animal in my cart. Even with his size though, I never thought it was ‘right’ or legal or sanitary to have him with me around the common grocery area of any store. I know some stores are more relaxed (fewer rather that more it seems), but even a large service dog for someone blind to be in that area, kindof gives me the willies, when they are 6 inches from the eggs or produce. I mean, fleas can jump that far and what if they backed their rear to something? Or ‘mark’ a corner? Then flies come and there’s the whole poo-fly-you, sickness thing. I’m not surprised at the sign and I actually agree for the most part. However, if a store has food on one side and stuff on the other, I do bring my lil Frodo to the non food side in his special carrier set inside the cart.

    • KS

      And you’re still part of the problem. ESAs are not afforded or protected for public access. Your “registration” is a straight up scam. ESAs are only protected under FHA and ACAA for no pet housing and to fly in-cabin as long as you have a letter from your actual primary care provider or mental health care provider.

      Your dog is not a tasked trained service dog, so leave it at home. Because people were told inaccurate information or didn’t do accurate research, I now have a harder time because those people are taking their ESAs out in public. Those same ESAs bark and lunge at my service dog who has already been bitten by an “ESA” and required re-training so $30k wouldn’t have to be down the drain.

      Leave your ESA at home or have it properly trained to be a service dog. You are not special with a “my dog isn’t hurting anything”. I’ve heard that same song and dance BS before. You are putting SD teams at risk no matter how you try to spin it otherwise.

    • jason

      You need a friend not a “emotional support” chihuahua. Give me a break with all this emotional support crap.

      • Cat

        Sounds like you might benefit from having one Jason. He actually does more than emotional support, but I don’t have to defend myself to you. Who are you to judge me, you don’t know what I’ve been through. I choose a pet companion over drugs or counseling. That’s my choice.

    • KS

      Brandy, you sure did. ESAs are not protected for public access under the ADA. ESAs are allowed in no-pet housing and on flights as long as you have a legitimate doctor’s letter from your primary care provider or mental health provider. Unless you’re going to have your dog task trained to mitigate disabilities leave it at home.

      Internet registration sites are scams that solely exist to take your hard earned money. I’ve had too many ESAs lunge and snap at my service dog because sites like these promote misinformation and encourage people to fake that their dogs are service dogs.

  3. Earle

    Grocery stores are for humans NOT dogs. Don’t take me wrong, I lost a most beloved part of our family in 2011. It still makes my heart ache to its core. That being said she NEVER belonged in the grocery store… she was the happiest on long walks in the forest… throwing the ball in the yard…. NOT at Ingles …Lowes or Home Depot. Be real…take the dog for a walk

  4. Jason

    This piece was too f$%#king long. It could have been pared down to less than 200 words. And in the end, nothing was said. Leave your dog at home.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.