The Washington, D.C. Council passed emergency legislation Tuesday to give restaurant owners the ability to choose whether to allow dogs in outdoor dining areas.
The bill, which also requires restaurant owners to post signs about their dog dining policy, was passed unanimously to respond to recent outrage over the D.C. Department of Health’s rules prohibiting dogs from entering outdoor dining areas, which had rarely been enforced until recently. D.C.’s charter allows the Council to pass emergency legislation without Congressional review if the Council and mayor’s office agree on the urgency of an issue.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is expected to sign the legislation into law and update the Department of Health’s regulations, a spokesman for the mayor confirmed.
The push for legislation began in mid-September, when a health inspector told Peyton Sherwood, owner of The Midlands restaurant in Columbia Heights, that his dog was no longer allowed on his restaurant’s outside patio. The inspector told Sherwood that a District resident had recently complained about dogs in restaurants in an article in The Washington Post.
“It’s very disappointing, because everyone loves bringing their dogs out to the patio,” Sherwood said to Washingtonian. “There are rats. There are opossums. There are raccoons and squirrels and pigeons that are all over patios in Washington, DC. But having a well taken care of, loved, and vaccinated animal on a leash is not OK.”
The resolution, co-sponsored by councilmembers Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), notes that the city faces a health crisis, especially in its eastern quadrants. The councilmembers said the Department of Health should not be utilizing its finite resources to enforce archaic laws that could hurt the profitability of small businesses.
“The Department of Health’s limited time and resources are being marshalled to suddenly enforce an unknown and previously unenforced regulation about dogs being allowed in outdoor patio dining areas,” the resolution reads. “This enforcement has reduced commercial activity from patrons at the impacted businesses.”
After the incident, Sherwood asked fellow citizens of the District to contact their D.C. Council representatives and began circulating a petition to have the law changed. Jasmine Gossett, the spokesperson for the Department of Health, defended the health inspector’s actions at the time, saying that the regulation had to be enforced.
“The D.C. Food Code prohibits animals in commercially licensed food establishments. This is not a new regulation and DOH has enforced when observed,” Gossett wrote in an email to Washingtonian. “We inspected several locations based on consumer complaints about the presence of dogs, of which Midlands was included in.”
Nadeau said she had heard from about fifty constituents who had urged her to take action on the bill allowing dogs in outdoor spaces. Nadeau said the health regulations were not appropriate.
“This one just really seems like a no-brainer to us,” Nadeau said in an interview with The Washington Post. “These spaces are really special gathering spaces for our community, and that includes our canine friends.”
Gray, who is mulling a run against Bowser in the Democratic primary for mayor next year, tweeted out a message Oct. 3 criticizing the mayor for being unable to focus on important issues, such as health care for citizens. Rather, Gray said, Bowser was waging a “war on pets.”
“[Bowser] seems unable to properly prioritize life or death health care challenges over matters of far less concern using limited time & resources waging #WarOnPets,” Grey tweeted. “I’m focused on combatting urgent health issues.”
Sherwood praised the Council’s decision to allow dogs back in restaurant outdoor spaces and especially the speed at which it worked to do so. He noted that his dog, named Andypants, would be returning to the patio of The Midlands soon.
“It was really sad not having all those fuzzy faces around,” Sherwood said to The Washington Post. “So today is really nice. It was awesome to see everyone working together to get this done so quickly.”
A Twitter account, @PupsOnPatios, emerged to advocate for the dogs to be allowed back in outdoor spaces at restaurants. After the D.C. Council passed the resolution, it tweeted out a message of support.
“The Dining With Dogs emergency legislation introduced in @councilofdc today leaves it up to DC restaurants & bars to decide whether to allow dogs on patios, while ensuring safety & sanitation,” @PupsOnPatios tweeted. “We determine that to be pawesome.”