Canine Conundrum: Do Dogs Belong in Philly Restaurants?

The trouble with pet-friendly food establishments

Outdoor café season is coming up and you know what that means. Dogs. Hot, panting, drooling dogs, sprawled on the sidewalk under tables, taking up space, possibly yapping and occasionally padding over to an adjacent table, nosing around in a stranger’s crotch or settling in for a nice long nuzzle with their own. Appetizing, no?

Before all of the dog lovers out there brand me as a soulless animal hater who chews up puppies and spits them out for fun, let me preface this rant by saying I like dogs. I’ve even loved dogs — here’s to you Raisin (my grandmother’s scruffy cockapoo) and Flaco (my father’s sweet spotted mutt) — but seriously, people, stop bringing your furry friends into restaurants, groceries and other places that serve food. Just stop.

What’s the big deal about dogs at sidewalk cafes — other than the fact that allowing animals in a restaurant, which a sidewalk café is an extension of — is a violation of the health code? Dogs are… dogs. They do normal dog things: they bark, they beg, they’re curious about the food on other people’s plates, they get excited and hump innocent legs. Basically, they have no table manners and they’re not supposed to. For every docile Chihuahua who sits quietly on its owner’s lap or well-trained Labrador who chills under a chair, there are dogs like the one I once sat next to recently at a sidewalk café, who barked at the top of his lungs every time someone walked by (which, in the middle of Rittenhouse, happens roughly every three seconds.)

Let’s also consider the plight of the waitstaff. Many years ago, when I was a server, I was working the outdoor section at a café where a man and his large dog were holding court. I walked past his table, carrying a plate of food and the dog — I’m not sure what kind, but it was large — leaped up on me. The owner thought it was funny. I thought it was scary.

There’s a small gourmet grocery that I frequent, which advertises itself as “dog-friendly” via a sign on the door. I asked the owner, who didn’t want to be identified, why he invites dogs into his shop. He positioned it as a smart business move, “We have that policy because there are so many people with dogs in the neighborhood. We love dogs, we’ve always had them – we’re huge dog people.” So what about larger dogs or dogs that aren’t well-behaved? “I think it’s fine. People use common sense about bringing dogs inside. They usually ask if it’s okay and recently, we’ve been telling people if the dog is small, it’s okay to bring it in, but if it’s larger they should leave them outside.”

What about it being a health code violation? His response: “In terms of the lengthy health code, I don’t think it’s high on the list of what people follow – or care about. It’s more about the spirit than the letter of the law.” He’s certainly not the only owner who feels that way; many restaurants even cater to pets, stocking dog bowls and treats for the four-legged set.

Am I just a canine curmudgeon? Should people be permitted or encouraged to tote along their pooches to restaurants and other establishments that serve food? Can you love dogs and just not want to have them around while you’re dining out?

*Photo courtesy miscpix via Flickr