California bill would let owners dine with their dogs

Many dog lovers like to enjoy a meal outside at a restaurant with their furry friends. But in California, residents may be surprised to know they are actually breaking the law by doing this. 

A new bill currently moving through the state legislature seeks to remedy this, and allow Fido to move from the doghouse to the dinner table. 

The California Assembly passed a bill last Thursday that would allow restaurants to open their outdoor dining areas to pet dogs if they so choose, unless a local ordinance prohibits it. Currently, the California Retail Food Code prohibits live animals at dining establishments.

The legislation does not mandate that restaurants permit dogs, but takes away the threat of citations or fines if the restaurant wants to do so and if certain conditions are met. 

The conditions include keeping the eating area clean, making sure sidewalks comply with local ordinances and ensuring the dogs remain either on a leash or in a carrier. 

The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, who said the legislation will address a dilemma for restaurant owners in the state. She said these owners want to accommodate customers who bring their pets.

"AB 1965 remedies this by allowing willing businesses to accommodate customers and their dogs while still providing local governments the option to determine if additional standards are necessary for their communities,” she said in a statement.

Yamada said she also hopes that the bill allows state public health officials to focus on more pressing issues than policing dogs at dining establishments.

Animal rights group Social Compassion in Legislation, which supported the bill, said they are thrilled to back the law because they have heard residents complain for years about the “outdated” policy prohibiting it.

“Many restaurants choose to take their chances and allow dogs on their patios, but it remains illegal,” the group’s president Judie Mancuso said in a statement. “We want to support these businesses and encourage more to open up to our canine family members.”

Dogs are already a common site at many outdoor eating establishments in the state. In fact, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in 2011 modified its policy to allow dogs after encouragement from the public. Santa Barbara County has also modified its policy to allow dogs.

The latest bill will now be taken up by the California state Senate.