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Eating in a restaurant with a dog

This used to be part of Dog Jaunt’s “About” page, when I planned to provide you with a list of restaurants where we have eaten with Chloe concealed in her messenger bag (or out of her bag, with a wink from the management). It wasn’t bravado or counting coup — I just think that the nearly-universal ban on dogs in U.S. restaurants is lame, and I wanted to demonstrate that a quiet, clean, contained dog can accompany her owners to restaurants and be unobtrusive.

On second thought, I’ve decided to post only about restaurants that are comfortable with being described as dog-friendly. Why ruin a good thing for other dog owners by drawing a health inspector’s attention to restaurants that turn a blind eye to a well-behaved dog? And why get a restaurant in trouble that had no idea Chloe was with us?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that dogs be prohibited from retail establishments where food is served (the code refers to other animals as well, but I’m focusing on dogs). It is up to the states to implement laws regarding dogs in restaurants, and the states have followed the FDA’s recommendation, with some variations (e.g., some states are open to variances or local ordinances that permit dogs in outdoor eating areas). Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are permitted both indoors and in outdoor eating areas, and since there is currently no ID required to prove that your dog is a service dog, some people take inappropriate advantage of that exception. Here is an in-depth article about how the federal code, state laws and federal law interact.

The concerns underlying FDA code provision 6-501.115, and informing the comments that people post in places where the topic is discussed, include health hazards (restaurant staff patting the dogs and neglecting to wash their hands afterwards, and people allergic to dogs being exposed to dander), safety hazards (dogs tripping patrons or impeding progress through the restaurant), and annoyances (dogs urinating or defecating on the floor, or annoying other patrons by begging or otherwise seeking attention).

Here’s what I think. I think dogs should be allowed indoors in U.S. restaurants as long as they cannot be seen or heard or smelled, if there is no opportunity for them to pee or poop, and if they cannot shed on or lick another patron. Outdoors, on a patio or a sidewalk, I believe they should sit or lie quietly next to their owner, completely out of the path of the wait staff and patrons.

I cannot recall having ever been annoyed by a fellow patron’s dog in Europe, where well-behaved dogs often accompany their owners to restaurants. They have met all of my requirements for dogs in U.S. restaurants, except that they are visible.

By contrast, I have been repeatedly annoyed by the behavior and sound of babies and toddlers, who are welcomed in U.S. restaurants. Does anyone believe that a table that’s been drooled on by a baby is clean once a busboy swipes a quick towel over it? Haven’t we all been approached by a sticky toddler demanding conversation and amusement? Or heard a child in the midst of a meltdown? Why have babies and toddlers not been banned from U.S. retail establishments where food is served? [7/1/09: I’ve just been criticized as a kid-hater for this paragraph. I’ve deliberately described the worst of children in restaurants, because opponents of dogs in restaurants describe the worst imaginable canine behavior to make their point. I believe that clean and well-behaved children are a perfect delight in a restaurant, and I would love to see them joined by clean and well-behaved dogs.]

So here’s what I do. I will bring Chloe into a restaurant but only in her messenger bag. In it, she is silent, and generally falls asleep. I put her, in her bag, on the ground under my feet, not on a chair or bench. I do not pat her or otherwise interact with her, except that, from time to time, I may drop one of her usual treats in through the top hatch. (I do not give her food from my plate; I drop the treats in to amuse her and remind her of why she loves her messenger bag.) She has only been noticed twice: the first restaurant invited her out of her bag to enjoy the outdoor patio, and the second restaurant asked us to leave.

If you are asked to leave, go and with good grace. If you are asked whether there is an animal in your bag, tell the truth. Sometimes the person asking is a dog lover and is willing to bend the rules; sometimes you’ll be shown the door. Resisting or arguing would be inappropriate — you are, after all, breaking the law. It would also be inappropriate to fib about your dog being a service dog. Apologize for the mistake you made (my approach is big-eyed wonder that a dog in a bag isn’t okay), pay for what you have ordered, and depart gracefully.

Why bring Chloe to a restaurant at all, given that I’ve ensured that I can’t see, hear or smell her? For convenience. If I am out of the house all day, or on the road, it is convenient for me to eat at a restaurant. I will not leave my dog in the car, for health reasons (even in Seattle, cold or hot weather can threaten a dog’s life) and for security reasons (purebred dogs are a crime target, and the slightly-open window that provides her with ventilation also invites car theft).

I would not bring Chloe to a fancy restaurant because it’s unnecessary. A serious dinner is a special event, like going to the theater — it deserves a nice outfit, so I’ll need to return home anyway.

6 comments

  • Ashley

    I love you comment about kids in restaurants! That has been my exact argument with not being able to take my dog with me places!! Not at all that I think kids should be banned, I just think dogs should be not banned. ESPECIALLY small quiet well behaved dogs. 🙂

  • Kathleen

    U r dead on about the kid thing. My yorkie is so well behaved. I have had numerous restaurant staff, airline etc. tell me they wished more people flew with their pets and left kids at home 🙂

  • Alyson

    I agree with this 100%. I live in Berlin, Germany and am the proud owner of a 4.5 pound Biewer Terrier (like a Yorkie, but different coloring). He comes with me pretty much everywhere. The only places I can’t take him are the grocery stores, bakeries, the movies and IKEA. He sits in his bag on the floor, is quiet and I make sure he is walked before we enter the restaurant. He also accompanies me 3-4 times a year on planes. Twice a year we travel to the US and back to Germany, and 1-2 times a year we travel within Europe. Most of the time, no one notices he is there on the flight. When I stand up to get my bags after landing, the people sitting around me are shocked that there is a dog on the flight. My motto is: if people who are out of his direct line of sight notice him, I am not doing my job right! If they are sitting next to me on a plane, they are bound to notice him. It still baffles me when I travel in the US that he is not allowed to go many places. In Germany, I take him shopping with me and everyone dotes on him. I get 99.9% positive attention and the .1% negative is mostly from American tourists. He is quieter, cleaner and less disturbing than most children.

  • It sounds like you should be writing this blog, Alyson! Thank you for your comment — and if you’re ever inspired to say a few words about favorite places you and he go in Berlin, please send me an e-mail (m-a@dogjaunt.com). I’d love for people to know (heck, I’D love to know) about dog-friendly Berlin.

  • The Jet Set Pets

    This has to be one of the best arguments I’ve seen yet on why well-behaved, quiet, clean dogs should be allowed in restaurants. For 12 years, my Lucy has accompanied me everywhere, usually discreetly. I’m like you and only take her to restaurants when I’m on the go and it’s inconvenient to take her back home or to a hotel. We’ve lived in Italy and on both coasts in the U.S., plus traveled extensively throughout Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean. Most people don’t care that a small dog in a sling pouch or on-the-go-bag is in their business. While in D.C. recently, I struck up a conversation with a fellow pet parent who told me about an incident. He was at a hotel with his dog and a woman loudly commented, “I can’t believe they allow dogs here.” Before he could stop himself, he said, “Well, they allow pigs!” Touche’!

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