Time To Celebrate! Dog Friendly Dining Is Finally Getting Legit!

Just last month, New York passed a bill that would allow dog lovers to dine with their canine companions in establishments that offer outdoor seating for its patrons. Dubbed the “dining with dogs” bill, the house- and senate-approved legislation is currently on its way to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a signature.

While dog lovers championed the bill, which would require leashes and allow individual establishments to deny dogs entry if they so choose, it had a surprising amount of opposition to overcome. As usual, those who find dogs distasteful came up with plenty of reasons why dining with dogs is more disgusting than it is delightful. 

Though bite wounds, barking and other obnoxious behavior are sometimes referenced as rationale for excluding canine patrons from outdoor places, public health concerns (citing the possible dissemination of diseases) is the issue that seems to gain most traction among detractors of dog laws like this one. 

Truly, however, customers of restaurants where canine dining is allowed have precious little to fear from their co-patrons when it comes to infectious diseases. After all, as long as the wait staff keeps their hands away from the animals (as they are required to do), there’s no reason for anyone to assume that animals offer an increased chance of infectious disease transmission. 

What about pet poop and such, you ask? 

Well, if you absolutely must go there … the reality is that poop happens. However, the uncomfortable truth is that human feces pose a far greater risk in eateries. Babies, children and adults derelict in their hygienic duties are far more likely to transmit pathogens via the fecal-oral route than any dog harmlessly lounging about on the floor. After all, humans are the ones touching tabletops, doorknobs, faucet handles and other items you’re likely to interact with. 

Though indisputable vectors of potentially infectious fecal material, dogs don’t tend to defecate indiscriminately. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a dog mistake the floor of an outdoor restaurant for a grassy knoll. Nor are dogs more likely than any human to transmit any kind of infectious disease in a restaurant setting. 

Indeed, while much is made of diseases dogs can transmit to people (and as a veterinarian I’d never recommend you overlook these), humans are the real risk. That’s because our pathogens are the ones most desiring of another human vessel. Hence, why the sneezing baby, the coughing child, the old dude blowing his nose with wild abandon … they’re the ones you have to watch out for. 

Though it’s a scientifically incontrovertible fact that people pose a more significant infectious disease risk to restaurant-goers than dogs do, you won’t hear about it much. After all, it’s easier to legislate the absence of a dog than it is a thorough washing of hands. Which is something the restaurant industry doesn’t want you to ponder too deeply. 

No, plenty of restaurants would prefer to avoid this messy issue altogether. The presence of dogs understandably throws a wrench into any establishment’s operations. Water containers must be offered, coos will be uttered, tripping may take place, barking is common, and bites are always a risk. And given that common sense isn’t common, bad things will eventually happen, even in the best of circumstances, to the best of restaurants.

With that in mind, why would any restaurateur ever hope to catch sight of a dog in his or her place of business? Well … because there are plenty of us who might never get out for brunch, lunch or dinner at a local bistro without the extra inducement of some quality time with our dogs. Moreover, restaurant owners know that to cater to dedicated dog owners is to court a more affluent clientele with a higher-than-average disposable income. 

In other words, dogs may be messy but they are good for business. Any self-respecting, hard-working restaurant owner with any ambition or soul should be able to see that dogs can be the pulse of a great neighborhood place. 

Even if a restaurant owner can’t see the utility of dogs or doesn’t think canine companionship meshes with the vibe of their restaurant, there’s no good reason to oppose bills like New York’s. After all, restaurants can easily opt out if they choose not to be “dog     friendly.” 

Here in Florida, where I live, we’ve had a similar statute in effect for years. So have California and Maryland. As yet, I’ve heard no griping or grousing, haven’t seen a dog fight or spied a particularly disgruntled customer. In fact, these laws have simply codified a behavior most outdoor restaurants have already embraced.

All of which explains why, despite objections advanced by a dwindling minority, the persistence of pet people has won out yet again. With so passionate a voice ... is it any wonder?