You can bring your dog along — if there’s an outdoor patio, and if the restaurant agrees to admit your furry companion.
Last year, the Ohio General Assembly approved a law permitting dogs in outdoor dining areas, if the restaurant decides to welcome the animals. The law went into effect in late fall, so this is the first summer the law has been in effect.
Many restaurants surveyed by the Register last year said they welcome dogs, but it’s probably best to ask in advance.
The state health department has drawn up rules to carry out the law, and those rules have been shared with Erie County restaurants, said Craig Ward, director of Environmental Health for the Erie County Health Department.
Here’s a summary of the rules:
• Dogs are allowed only in outdoor dining areas. Only service animals are allowed inside restaurants.
• Restaurants get to decide whether to admit dogs into outdoor areas, but service dogs must be admitted.
• If dogs are admitted to patios, restaurants will put up signs saying dogs are welcome.
• Dogs must use an outside entrance to get to the patio. They can’t walk through the inside of the restaurant.
• Waiters and other restaurant staff can’t “intentionally contact” dogs.
• Dogs have to stay on the ground. They can’t get on tables or chairs.
• Restaurants must be prepared to clean up after dogs.
• Dogs can’t obtain food, but they can be served water from a single-use, disposable dish.
• Dogs can be banned from outdoor patios during a “public health emergency.”
Ward said he and his sanitarians inspect most restaurants twice a year, and checking for compliance with the dog rules will be included as part of those routine inspections. The health department also will respond to complaints a restaurant isn’t following the dog rules, he said.
Ward said a difficult situation for the health department and restaurants are the people who bring pets inside a restaurant and claim they are service animals, even when they aren’t.
Only service animals recognized by the Americans With Disabilities Act are allowed inside restaurants. In practice, that almost always means dogs who have received service animal training, although in theory horses can be used as service animals, too. Once, more than 10 years ago, Ward had to deal with an issue over an alleged service parrot.
Restaurant owners are advised to ask restaurant patrons what training their service dogs have received and what services the dogs provide, Ward said.
According to a pamphlet the health department shows to restaurants, ADA service animals are dogs trained to do tasks such as pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, helping blind people get around, pressing elevator buttons and doing other tasks a disabled person cannot do.
Emotional support animals are not the same thing as a service animal. Only service animals are supposed to be allowed inside restaurants.