By ALTHEA A. FUNG
When is dog-friendly too friendly?
A Michigan man recently wound up in Judge Judy’s televised court, fighting over a dog in a restaurant.
It may seem like a simple matter, but restaurants in New York City can be shut down if a dog is there and even the Federal government has considered the problems of pets and eating in public.
After shopping with his wife and dog at Partridge Creek Mall in Clinton Township, Mich., David Alan of Keego Creek, Mich., decided to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. The couple was seated in the outdoors dining area until it began to rain, then they went inside to finish their meal.
Alan claims his dog, Marco, was inside a pink and brown carrier while he and his wife finished their meals at the bar. As they left, fellow patron, Virginia Eldridge, said to Alan’s wife, “You really should know that they could close this restaurant for you bringing your dog in here.”
Offended by Eldridge’s statement, Alan confronted Eldridge and a melee ensued. In the end, Alan’s glasses were broken and they wound up in front of Judge Judy, who dismissed Alan’s case stating, “You acted inappropriately, Mr. Alan. Frankly I’m not sure why you’re here.”
America has long been a country that cherished the companionship of dogs. In cities like New York, many establishments allow patrons to bring their pooches indoors. While it is courteous to be dog friendly, in many instances it is a violation of the health code.
The Food and Drug Administration, which creates guidelines for the handling of food in restaurants and grocery stores, prohibits live animals, excluding fish in tanks and service animals, in establishments that serve food. The regulations are in place owing to the health concern that animals could contaminate food if employees touch them and don’t wash their hands.
Michael Hernon, a press officer for the FDA, said in an email that the “FDA does issue guidelines regarding animals in food establishments under the FDA Food Codes and states health agencies are free to adopt the guidelines as they see fit.”
The New York City Department of Health has adopted the guidelines that also restrict animals in outdoor eating areas. Several cited violations can close down restaurants but the threat of closing down doesn’t stop restaurant owners from allowing animals in and outside of their establishments.
Franks, an Italian restaurant in the East Village is marked as a dog-friendly restaurant on Eats.com. The restaurant is in two sections – a dining area and a bar. Each has a separate entrance and two very different atmospheres. The restaurant is a brightly lit dining area filled with patrons during the day. The bar, that comfortable fits about 20 people, has a communal dining table. Despite the bright light of the sun, the dimly lit room looks even darker because of the dark wood of the table and bar itself.
The wine director, Eamon, who requested to have his full name withheld, said the restaurant is very popular among the dog owners in the neighborhood. During the summer months, patrons bring their dogs to the outdoor dining area. He also admits that patrons bring their pets indoors.
“Dog’s aren’t supposed to be allowed inside but we let it slide. We’re not doing anything criminal,” he said.
Franks has been open for 11 years and hasn’t been closed for any violations. For years regulars have brought their dogs in – often placed in corners – with little complaint from other patrons.
“Ninety-nine percent of people are cool about it. As long as it’s not a rambunctious dog,” he said. “We had a regular who had four yappy dogs. We told him you can’t have the dogs inside anymore. We have an employee who brings his dog and he lays in the corner. Nobody even notices.”
Eamon considers the restaurant’s actions a part of good customer service. Patrons get to eat and keep an eye on their dogs.
He is also unsure of the ramification of violating the ordinance.
If an animal is found in the indoor or outdoor dining area of a food establishment, a value point is given for the violation. Each violation is assigned a base point value and additional points are added to a violation to reflect the severity of the violation. Having live animals in a food establishment is considered by the city a critical violation. Depending on the condition – the number of animals found in the establishment – the violation can carry five to eight points. A score of 28 points or higher warrants a re-inspection of the facility. Further violations can lead to the establishment’s closing by the Department of Health.
“Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a Federal law, privately owned businesses that serve the public are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars or harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers,” said Herndon.
This year, three food service establishments in the city have been cited for having dogs in an outdoor eating area and 29 for having dogs indoors.
Many dog owners appreciate the restaurants that violate the regulations.
Lisa Neilsen, a nutrition and wellness coach, owns a Bichon Frise, named Bowie. She often takes the 16-month-old dog to cafes near her home on Greenwich Avenue. She doesn’t take Bowie inside restaurants because he is “ too young to sit and be well behaved.” But she has been to restaurants where dogs are inside.
“I like it. I know it’s against the law. But if you’re going to run in to grab a coffee it’s OK. Dog owners know whether their dogs can handle it,” she said. Speaking about Bowie, she said, “He does go after food. He is not so well trained. I have to keep a close watch.”
But not everyone is enthused by dog-friendly restaurants. Anthony John disapproves of dogs in restaurants.
As a bellman at the Bowery Hotel – a dog-friendly hotel in the East Village – he sees many dogs throughout his day, especially at the Gemma Restaurant connected to the hotel. The restaurant is also listed on Eats.com as dog-friendly, but according to the manager dogs are only allowed in the outdoor dining area during the summer.
John has never eaten at Gemma or any establishment that allows dogs. He does not have any pets but sees many people in the neighborhood going in and out of restaurants, cafes and grocery stores with their dogs.
“It’s gross,” he exclaimed. “That’s where you eat. Dogs carry dander and fleas.”