At The Market: Support farmers by leaving dogs home

RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERS Left, Heather Ohman left Huckleberry, Maryjane, Zena and Nola at home. Middle, Rashelle Pitzer kept her dogs Bella, Peanut and Athena at home. Her mother, Suzie Kison, right, left her dog Blu at home. Right, Sharrone Blanck left her dog, Stark, at home. Janine Volkmar | Union

It was interesting walking around the farmers' market, looking for folks who would be willing to pose for a photograph with my homemade sign, “I support our farmers – I left my dog at home.”

I skipped the people with dogs for obvious reasons. Some people acted as if I wanted to talk to them about religion. Others had personal reasons not to be photographed.

Some were willing and had stories to tell. I respect the wish for privacy.

But R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the farmers is the issue at hand. The no-dogs-on-the-Plaza rule isn't some arbitrary prohibition put in place by dog haters. It's a state ruling from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, made to protect the food that the farmers work so hard to grow and bring to market. (Registered service dogs are exempt from this rule, but therapy dogs are not.)

Don't be this dog's owner. KLH | Union

After all, it’s a health issue for everyone. No one wants to buy some gorgeous tomatoes from a cardboard box saturated in dog pee.

I owned an 85 lb. male standard poodle for years. I know all about male dogs who just have to mark their (perceived) territory. But that was usually at the beach or out in the woods. I never took my dog pal to the market, for many reasons.

Heather Ohman, a woman with beautiful pink hair and the owner of four dogs, said it best. “It’s about understanding what the farmers need to be able to sell. Because that’s the truth of it.”  Ohman has four dogs: Huckleberry, Maryjane, Zena and Nola, none of whom had accompanied her to the market on a recent Saturday.

The organizers of the market do their very best to try to get dog owners to understand. Periodically Laura or Ivy or Colleen or Argie will leave the information booth where they help folks to sign up for CalFresh or sell market logo T-shirts and hats or just answer that universal question, “Which farmer has figs today?” to go out and try to reason with dog owners who have brought their dogs to market. There are signs posted on all the corners but lots of folks ignore them. The women are friendly and informative but it doesn't always work.

“People tell me, ‘I'll just risk getting a ticket;’” Ivy North explained.

But it’s not about the individual ticket for a dog owner. If the health department comes out to inspect, the market could stand to lose its accreditation and farmers would be hurt where it matters – in their pockets.

In addition, dog poop on the green lawns of the Plaza is a hazard for everyone, especially for the bevy of small children who like to play on the grass. One grandmother told me that her grandson fell into a pile and had to be taken home for a bath and a change of clothes.

And the market’s success, the crowded sidewalks, can present an additional hazard. For elders and those with limited vision, a dog on a leash can be the cause of that dreaded Spector of aging – the trip-and-fall resulting in a long convalescence to mend a broken bone. It’s all about “my dog” for some people. My dog is a good dog... My dog likes children... My dog never... My dog is in my purse...

One mom of three told me how frustrating it is when an owner calls out to her as her little ones hide behind her legs, “My dog loves children.” She answers the obvious, “my children are afraid of dogs,” even though it doesn’t always help.

So really the simple solution is the best: please, support our wonderful farmers by leaving your dog at home.

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