This week, readers were curious about two taxing tasks: grocery shopping and, well, taxes.

Q: I am concerned about the growing number of pets that I see riding in carts at local grocery stores. On several occasions, I have encountered shoppers who have their pets (not service dogs) with them in the grocery store. The animals are riding in the carts where other shoppers will later be putting food items for purchase.

What is the response by local grocery store management to keep pets out of the store? As a customer, do I have a responsibility to report pets in the grocery store?

The short answer here is yes – regular pets don’t have the same protections as service animals.

But many Americans feel that their pets are members of the family and some businesses have taken a pet-friendly approach. Places like Home Depot, Macy’s and even Pottery Barn welcome canine shoppers, but grocery stores tend to have tighter policies.

Service dogs, on the other paw, work under a higher policy.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The ADA, as well as Kansas law, requires that service animals be allowed in the same places as people, even places where food is prepared and served.

“At Dillons, we welcome service animals. That has been approved by Federal ADA guidelines. The only dogs that are allowed in our stores are trained service dogs,” said Sheila Lowrie, corporate affairs manager for Dillons. “While they’re inside the store, they must be under control of the handler and they are not permitted in carts where customers would put food.”

Walmart takes the same approach in their policy: “it is our policy to welcome into our stores any animal that is individually trained to assist a person with a disability.”

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, staff may ask two questions: is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability or ask that the dog demonstrate its trained task.

Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed or leashed, unless a leash will interfere with the service animal’s work. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other controls.

Under the ADA and Kansas law, showing certification is not required, but Kansas law states that the person with a disability may produce identification that verifies the dog’s status as a service dog. This ID card or letter must contain the legal name of the dog’s user, contact information, and a picture of the user and dog.

As a customer, if you see a pet that isn’t marked as a service dog or is riding in a cart, you can tell a store manager and they can help address that.

Q: I have a senior citizen friend who just moved here. Is there somewhere she can get her taxes done where it doesn't cost an arm and a leg?

Absolutely. Starting Tuesday, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program will provide free tax preparation for households with an income of $54,000 or less at The Salvation Army, 700 N. Walnut St.

VITA provides trained volunteers who prepare and e-file basic tax returns for people with low and moderate income.

The site will be open for walk-ins from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 29 through April 11, as well as from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on two Saturdays, Feb. 16 and March 2.

You should bring:


Photo ID, proof of identification for yourself and/or your spouse
Social Security cards or Individual Taxpayer Identification notices/cards for you, your spouse, and/or dependents
Birth dates for you, spouse and or dependents on the return
All Forms W-2 and 1099
Information for all deductions/credits
Proof of account for direct deposit of refund
Interest and dividend statements

Also bring, if applicable:


A copy of your 2017 return (if possible)
2018 Real Estate Property Tax Statements (if applicable)
Persons claiming childcare expenses should bring the name of provider, address, phone and tax ID number and amount paid
Persons planning to use direct deposit of refunds should bring bank or credit union routing and account numbers
Forms 1095-A, B or C (Affordable Health Care Statements)

If you feel comfortable doing your own taxes at home, there’s a free online option as well.

“They can also use MyFreeTaxes, which is a site they can go to and do their taxes themselves for free if the combined household income is $66,000 or less,” said Jenna Martin, assistant director of The Volunteer Center/RSVP at Hutchinson Community College.

The site, available at http://myfreetaxes.com or by calling 1-855-My-Tx-Help (1-855-698-9435), is made possible through The United Way.