The D.C. City Council unanimously passed the Dining with Dogs Emergency Act, allowing dog owners to bring their pets onto restaurants' outdoor patios and enclosed sidewalk cafes.
While different states have different laws and regulations surrounding sanitation in restaurants and eateries, most states agree that it is a bad idea to let dogs into areas where food is prepared and served. Obviously, there are exceptions for bona fide service animals, but the general consensus is that restaurants are less hygienic when dogs are present.
Up until recently, Washington, D.C., had a statute on the books that outlawed non-service animals on restaurant property anywhere food is served. That included inside establishments and outside on restaurants' patios or decks. A lot of restaurants and bars tried to get around this by creating designated dog areas, where dogs could congregate away from food preparation and serving. Others simply ignored the statute and let well-behaved dogs onto their patios anyway.
However, last month, the District of Columbia Department of Health began cracking down on these restaurants. Health officials posted public notices warning restaurant and bar owners against letting dogs in and threatened a $500 fine for any restaurant that continued the practice.
The back lash was swift. Vincent Gray is a councilmember for Ward 7 and also happens to Chair the City's Health Committee. He told reporters that in just two days, he had received more than 100 emails from D.C. residents complaining about the doggie crackdown.
If you always thought that government could never get anything done, think again. Gray and other councilmembers immediately went to work drafting a bill to amend the City's health codes. What did they call it? The Dining with Dogs Emergency Act of 2017. Yep, a bill to let dogs onto restaurant property was introduced as a piece of emergency legislation. If you also doubted that politicians could ever agree on anything, the bill passed through the D.C. City Council unanimously.
So, what does the new Dining with Dogs Emergency Act do? Restaurants, bars, and other eateries will now get to decide whether dogs and pets are welcome on their outside patios and enclosed sidewalk cafes. Establishments will also be able to set their own guidelines and restrictions based on dogs' breed, size, or temperament.
In order for a restaurant or bar to qualify, they will need to have a separate entrance to their patio that does not force dogs to go through the establishment's interior. Basically, at no point can dogs move into or through the inside of a restaurant. There also needs to be a readily available way for patrons to pick up after their dog if he or she has an accident on the patio. All dogs will need to remain leashed and can never be left alone unattended at a table. On top of that, restaurant employees are expressly prohibited from touching any of the animals.
Some hygiene-conscious residents aren't too thrilled about the change. "It was against the law to bring dogs into restaurants for a reason: it is unsanitary," one resident told us while eating on a sidewalk cafe, "and it will still be unsanitary."
Others who have pets were expectedly excited about the change, eager to take advantage of the opportunity to eat outside with their dogs. "I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to sit down for a beer or a sandwich while walking or running with my dog," one jogger explained. "Now, I'll at least have the option if I want to."
D.C. restaurants are equally mixed. While some are excited to bring in new business by allowing dogs on their patios, others fear that letting too many pets in could cause a lot of problems. This is likely why the D.C. City Council gave individual restaurants so much power over setting their own rules.
Others are criticizing how the D.C. City Council chose to enact these changes. Because the Dining with Dogs Emergency Act was introduced as an emergency
bill, it is only allowed to last for 90 days because it is supposed to only be used for real emergencies. That means that in three months, the City Council will have to pass another bill if they want the policy to continue.
On the one hand, that gives health officials and restaurant owners a chance to see how this works out before implementing a permanent solution for dogs on restaurant patios. The problem is that the temperature will drop significantly over the next three months as we get into winter, making it less likely that people will even be able to take advantage of restaurants' outdoor seating options.
What the City Council does in 90 days is anyone's guess, but for now, you'll be able to bring your dogs into many D.C. restaurants' outdoor eating areas.
What do you think? Is it a good idea to let dogs onto restaurant patios or is it just asking for trouble? Let us know in the comment section below!