Not Everyone Is Happy About Dogs in Outdoor Dining Spaces
By Newser Editors
Just in time for the summer dining season, the US government has given its blessing to restaurants that want to allow pet dogs in their outdoor spaces. But even though nearly half of states already allow canine dining outdoors, the AP reports the issue is far from settled, with many diners and restaurants pushing back against the increasing presence of pooches. Restaurants have been required to allow service dogs for decades. But it wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that a handful of states—including Florida and Illinois—began passing laws allowing dogs in outdoor dining spaces, according to the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University. Twenty-three states now have such laws or regulations. But the legal landscape is confusing.
Michigan law doesn’t allow dogs in outdoor dining spaces, for example, but lets restaurants apply for a variance from their county health department. So in 2020, the Conference for Food Protection—a group of food industry and health experts that advises the government—asked the US Food and Drug Administration to issue guidance for states. It cited a 2012 risk assessment in Australia and New Zealand that found that the health risk to human diners from dogs was very low. The FDA’s updated food code, issued late last year, says restaurants can have dogs in outdoor areas if they get approval from a local regulator. Restaurants should have signs saying dogs are welcome and should develop plans to handle dogs and their waste. They should ensure dogs remain properly restrained and provide separate food bowls so dogs don’t use plates or utensils meant for humans.
Julie Denzin, who has worked as a restaurant server in Milwaukee for more than a decade, has watched dogs drool, fight, growl, and relieve themselves on restaurant patios. Dogs have bitten her and knocked her over, causing her to spill scalding hot coffee. She has also encountered diners who are allergic to dogs or afraid of them. Denzin doesn’t think dogs should be banned, but says restaurants should consider designating dog-friendly areas or specific hours when dogs are allowed. “It’s not a matter of liking or disliking dogs,” she says. “The point is, regardless of what the owner might say—no matter how perfect and obedient they insist their dog is—there’s no way to ensure the safety and comfort of other guests.”
Maddie Speirs, a dog trainer with Pawsitive Futures Dog Training in St. Petersburg, Florida, said many people hire her with the goal of training their dogs to eat out at restaurants. Not every dog is cut out for that, she said; they need to be comfortable with noise and unsolicited interactions and able to be able to sit near food for long periods. She urges owners to think about who benefits from restaurant visits: them or their dogs. “If you think it’s for your dog, what exactly are they getting out of it?” she says. “It’s not as fun of a social interaction for dogs as it is for us.”