Should dogs be allowed at farmers markets?

Following pet tragedy, organizers consider balance between safety and success
Courtesy of Marietta Square Farmers Market

Last fall, a week before Thanksgiving, shoppers at an Atlanta farmers market watched in horror as one leashed dog attacked another. Onlookers tried desperately to break up the fight, but before they could, one dog was killed.

The farmers market was East Atlanta, but it could have happened in any public space. In fact, given how dog-friendly our city is, it’s surprising that it doesn’t happen more often. When it unfolded at market, everyone involved was devastated. “In addition to this being a really tragic event, it was really traumatic to the farmers market,” says Katie Hayes, executive director of the nonprofit Community Farmers Markets, which oversees the operation of East Atlanta Village Farmers Market.

The CFM governing board issued an immediate, temporary ban on dogs at all of its markets—which also includes Decatur, Grant Park, Westside Provisions District, and the upcoming Ponce City and MARTA farmers markets—until it could figure out what, if anything, to do.

Anyone who has ever been to a public gathering involving canines—dog parks, some outdoor festivals and concerts, and farmers markets included—knows that their presence can be a mixed bag. On one hand, dogs enhance the friendly, open tone of community events. Owners enjoy having their furry friends with them, and most everyone likes to see a well-behaved pup in a bandana. On the other hand, not every dog is well behaved. Some get their noses where they don’t belong, like into food being sold to hapless consumers. Some growl or nip. And some just scare some people, regardless of their behavior.

On more than one occasion, I’ve seen dogs at farmers markets get their noses or tongues onto food on display for sale. Whether on purpose or by accident, both the owners and vendors failed to notice the transgressions. And that is part of the added concern at farmers markets: While dogs go about the business of being dogs, their owners are juggling bags and wallets in addition to leashes, and everyone is a little more distracted than usual by the business at hand. One can see how accidents, sometimes tragic, could happen.

It’s not likely that Community Farmers Markets will ban dogs permanently. At a Jan. 31 meeting of a dozen or so vendors, CFM organizers and market managers, many expressed concern that dog owners would simply not return if they were told that their four-legged friends were no longer welcome.

Organizers are considering a variety of actions, to be implemented this spring, intended to make markets safer for both dogs and humans: rules regarding the appropriate supervision of dogs; respect for each dog’s and human’s personal space; and the removal of dogs who appear to pose a threat. Specifics, including how to communicate and enforce any new rules, have yet to be determined.