Delaware House passes bill allowing dogs on outdoor restaurant patios

House lawmakers reconvene for the start of session in Delaware – Photo: WGMD’s Rob Petree

House lawmakers passed a bill allowing business owners the right to decide whether or not to allow leashed dogs on outdoor patios of food establishments and in beer gardens after a controversial stance from the Division of Public Health (DPH) stated otherwise.

House Bill 275 was passed without debate on Friday, 40-0, permitting business owners the right to allow leashed dogs on their outdoor patios or beer gardens.

The legislation was introduced last fall on the heels of a reminder from DPH that explicitly stated that dogs are not allowed at food establishments, including outdoor dining areas.

“We know you love Fido. So do we, but leave your pets at home when you go out to eat. Live animals, including emotional support animals are strictly prohibited from Delaware restaurants,” DPH wrote. “This includes outdoor service areas. Only service animals are allowed in Delaware restaurants. Exceptions are made for edible or decorative fish in aquariums, shellfish or crustacea on ice or under refrigeration, and patrol dogs.“

The position from DPH quickly drew sharp criticism from Delawareans statewide, prompting vocalization on the issue from several lawmakers and the eventual introduction of this bill.

“We need to listen to the people of Delaware,” said State Rep. Bryan Shupe, one of the bill’s sponsors. “And we need to also be business friendly and allow people to make decisions on their own. What’s best for them, what’s best for their business, and what’s best for their customers.”

Following the blowback from residents, DPH sought to clarify its position on the issue, saying “to date, inspectors have not strictly enforced the outdoor portion of the food code. In an effort to protect the health and safety of dining patrons, we are revisiting the Code and associated policies related to this issue.”

The legislation will now head to the Senate for consideration.