Anyone who has dined outdoors in Santa Barbara knows it is quite common to see a dog sitting underneath its owner’s feet. In fact, dogs seem to be everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever walked down State Street and entered an establishment without seeing a dog walking through the store. When I first moved here, I was told by locals that dogs were permitted to go anywhere, unless there was a sign stating otherwise. I even remember trying on a dress at Banana Republic when a big Labrador Retriever poked its head underneath my dressing room door. How’s that for privacy?
I know a lot of dog owners who take their dogs everywhere. Whether it’s the handbag pooches or Great Danes, it’s rare that you won’t see a dog on an outing in Santa Barbara. I’m a dog lover, but even I don’t think dogs should be allowed everywhere, especially in restaurants. Sometimes it’s hard enough to enjoy a meal amidst street noise, but I certainly don’t want to see a dog cleaning its hard-to-reach places while I’m paying for an outdoor dining experience. I know not everyone feels this way, as even my husband has said he would rather be next to a dog in a restaurant than at a table near a disorderly child.
A few years ago, Florida was the first state to enact a law explicitly allowing dogs in outdoor areas of restaurants. Sheri McInvale, the former state representative who introduced the legislation, said the biggest opposition to the bill had to do with concerns over dog bites and fights, not health issues. The law doesn’t specifically allow dogs into restaurants; rather, it gives local governments the freedom to make such laws. The final bill signed into law contained a provision that restaurants had to carry a minimum level of liability insurance in order to participate in the program. It also requires each restaurant to obtain a permit.
Given all the dining with dogs, it might come as quite a shock to most people that the Santa Barbara Public Heath Department recently issued a press release addressing this issue. The department reiterated that the California Health and Safety Code states: “Live animals may not be allowed in a food facility, which includes dining areas where food is served.” These rules are the same for all of Santa Barbara County-whether you’re dining inside or outside. Of course there are exceptions for service animals.
The health concerns of the department are that dogs may carry diseases that are transmittable to humans. The department feels that dogs could be a potential source of illness when their hair, fur, saliva, or fecal material accidentally contacts nearby surfaces and/or food. They also believe that there are safety risks when an animal’s behavior can’t be controlled. They list problem behaviors such as: scratching, urinating, defecating, barking, growling, biting, jumping, and displays of territorial aggression.
Even though I’m not totally sold on allowing dogs in restaurants, it seems to me that there could be a “dog only” section in outdoor areas of restaurants for well-behaved pooches only. Just as there are off-leash beaches, restaurants could potentially institute a dog-friendly area of a restaurant; and people who do not want to dine near a dog would be seated away from the animals.
Regardless of whether you are for or against the Public Health Department’s statement, restaurants will have to follow this health and safety code. Given the love that Santa Barbarans have for their dogs, I sure don’t envy restaurants having to enforce this rule.