If you’ve been under a DC social media rock since last week, you may have missed the consternation about the outrageous conduct of the government. No, it’s not [insert whatever about the administration], it’s the banning of dogs from two popular Columbia Heights / Park View bar patios by the DC Department of Health. As reported by PoPville and Jessica Sidman, DC Department of Health inspectors have recently paid visits to Wonderland Ballroom and The Midlands, responding to consumer complaints to use their legal authority to tell these bars to stop allowing dogs on their patios.
Yes, even though it’s been reported (and barely mentioned) by the Washington Post and the Washington City Paper the past two years, and a Dupont bakery suffered a patio closure because of their dogs, no one seems to have realized that dogs (or any non-service animals for that matter) are not allowed on bar/restaurant patios if food is served. The DC Department of Health has repeatedly stated that they enforce the provision when it’s observed, based on the operative legal provision (Section 3214 of the DC Food Code), which states:
live animals shall not be allowed on the premises of a food establishment
(with exceptions for police dogs, service animals, and (hilariously) seafood on ice or in aquariums). Definitions in the Food Code (Section 9901) make clear that this applies to any restaurant/bar that serves food (unless only something like bags of chips) and includes any physical structures, land, and/or property under the spot’s control.
What may be even more surprising is that DC just didn’t make this up out of thin air; instead DC is simply following the FDA’s guidance on this. In fact, the text of the rule is basically verbatim with the FDA’s model Food Code, which was last updated in 2013 (See Section 6-501.115 on pp 187-88). According to the FDA, its “Food Code is a model [that] represents FDA’s best advice for a uniform system of provisions that address the safety and protection of food offered at retail and in food service.”
So, why does FDA believe that animals shouldn’t be allowed where food is served? This is why, in their own words (see p. 536):
Animals carry disease-causing organisms and can transmit pathogens to humans through direct and/or indirect contamination of food and food-contact surfaces. ….
Animals shed hair continuously and may deposit liquid or fecal waste, creating the need for vigilance and more frequent and rigorous cleaning efforts.
However, thanks to the outcry (as of Tuesday night, the three PoPville stories about this issue had generated nearly 500 comments), Brianne Nadaeu’s office, the Councilwoman for the Ward in charge of the two busted spots, has already put out a statement expressing intention to change the law/regulation to allow dogs on patios. Owing to the overwhelming support for something like this (See-2/3 of respondents in Twitter poll favored removing legal restrictions to dogs-mostly unfettered; only 16% favored status quo ban) despite the FDA’s guidance on this, expect the rules to change to allow variances at the least.
Experiences elsewhere may provide some hint on what’s going to follow. Arlington banned dogs on patios until 2013 when the health department there changed their policy and allowed spots to apply for variances (which requires submission of a plan) and a protest attended by 150 people changed the policy similarly to allow a variance in Alexandria in 2004 (which is a must there). Nationwide, dogs on patios were legalized in California in 2015 (but local ordinances can still ban it) and in Chicago in 2008; Michigan and Ohio are considering it. New York City, which legalized dogs on patios in March 2016 (after opposing the NY State law that allowed it), requires dog permitting patios to alert customers that dogs must licensed and vacinnated, and create barriers between sidewalk and patio (for passing dogs).
Still, even when DC change its rules, don’t expect every Tom, Dick, and Harry beer garden/patio to allow dogs on their patios. At least one bar has banned them in the past after first allowing them, and one bar owner has told me that they are wary of poor behavior (both by dogs and owners) and complaints about allergies. That being said, this will be a welcome legalization for the many DC bar patios who have been (flagrantly or unintentionally) violating these rules for years with yappy hours and such as well as the many dog owners who enjoy a drink with their pups.