Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 2:49 am | Fair 63º



County Unleashes New Regulations Allowing Dogs on Outdoor Restaurant Patios

Business owners who abide by certain conditions can welcome pets at their discretion

Local restaurants now may allow dogs in outdoor patio areas at the owner’s discretion, according to a new policy of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s Environmental Health Services.

California Health and Safety Code once prohibited live animals in food facilities, except recognized service animals. But if restaurant owners choose to abide by certain conditions, they can allow pets at their businesses.

The EHS did find that there can be increased health risks with dogs in outdoor dining areas, but it said there are types of patios that would present minimal or no risk to the public.

“The bottom line is allergies being the biggest issues with dogs in a food facility and people being allergic to dander,” EHS director Jennifer Bernstein said.

The county is performing a survey with the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health to assess possible cross-contamination issues.

Bernstein said the county had to balance business advocates who said they were turning away business from pet owners and complaints from residents who don’t want to eat with dogs nearby.

“Business owners said it was restricting business opportunities because they had to turn so many people away,” she said. “On the other hand, we were getting calls from people who do not want dogs on patios for health concerns.”

Randy Rowse, a Santa Barbara city councilman, has owned and operated the Paradise Café at 702 Anacapa St. for more than 30 years.

“My understanding is there are neighboring counties that (allow dogs), and what health people couldn’t determine was if there was a real health danger caused specifically by canines other than dander and people being allergic,” Rowse said.

The stipulations include:

» All surfaces on the patio will be cleaned and sanitized. Table tops will be sanitized between each seating of patrons.

» Dogs will not have contact with dishes, utensils, tableware, linens or paper products used by patrons.

» Food and water served to dogs will be in single-use, disposable containers.

» Food spilled on the patio will be immediately cleaned up.

» Restaurant employees will not touch or pet dogs while working. If they do, they will wash their hands.

» Food facilities not meeting the conditions for safe patio food service with animals on the premises will be cited for violations of the Health and Safety Code.

“We didn’t make any specific requirements about what to do with your patio, only that it must have an outside entrance,” Bernstein said. “I would put up a sign that says it’s a dog-friendly facility, to let the people know who won’t be happy eating with dogs to eat indoors.”

But Rowse said it may be more of a headache than a benefit to customers. He said he still will not allow dogs, other than service animals, in his restaurant.

“As much as I like dogs, I would doubt if I would put up a separate section to accommodate dogs,” said Rowse, a dog owner. “I realize a lot of people aren’t responsible with dogs and how they behave.”

Bernstein said there is a liability issue, and many restaurant owners have told the county they would not take the risk.

“The difference between service animals and pets is if a service animal misbehaves, the dog owner is liable, but that’s not true with pets,” she said. “Whoever has the deepest pockets will be liable — either the property or restaurant owner.”

Rowse knows firsthand. He said he had a dog attack one of his customers when he owned the Shoreline Beach Café. It’s not worth taking the risk of not knowing how a dog will behave, he said.

“The health department came to some of us about it,” he said. “I think there were folks missing out of some business mostly in North County, and the department couldn’t say you couldn’t (allow dogs) because it’s a health risk.”

There’s no formal exemption to allow pets in outdoor seating areas, but local jurisdictions can opt to allow the practice as long as the conditions don’t present a risk of contamination to food being served in the outdoor area.

Ventura County animal control officials said it’s up to the restaurant owner’s discretion whether dogs are allowed on the premises, and they can be at any outdoor dining area unless they have to walk through the inside of a restaurant to get to the outdoor seats. But ultimately, it’s an owner’s right to deny access unless it’s a service dog.

“We previously had sent out a news release barring dogs from all areas,” Bernstein said. “Based on health code, dogs were not allowed where food was served, which differed a bit from the state of California, which offered the decision to local jurisdictions.”

Laura Knight, owner of Pascucci, 729 State St., said despite the new regulations, she will let only certain dogs on the patio based on the restaurant’s discretion.

“We’ve always allowed dogs outside of the patio, but there is always a pee factor and big dogs that would climb on tables,” Knight said.

The only animals allowed indoors still will be service animals, and dogs will not be allowed outside if there is a cooking station, wait station or self-serve food area.

“I can’t imagine I’m going to want to alienate other people just to make dog owners happy,” Rowse said.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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