Delaware lawmakers introduce bill allowing businesses to let dogs on patios, beer gardens

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Delaware lawmakers introduced 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 filed on Friday, permitting business owners the right to allow leashed dogs on their outdoor patios or beer gardens. The legislation comes 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.”

In an interview with WGMD’s Rob Petree, Rep. Shupe explained…

Rep. Shupe further emphasized how, as a small business owner himself, he understands the need for such decisions to lie with the business owners.

“As a small business owner I understand that each business is different,” Shupe explained. “It may be in your best interest to have dogs on an outdoor patio, by a river, or on a setting that is fun, but it may not to others.”

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.”

Furthermore, DPH cautioned business owners on “potential health and safety risks of allowing animals in the outdoor areas of their establishments.”

“Animals can transmit pathogens to humans through direct and/or indirect contamination of food and food-contact surfaces,” DPH emphasized. “Animals shed hair continuously and may deposit liquid or fecal waste, creating the need for vigilance and more frequent and rigorous cleaning efforts. Additionally, un-socialized animals may present a bite risk to other patrons.”

The legislation has been assigned to Administration Committee in the Delaware House of Representatives. Lawmakers will consider the bill following the start of session in January, 2020.