To some people the family dog is more than just a pet; it is a part of the family on par with mom, dad, and children. Families that hold their dog in such high regard don’t find it unusual to take the animals everywhere they go. But from the perspective of the typical American diner, should dogs be allowed in restaurants?
Before you laugh, realize this is a legitimate question. Though you and I don’t normally see a dozen or more pooches running around our favorite family restaurant, there still are instances when man’s best friend does tag along to enjoy a meal.
Is it legal for a dog to be in a restaurant?
Before talking about any other issues it’s important to discuss the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a federal statute protecting the rights of disabled Americans in a number of ways, including allowing them to have service dogs with them in public places.
According to the regulations, it is completely legal for a disabled individual to bring a service dog with him into a restaurant. Restaurant owners cannot refuse to serve a disabled patron if it is apparent the animal is indeed a service animal.
It’s also legal for service dogs in training to be taken into public places. In fact, doing so is necessary to acquaint the dog with the public environment so he can learn to focus and do his job even when there are other people milling around, vying for his attention.
Some states have made provisions for those with disabilities to identify their animals through specially marked harnesses or coats. When a service dog is wearing one of these harnesses or coats it makes it much easier for restaurant owners and managers to identify legal service animals.
Is it legal for the rest of us?
With the service animal question out of the way, we move on to whether or not it is legal for the rest of us to take a dog to a restaurant. Unfortunately, there is no uniform answer. The FDA prohibits bringing animals into any establishment where food is served. However, FDA rules are considered voluntary guidance rather than concrete, enforceable regulations.
As such, some state and local health departments choose to adopt the FDA guidelines, while others choose not to. And since enforcement is left up to local health inspectors, they ultimately are the ones with the final decision.
Take the county of Los Angeles as an example. In February 2012, the county tweaked its regulations to allow dog owners to bring their pets as long as they were dining on outdoor patios rather than inside the restaurant. Having a dog on the patio still represents the same concerns as having one inside, but the county was willing to accommodate dog owners nonetheless.
According to Animal Planet, Los Angeles County is not alone. Pet-friendly restaurants are becoming increasingly more popular around the country. Virtually all of them have enclosed patio areas where pet owners can dine in relative peace and safety with their beloved animals.
Is it healthy to allow dogs in restaurants?
The primary concern about having a dog in a restaurant is one of public health. Let’s face it: People who are really uncomfortable around animals are quite likely to assume having a dog in a restaurant makes the entire place unhealthy. Heaven forbid that Fido should have an accident on the floor; that could send some people into a tailspin.
In reality, a dog that has been de-wormed and is up-to-date on all his vaccinations poses no real health risk in a restaurant or other place. If it were true that dogs created an unhealthy environment at a restaurant, they would also be making their owners sick every time they walked into the kitchen. It’s unfortunate that public perception sees things otherwise.
The only exception to this rule might be a dog unable to control his natural urges while in the dining room. Obviously urinating or defecating on the floor presents problems. Restaurant employees who might forget about hand washing regulations may also cause problems after petting a dog. Other than these two circumstances, however, dogs in restaurants are of no real health concern.
Is it considered gauche to have a dog in a restaurant?
This question may be at the real heart of the issue of dogs in restaurants. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “gauche” as something that is crude, tactless, or lacking in social grace. In modern vernacular we would say it’s “uncool.”
Since dining out is such an intimate experience between family members and friends, there seems to be a generally accepted rule that bringing a dog (other than a service animal) into that environment would be uncool. After all, who wants to look at your bull mastiff practicing personal hygiene while they’re trying to enjoy their plate of mahi-mahi and fresh vegetables?
All legalities aside, the question really comes down to whether or not you’re a dog lover. Those who treat their dogs like members of the family are probably in favor of allowing them in restaurants. Those who don’t care for animals are more likely to be against it. Perhaps the best solution is to provide outdoor areas for dog lovers while leaving the inside for everyone else.