Dogs at the Table

August 17, 1995|By DANIEL S. GREENBERG

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The height of summer invites attention to an injustice that is among the most neglected in public discourse: the barring of dogs from restaurants.

It's bad enough that they can't come inside in any season. But, in warm weather, it's even worse that they must be confined to home or a parked car while their loved ones are enjoying the

pleasure of outdoor dining. The restaurant trade ought to ponder this, because on more than one occasion, we've opted for dinner home rather than leave Ben, our Labrador Retriever, alone.

The dog-hating element will, of course, gag on this topic, as will those who sanctimoniously contend that sympathies should be reserved for the world's infinitely worse failings. Pooh on that holier-than-thou bunk. The existence of great problems should not preclude occasional attention to far lesser ones.

Confining the matter only to well-behaved dogs, the case for their admission to restaurants is strong, whether in summer or winter. Dining is a companionable event. Dogs and people have been great friends since prehistoric times, sharing meals over the ages.

Folk wisdom is filled with affectionate references to canine-human relations, ranging from the advice to newcomers to Washington: ''If you want a friend, get a dog,'' to Christopher Morley's ''The censure of a dog is something no man can stand.'' There is no reason why a meal out should, as a firm rule of law, necessitate separation of dogs and people.

Evidence for confidence on this matter is plentiful and easily available. In France, where food and ambience are regarded with considerable seriousness, dogs are as admissible to public dining places as baguettes and wine. The same is true in other countries, too, where the dog dozing under the restaurant dinner table, or alertly waiting for a nice morsel, is too commonplace to evoke notice.

Bogus considerations of health underlie the exclusion of dogs from restaurants on this side of the Atlantic. Try it and you find that an inquiry here about bringing a dog to a dining place invariably brings the response that it's against health regulations. Ask why, and you'll get no good answer, for the simple reason that there is none.

The rationale for the regulations is actually unconnected to medical and veterinary considerations. There are very, very few health problems that humans can acquire from dogs, as is evident from their close and healthful co-existence in millions of households. And there's nothing about restaurants that changes the situation.

Assuming the dog is healthy, the likelihood of it causing a problem for other diners and servers is quite remote. If there's any communicable health risk in dining out, kitchen staff, waiters and fellow diners are the likely source of contagion. The most legendary transmitter of disease in restaurant history was Typhoid Mary, one of our own.

The other big argument against dogs in restaurants arises from concerns about orderliness. Again, this is no problem in France, where disorder in eating and drinking establishments is rarely attributable to the canine presence.

Looking at the reality of disruptions and nuisances in American restaurants, it's necessary to recognize that out-of-control children, and their indifferent parents, are the bane of many people who wish to dine peacefully. The shrieking havoc that children frequently inflict on dining establishments easily warrants a statutory requirement for children and no-children dining sections. Ben Labrador and many other dogs are hushed saints by comparison.

Yes, the world is awash with worse problems. But a bit more civility in everyday life is a plus in every respect. Wouldn't it be wonderful to reserve a table for three, with just two chairs?

Daniel S. Greenberg is editor and publisher of Science & Government Report, a Washington newsletter.

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