Orford

Let’s face it, Seattle is obsessed with dogs. According to a 2011 census, there are significantly more dogs in Seattle than children – over 153,000 dogs to 107,178 children. Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Department spends over $380,000 annually to maintain Seattle’s eleven off-leash dog parks. We have a total of 45 dog-friendly hotels and 150 dog-friendly restaurants that allow outdoor dining with your dog.

Some restaurants, like the Summit Public House and Norm’s Eatery and Ale House, even allow dogs in the bar.

But some trends in Seattle don’t make much sense. How you can you dine with your dog, but you can’t bring your pup into the local Safeway? How can dogs be allowed into restaurants, where food is openly served, but not into grocery stores? It just doesn’t make sense.  To get answers, we have to look up Washington law.

Washington’s Administration Code Section 6-501.115, which mirrors the language of the Food and Drug Administration Food Code, explains the regulations for prohibiting animals from the premises of a food establishment in Washington.  It starts out by stating “Except as specified in (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the premises of a food establishment.”

So what are the exceptions? When can live animals be allowed on the premises of a food establishment?

Because Section 6-501.115 adopts the language of the Food and Drug Administration Food Code, it is logical that Section 6-501.115’s main concern is the contamination of food, equipment, utensils, and linens. Therefore, live animals can only be on the premises of a food establishment if there is no risk to the contamination of food, equipment, utensils, and linens.

Further, live animals can only be on the premises of a food establishment in these scenarios:

  • If the live animal is a fish in an aquarium, shellfish or crustacea under refrigeration, or shellfish or crustacea in a display tank;
  • If the live animal is a patrol dog and is accompanied by a police or security officer;
  • If the live animal is a service animal and is accompanying a disabled individual. In this exception, the live animal can only be in an area that is usually open to customers and is not used for food preparation. Again, in this exception, the code reminds us that no health or safety hazard (the contamination of food, equipment, utensils, and linens) must result from the presence of the service animal. Additionally, as of May 2013, service animals in food establishments are defined in RCW 49.60.218 as dogs or miniature horses only.
  • If the live animal is a pet in a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, or residential care facility and if the live animal is not present during meal times and the following requirements are met:
  • Effective partitioning and self-closing doors must separate the common dining areas from food storage or food preparation areas; and
  • Condiments, equipment, and utensils are stored in enclosed cabinets or removed from the common dining areas when pets are present; and
  • Dining areas including tables, countertops, and similar surfaces are effectively cleaned before the next meal service.
  • If the live animal is a caged or confined animal in an area not used for food preparation, storage, sales, display, or dining. According to the code, an example of this exception is a variety store that sells pets or a tourist park that displays animals.
  • If the live animal is fish bait. Again, the code reminds us that no contamination of food, equipment, utensils, and linens can occur.

The Washington’s Administration Code makes sense, but we have a problem. None of these exceptions allow pet dogs on the patio, much less the bar, of a restaurant.  So how do many Seattle restaurants allow pet dogs on their patios and bars? Is the bar not considered a “food establishment” under the Washington Administration Code?

David Gifford from the Washington State Department of Health answers our question. He states, “Animals (or) pets are not allowed in food establishments in Washington State – and bars are defined as food establishments.”

We still have a problem. How are Seattle restaurants letting pet dogs in?

The answer: enforcement. First, there is no federal law prohibiting animals from restaurants. Although the Food and Drug Administration prohibits animals from the premises of food establishments, FDA rules are merely guidance for state and local health departments. State and local health departments have the final say and can choose whether or not to adopt FDA rules.

Second, as David Gifford states, “Each local health jurisdiction has its own enforcement policies.” Gifford states, “In general, the first time an establishment violates this provision it would normally be given a warning to discontinue this practice. Subsequent/repeated violations could result in: re-inspections (which in many jurisdictions include a fee); administrative hearings (also usually accompanied by a fee); and/or permit suspension (which means the business must temporarily close).”

Here in Seattle, the Department of Public Health for Seattle and King County doesn’t enforce the Washington Administration Code unless an animal is on the premises during an inspection. A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health for Seattle and King County, Hilary Karasz, states, “restaurants will not be shut down merely because they allow dogs; it would take a food-borne illness, staff not washing their hands or something along those lines.” According to Karasz, dogs on restaurant premises is a potential health risk, but “it’s not a big health risk.” Karasz also states that enforcing the Washington Administration Code is challenging because it is difficult to tell which dogs are service animals and which are not.

Restaurants like Norm’s Eatery and Ale House, which allows dogs inside their bar, are aware that their policies don’t follow the Washington Administration Code. The owner of Norm’s Eatery and Ale House, Steve Habecker, says, “Norm’s runs smoothly because most customers follow the rules and any unruly dogs are kicked out immediately.”  Habecker also states that he is sure to keep his restaurant “impeccably clean.”

 

If the Department of Public Health chooses not to enforce the Washington Administration Code and 150 restaurants in Seattle choose not to follow the Washington Administration Code, should we change the law? States like California have already begun changes.

Much like restaurants in Washington, restaurants in California had already been allowing dogs on restaurant patios and outdoor areas. And just like residents of Washington, many residents of California were unaware that the practice was illegal. But there was one huge difference between Washington and California’s laws: violating the California Retail Food Code is punishable as a misdemeanor. While Washington restaurants might get a slap on the wrist for allowing dogs in a food establishment, California restaurants faced criminal repercussions.

In February 2012, Los Angeles County amended their regulations and permitted dogs on the patios of restaurants. The change was not because dogs on patios are any less of a health concern than dogs inside a restaurant. The change was merely because Los Angeles County wanted to accommodate the desires of restaurant owners and patrons.

Then, in August 2014, Assembly Bill 1965 was signed by California’s Governor Jerry Brown, permitting dogs to be on restaurant patios and outdoor areas throughout California. Local jurisdictions are still able to prohibit dogs in outdoor dining areas, but the state prohibition has been lifted. In analyzing the bill, the legislature considered the regulations of other counties, such as Los Angeles County, that had successfully amended their regulations to allow dogs in outdoor dining areas.

Similar to the Washington Administration Code, the California Retail Food Code, “prohibits live animals from being allowed in a food facility, except under specified conditions if the contamination of food, clean equipment, utensils, linens, and unwrapped single-use articles cannot result.” Again, like the FDA Food Code and Washington Administration Code, the contamination of food, equipment, utensils, and linens is California Retail Food Code’s main concern.

Assembly Bill 1965 amended the code to include an additional section stating that  “pet dogs under the control of a person” may be allowed “in an outdoor dining area” if nine conditions were satisfied. The nine conditions were as follows:

 

  • The owner of the food establishment chooses to allow pet dogs in the outdoor dining area. The code emphasized that the owner of a food establishment may always choose not to permit pet dogs in their outdoor dining area.
  • The pet dogs enter through an outdoor entrance and do not go through the indoor food establishment. The pet dogs are also not allowed on chairs, benches, seats, or other fixtures.
  • The outdoor dining area is not used for food preparation or storage of utensils. The exception: a food employee may refill a beverage glass from a pitcher or other container.
  • Food and water can only be provided to pet dogs in single-use disposable containers.
  • Food employees cannot have direct contact with pet dogs while on duty. If the food employee does have direct contact, they have to wash their hands.
  • The outdoor dining area must be clean at all times. Any dog excrement or fluids must be cleaned and sanitized.
  • The pet dog is under the control of the pet dog owner and is on a leash or in a carrier.
  • The food establishment must comply with any local ordinances related to sidewalks, public nuisance, and sanitation.
  • And other control measures approved by the enforcement agency.

Based on these nine conditions, it is clear that Assembly Bill 1965 prioritized the concerns of the California Retail Food Code regarding the contamination of food, equipment, utensils, and linens.  Before passing the bill, the legislature discussed possible public health implications. According to a 2013 study from the Journal of Environmental Health, “the overall public health risk is low as long as safety, sanitation, and hygiene practices are stringently enforced. While it is understood that pets carry bacteria and parasites, the relative risk associated with pet and human interaction has yet to be definitively proven.” Certainly, dog urine and feces have the potential to carry pathogens. But with the nine preventative measures outlined in Assembly Bill 1965, the legislature felt confident that passing the bill would not pose a serious risk to public health.

Mariko Yamada, an Assembly member who advocated for the bill, has a particularly optimistic view on the passage of the bill. Yamada stated, “Amidst all the horrific and depressing news around us, I hope this bill helps make people a little happier, and businesses who wish to accommodate diners with dogs safe from being unnecessarily cited.”

So should Washington follow California’s lead and legalize dogs in outdoor dining areas? Certainly, without the fear of criminal repercussions and with minimal enforcement by the Department of Public Health anyway, we don’t really need to change the law. But why not give dog owners some clarity, restaurant owners some options, and give the Department of Public Health a lot less to worry about? Is disregarding the law really better than taking the time to change it? No. Especially when preventative measures like those in California’s Assembly Bill 1965 could protect public health. Hopefully, in the coming years, the city of Seattle will make some changes so that dining with your dog can be simpler and safer.

About the Blogger:

Ariana is a third year law student graduating from Seattle University School of Law this spring. After law school, she will practice in criminal prosecution. As a Seattle resident and dog owner, she was particularly interested in Washington laws regulating dining with your dog and related food safety concerns.