Dogs on Patios – Redux

The City Council will vote on revised standards for restaurants to allow dogs on patios. Rick Wamre over at the Lakewood Advocate Blog argues that the city council should stay out of this matter and let the market decide: restaurants that want to allow dogs will allow them, and customers that want to frequent dog-friendly restaurants will do so. Those who don’t like dining with Fido will dine elsewhere.

In general, I agree with Rick — there should be freedom of choice on this issue. However, a point that gets lost in this issue is that it is ILLEGAL for restaurants to have pets on patios, anywhere in the State of Texas. The point of the city ordinance that I’ve championed is to give residents the very choice that Rick mentions, by giving “restaurant owners the power to make their own decisions (and reap the economic rewards or losses).” Because of state health regulations, in order for any restaurant in Dallas to “break” the state law, the City of Dallas must develop specific health standards to maintain cleanliness and food safety. So to provide freedom of choice, the city MUST create a local regulating ordinance.

This issue came up after some restaurants in my district (in West Village) alerted me that they’d received tickets from the city for allowed dogs on patios. Although my husband and I don’t own a dog, we frequent many restaurants in East Dallas and Uptown that are “pet-friendly,” and never had a problem. I consulted with our city attorney and environmental health department, and they in turn worked with the Texas Health Department to come up with a possible solution to give restaurants choice. Councilmember Elba Garcia and I subsequently met with restaurant owners to discuss the rules, and now we’re refining those requirements.

Some of my constituents (rightly) note that there are more important issues facing our city. While I agree, I would point out that neither I, nor city staff, is spending all our waking hours on this ordinance. But this is the type of issue that gets media coverage, as opposed to the more “mundane” issues we’re working on like addressing neighborhood crime, reducing the neighborhood impact of the St. Patrick’s Day party, creating a trail link from the Katy Trail to the Arts District, developing a Downtown streetcar system, working with Cedar Springs businesses to reduce the impact of street closures, working with neighborhoods and developers on multiple zoning cases, etc.

At the same time, as the representative of one of the most urban areas of the city, I’ve got to be responsive to my constituents on issues that directly affect them, like the dogs-on-patios issue. While I’m proud of this ordinance, I don’t want to give anyone the idea that this is top on my priority list or the only thing I’m working on.