Bars and restaurants around Ohio with patios have been welcoming canines and their human friends to sit down to have dinner and drinks in those outdoor spaces. They're now finding themselves in a quandary. That’s because those dog owners, rescue groups and businesses are at odds with health departments over a current state law that prohibits dogs on patios of businesses that serve food and drinks, but there's legislation that seeks to change that.
Until recently, dogs could be found on the patio at the Land Grant Brewery in Columbus any time the weather was nice. But not now. The Columbus Health Department sent out letters to restaurants and bars early this summer, saying it is against state law to allow dogs on patios. The business’s marketing coordinator, Julie Keys, says a lot of customers are put in the position of choosing to go to her business or stay with their dogs. And often the latter wins, especially when customers have worked away from their pooches all day. She says rescue groups and humane societies are losing out too since this recent crackdown.
“This issue is really important to us, not just because collectively here at Land Grant, we are dog lovers and dog owners but it’s also important to us because we are animal advocates. So, as an example, we have held events here at the brewery to raise money for different non-profits. This past spring, we hosted Pups and Pints where we raised over $3500 for the Capital Area Humane Society and that was just in one night.”
The Westerman Family Foundation provides support to animal rescue groups statewide. Its director, Luke Westerman, says many dogs were also adopted during the patio events. He says Ohio’s law preventing pups on the patio is out of step with the rest of the nation.
“The trend is more and more dog friendly places. There are more folks, Millennials, even 20-, 30- somethings who don’t have kids yet but they have dogs who they treat like kid, me being one of those folks. And it would be wonderful to take my dogs, my kids, with me wherever I go, particularly when I go dine.”
Thousands of dog owners from around the state agree. They’ve signed online petitions and written to lawmakers, asking them to change Ohio’s laws.
Leaving it up to restaurants
Republican Representative Laura Lanese of Grove City near Columbus says she’s getting letters, overwhelmingly supporting a bill she’s sponsoring that would allow business owners to make the decision of whether to allow pups on their patios.
“So if they want to allow dogs, and dogs only, on their patios, that they will be allowed to do that. And we are working through some of the details too. For example, the dogs will not, in any way, be allowed to go through the restaurant. There will have to be a separate way so dogs are not going through the enclosed restaurant.”
Lanese, a dog owner herself, says the bill is supported by restaurant and business associations. Lanese says this bill is about allowing businesses to make choices for themselves. She says while some people might not want to sit around dogs on a patio, it is attractive to others, like her own family, for instance.
“I think having dogs on a patio creates a festive environment. It’s fun. I know when I go out, and when we were travelling in California, my daughters always made sure to point out where the dogs were and they always wanted to go there and we were more likely to eat at a place, even if we didn’t have our dogs with us, cause it’s just a fun environment.”
Dog-free, for now
The current law was passed because of sanitary and safety concerns, such as dog hair getting into food or dogs biting or scaring other patrons – though service animals are allowed. Backers of this bill have a bone to pick with those arguments. They say restaurant owners have the right to kick out unruly or unclean dogs, just like they have the right to eject other patrons. But for now, patios in Ohio are going to be like this one: dog-free.