As Health Department Turns its Sights on Dining Pets, Dog Lovers Cry Foul

The Delaware Department of Health issued a statement last week reiterating current state code on bringing animals to restaurants

Fresh off a string of enforcement actions against dirty restaurants across the state, the Delaware Division of Public Health woofed a warning to pet-friendly establishments that has some dog owners claiming the agency is barking up the wrong tree.

Last week the department posted a statement reminding diners and business owners that “live animals, including emotional support animals are strictly prohibited from Delaware restaurants. This includes outdoor service areas. Only service animals are allowed in Delaware restaurants.”

The department explained, “We know you love Fido. So do we, but leave your pets at home when you go out to eat. Exceptions are made for edible or decorative fish in aquariums, shellfish or crustacea on ice or under refrigeration, and patrol dogs.”

Delaware Dog Parents for a Dog-Friendly Delaware

The post went off like a bombshell with growling dog lovers across the state, and organizers quickly established the Facebook group “Delaware Dog Parents for a Dog-Friendly Delaware” to mobilize for changes to the current code and its enforcement.

One of the group’s founders, Gaby Indellini, said they intend “to make this campaign an educated, intelligent, and well-researched fight,” urging supporters to use “data-driven, factual information” to influence change in the current law.

Delaware Dog lovers formed a Facebook group to rally support for their cause 

Outdoor portion of the code has not been strictly enforced

That immediate, intense response caught the attention of Division of Public Health (DPH) officials. Jamie Mack, the chief of Food Protection, posted a follow-up statement on August 8 acknowledging that the “outdoor portion of the code” has not been “strictly enforced.” Mack explained:

We have been incredibly interested to read everyone’s comments related to our post from Friday about dogs not being allowed at food establishments, including outdoor dining areas. While DPH recognizes concerns food establishments and patrons may have about this issue, this is not a recent update to the food code.

The Delaware Food Code prohibits pets – with the exception of service animals – in food establishments, which include outdoor service areas. To date, inspectors have not strictly enforced the outdoor portion of the food code. In an effort to protect the health and safety of dining patrons, we are revisiting the Code and associated policies related to this issue.

Dog owners say the new attention to K-9 friendly dining is a mistake that would hurt business and put Delaware behind the national curve.  “Making Delaware dog-friendly is good for business, good for the economy, good for tourism, good for the general morale of Delawareans,” said Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald, a prominent local arts and entertainment publicist.

A recent article on this site pointed to the popularity of multiple New Castle County “pet-friendly” venues. 

Related article: Sit and Stay! Northern Delaware’s Most Dog-Friendly Eateries 

And a website that covers the restaurant industry says demographic shifts are making pet-friendly restaurants more common across the country.  “As millennials opt for more pets over babies, pet-friendly restaurants are becoming more of a restaurant industry trend.”

From the industry article: “According to the ASPCA, just under half (about 44%) of U.S. households own a dog. Of course, not every single one of them is inclined to dine with their pup as well.  Nonetheless, pet parents are a sizeable portion of the population just waiting to be lured into your place by standing out as a spot that allows dogs.”

A Michigan State University publication said that “about nine states have laws that allow patrons to bring pet dogs to outdoor dining spaces in restaurants.”  

What’s Pennsylvania’s code?

Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said restaurants meeting certain strict controls in the state were permitted to have dogs at outside dining venues. She said that in order for a Pennsylvania restaurant to allow patrons to bring their dogs, the would have to provide a separate serving area with dedicated servers.  Dishes and utensils used in an area that serves pets must be disposable. They are not allowed to be taken into the kitchen for washing.

Powers added, “We don’t go out looking for that kind of enforcement. We will respond if someone calls our office and files a complaint.”

In Delaware, since the controversy erupted over the weekend, voices on both sides of the debate are weighing in on Facebook:

The Delaware Food Code

The Delaware Food Code, Chapter 6, Section 501.115, prohibits pets (except for service animals) in food establishments. Food establishments include outdoor service areas (areas where food is served) that are part of the restaurant. https://dhss.delaware.gov/dph/hsp/files/ofpcode14c6.pdf 

Here’s more from the DPH:

While DPH recognizes concerns food establishments and patrons may have about this, this is not a recent update to the food code, and DPH is concerned about allowing animals in outdoor service areas. Animals 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. Additionally, unsocialized animals may present a bite risk to other patrons. Internal discussions are taking place regarding the policy.

Food establishment owners should be aware of the potential health and safety risks of allowing animals in the outdoor areas of their establishments. Animals 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. Additionally, un-socialized animals may present a bite risk to other patrons.

If you have health concerns regarding a Delaware restaurant, call the Consumer Complaint Hotline at 302-744-4736 and let our staff know about it. Find out when a restaurant in your area is ordered to close by the Division of Public Health: https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/…/enforcementactions.html.

You can also find additional inspection results here: https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/hsp/feir.html#HealthDE #FoodSafetyFriday

 


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