By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Beginning Oct. 29, dog lovers can have a pint with a pooch, a cake with a canine or a dinner with a Dalmatian on the patios of participating Ohio restaurants and bars.
House Bill 263, signed by Gov. John Kasich on July 30, gives restaurant owners the option to welcome dogs to their outdoor dining areas.
Participating restaurants must provide access to the patio through a separate door that does not lead the dog through the interior of the eatery, and must require dog owners to control their canines with a leash or another method.
All dining dogs must be properly vaccinated.
The rights of service dogs to be present in both indoor and outdoor dining areas remains unchanged.
Lindsay Summit, director of environmental health with Hancock Public Health, says the state health department and director of agriculture will establish new health code regulations regarding safe food handling and sanitation where dogs are present.
While many restaurant owners feel welcoming furry customers will be a boon to their business, Summit notes the new regulations will “add another layer for these operators to comply with.”
It seems many Findlay establishments will indeed be welcoming to dogs, as three out of four restaurant owners contacted by The Courier said they already make a regular practice of allowing four-legged customers on their patios.
Summit insists that until Oct. 29, that pro-pup policy remains a no-no.
“We would write it up as a violation” if we saw that happening, she says, adding that she’s shocked the department hasn’t received complaints about the practice.
Since health inspections typically take place from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., she wonders: “Is it a case that the lunch crowd dines without their dogs, and the dinner crowd brings them along?”
One business that has resisted the urge to allow furry friends onto the premises is Findlay Brewing Co., though it’s not for lack of customer requests.
Steve Treece, one of the bar’s owners, says customers regularly ask if they can bring their dogs onto the property’s 800-square-foot patio. He says once the new law takes effect, Findlay Brewing Co. will absolutely be “pro dogs on the patio.”
While he’s not anticipating any pooch problems, Treece says any four-legged troublemakers will be asked to leave, just like human patrons.
Local health department inspectors have been speaking with restaurant owners about the new law as they conduct their normal visits, but not all establishments will be visited before the change. Summit says a mailing detailing the rules will be sent to bars and restaurants in early November.
Tyler Fields, a veterinarian with Blanchard Valley Veterinary Clinic, recognizes the potential positive and negative effects of the new law.
While allowing canines in restaurants may attract a new client base to a particular establishment, he reminds those dining with their dogs that “a lot of weight falls on the owner’s shoulders.”
“I see the potential for some pretty messy situations,” he says.
In a restaurant setting, public health concerns become amplified. Most animal parasites are transmitted through a fecal/oral route, meaning washing your hands between petting a dog and handling food or beverages is imperative, Fields says.
Cleaning up after your pet properly and immediately is also of the utmost importance.
Animal behavior, too, is a concern.
Fields reminds pet owners that they are the best advocate for their animal, meaning they should be vigilant in reading their dog’s mood at a restaurant or any other public place — especially when other dogs are present.
And a restaurant setting will be filled with more and different stimuli than a dog may be used to.
Aggressive behavior is easier to spot, but Fields advises dog owners to watch for fearful behaviors like cowering, hiding or retreating. An intimidated dog could lash out at a human or another dog, or could be injured by a more aggressive dog.
Fields questions who would be held responsible in the case of a dog fight or dog bite situation, whether it would be the dog owner or the restaurant.
Fields also reminds pet owners not to feed their dogs table scraps, as that can cause gastrointestinal upset.
Toni Lee of Findlay, who was walking two small dogs at Riverside Park this week, also expressed mixed feelings about the new law.
As a dog lover, she likes the comradery that naturally occurs when dogs and humans mingle with others. But she is concerned about the people who are allergic to or afraid of dogs — or who just don’t like them — being seated next to a canine at dinner.
She likens the scenario to a nonsmoker being seated next to a smoker.
Erin Roberts of Fostoria, a university student who regularly takes her pup to the dog park at Riverbend Recreation Area, says she is excited to see Findlay becoming a more dog-friendly city. She takes her 8-month-old dog to pet stores and other welcoming places as often as possible, to help get him used to being around people.
“It’s hard sometimes because there’s not a lot of places in Findlay you can take them to socialize them, besides the dog park,” Roberts says.