Letter to the Editor: Reconsider no-dogs regulation

The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), Division of Public Health (DPH), has recently started paying increased attention to an existing state regulation that bars dogs from restaurants, including outdoor seating areas.

The Delaware Food Code (Chapter 6, Section 501.115) prohibits pets, except for service animals, in food establishments. In a recent e-mailed response to me, DHSS Secretary Chief Policy Adviser Kiki Evinger wrote: “To date, inspectors have not strictly enforced the outdoor portion of the food code, and will continue that practice until discussions around the policies associated with this issue have taken place.”

In the same response, Ms. Evinger cited the potential health and safety risks of dining with dogs, including the transmission of pathogens, fecal contamination, and possible bite risks to patrons.

Health officials are correct. Allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas carries some potential threats. It is also true that patrons who choose to dine outside are already accepting higher risks by exposing themselves to an uncontrolled environment.

Dust and bacteria carried by the wind; contamination from birds and insects; and fumes and particulates from passing traffic are all potential dangers. Well-kept domesticated dogs, who spend nearly every waking moment in the company of their human companions, may present a lower risk than any of these other factors.

Steve Smyk

Given the well-publicized citations recently issued by the DHP for food storage and preparation violations throughout the state, the kitchens of some businesses arguably pose a more substantial hazard to consumer health than anything in the dining areas.

The DPH’s renewed enthusiasm for their dog exclusion regulation runs counter to a national trend. Retailers such as Lowes, Home Depot, Bass Pro Shops, and Ace Hardware are among those businesses increasingly embracing canine guests as part of their marketing strategy.

The DPH has an institutional obligation to protect the public welfare. In this instance, I think the agency can discharge that duty while still providing some flexibility to local businesses and their customers.

I urge the DPH and the Department of Health and Social Services to reconsider the existing regulation. Maintain the dog exclusion in indoor dining areas, but draft new regulatory standards under which eateries with outdoor seating could potentially serve customers in the company of their pets. Delaware restaurateurs should have the option to determine if allowing dogs in all or portions of their outside dining areas best serve their clientele.

State Rep. Steve Smyk

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