Each year, dogs seem to become more like people.
You give your dog a voice. You dress your dog up. You set your dog up on blind dates (maybe even on a dog dating app). You take your dog to restaurants and breweries.
It’s the latter issue that in recent years has created a pesky problem for Clark County. Since 2005 Washington code has prohibited all animals, except service animals, from being on the premises of food establishments.
After Clark County Public Health fielded three complaints regarding dogs at food establishments in 2012, there haven’t been fewer than seven per year since. In 2017, there were 24 complaints, and 21 were recorded last year.
But a new type of complaint manifested this year. Out of the 17 complaints received so far, a handful have been from people who want there to be outdoor areas available to dogs, said Brigette Bashaw, the food safety program manager at Clark County Public Health.
“There’s been growing interest by food owners and the public to allow dogs in their outside seating areas,” Bashaw said.
Dog Patio Rules
According to a Clark County Public Health news release, food establishments applying for a variance need to demonstrate they have implemented these practices, which maintain safe food-handling standards and reduce risks associated with hosting dogs in dining areas:
• Only allow dogs to enter the patio area from an outside entrance.
• Post signs prohibiting dogs from sitting on chairs, tables, counters and patrons’ laps.
• Do not allow dogs to have any contact with reusable dishes or utensils used for food service.
• Keep the outdoor patio free of visible dog hair, dog dander and other dog-related waste.
• Do not allow employees to touch, pet or otherwise handle any dog while serving food or beverages or handling tableware.
• Require dogs to be kept on a short leash in the control of the owner and have a current pet license.
That prompted Public Health in April to create a variance to Washington’s food code. Dogs are now welcome at establishments that have applied for and received a variance, but other pets remain prohibited (sorry, cat lovers).
David Cookson, the owner of Shanahan’s Pub & Grill and The Infirmary, a spirits and cigar bar adjacent to Shanahan’s, said giving dogs a seat at the table, or rather under it, is essential in dog-loving Clark County, particularly since Portland consistently ranks as one of the friendliest cities for dogs in the U.S.
“It’s really important. It’s a Northwest thing,” Cookson said. “I’d like to hang out with my dog on the patio and have a beer, but I work here.”
The variance’s creation was directly spurred by a Humane Society for Southwest Washington benefit that Heathen Brewing hosted in April, said Public Health Public Information Officer Marissa Armstrong. Public Health worked with the brewery toward a solution that now extends to all food establishments.
Despite the previous ban, people still brought their pooches to restaurants frequently, which Armstrong said Public Health was well aware of. But it isn’t easy to enforce the code, given that health inspectors have to show up when a dog is at the establishment, or find evidence that a dog has been there.
Following the rules
Health inspectors will still keep an eye out for dogs at places that have not received a variance. If an establishment without a variance is caught with dogs or evidence of dogs, health inspectors will educate restaurant staff about the risks of allowing pets without a proper setup, issue a violation notice and add demerit points to the establishment’s restaurant inspection score. Repeat offenders will receive additional demerits.
Bashaw said the variance is a way for restaurants to stay pet-friendly, while Public Health can also make sure they’re allowing dogs to visit in a safe manner.
Bashaw explained it’s important to keep strict rules around dogs at dining establishments, because dogs carry a variety of germs and parasites that can increase the risk of patrons contracting food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, giardia, cryptosporidiosis and campylobacter.
Under the variance, dogs are only allowed at food establishments if there’s a separate entry that keeps dogs from passing through the interior of an establishment. In order for food establishments to be authorized to allow dogs, a health inspector first has to examine and approve the establishment’s setup.
There is a $300 one-time variance fee required for approval. So far, only Heathen Brewing Feral Public House and Loowit Brewing have been approved for a variance. One application is pending, and Public Health has discussed applications with about 20 other establishments, Bashaw said.
Beaches and WareHouse ’23 owner Mark Matthias said he considers the new rules to be fair. Beaches has an outdoor seating area that would accommodate dogs, but WareHouse ’23’s setup won’t. Matthias said it makes sense that non-service dogs shouldn’t be allowed in restaurants.
“The rules are typically what you practice anyway. They’re completely logical,” he said.
Cookson said he’s seen misinformation on social media about the variance — people who are “hyping” the variance as a huge barrier to hosting dogs. But he feels the variance is fair. Bashaw said Public Health wants to work with restaurateurs to make the variance work.
“This is something we’re trying to do to accommodate a public demand in a way that still protects public health,” she said.