- Eric Schwartzberg Staff Writer
Pet owners, legislators and restaurateurs might want outside dining to be something man’s best friend can enjoy, but health department officials have concerns.
Under a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester Twp., restaurant owners and not public health officials would decide whether to allow dogs on outdoor patios and porches.
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Coley said restaurant owners work for their businesses and customers, and ultimately the decision should rest with the owner, “not … the Ohio Department of Health or some bureaucrat in a city or municipality around the state.”
A similar bill is pending in the Ohio House that would block local public health officials from implementing or enforcing bans.
Linda Moorman, of co-owner Murphy’s Landing in downtown Middletown, said the decision to allow a dog on the patio of an establishment should be up to a business owner and not a health department.
“I don’t believe any business is going to do something that’s going to cause them to lose money,” she said. “The worse thing, I would think, would be a barking dog or a dog that keeps annoying another customer.”
While Murphy’s Landing has dining patios, Moorman said she isn’t entirely sold on the concept of allows dogs on them.
“I know people love their animals and I think there’s a time and place for everything, (but) it’s something I’d have to think about (and discuss with business partners),” she said.
Michael Olson, of Hamilton, questions if restaurants would have dog and non-dog areas just like there used to be when smoking was allowed.
“To many, this would be just as offensive as smoking,” he said. “I have two dogs myself, but I still would not patronize a restaurant that allowed dogs, even on the patio.”
The majority of area residents surveyed by this media outlet said they wanted owners to decide if they wanted their outdoor dining patios to be dog-friendly, and then customers could decide if they wanted to continue patronizing that business.
“If a restaurant owner wants to cater to dog owners that should be their choice,” said Dennis Huntington, of Hamilton. “If a patron doesn’t like that, don’t go there, choose another restaurant.”
Jennifer Bailer, the Butler County Health Department’s health commissioner, said the clause in Coley’s bill to make the decision strictly up to the restaurant owner and the public, and not public health officials, “makes it a little tricky for us, certainly.”
Jeff Agnew, environmental health director for Butler County Health Department, said such legislation could pave the way for a dog causing “a major problem” by running loose from the patio and into the dining room or the food preparation area.
“We have a food code today to address situations if someone vomited or had any other bodily discharges in the food service operations,” he said. “You have to have methods of written procedure on how to deal with that and have the proper cleaning procedures. Can you imagine if we had cats or dogs that would go into an operation like that and … do their business … or jump up on your table and steal your food from you?”
Bailer said her office researched other states that have allowed dogs on patios, including California which requires a separate outdoor entrance where pets enter and exit.
Feeding a dog on a California restaurant patio is only allowed via a single-use, disposable container.
“If this (Ohio) legislation passes and its desired to allow dogs, we as the health department would hope that there would be some limitations or guidelines on how that will be done … to protect the health of the human public,” she said.
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While some restaurants, breweries or other establishments have been known to allow dogs on their patios in the past, that doesn’t mean the health department has condoned it.
Exceptions include service animals and patrol dogs that accompany police or security officers. Pets also may enter the common dining areas of institutional care facilities, such as nursing homes.
While the Ohio Restaurant Association didn’t come up with the idea for the bill, it is supporting it, according to Joe Rosato, director of government affairs.
Restaurant owners should decide if they want dogs on their patios, Rosato said.
“We believe its up to the business owner if it makes sense to allow dogs on patios,” Rosato said. “You’ve got to make yourself different and standout so you can attract consumers of all kinds.”