Bill to let owners dine out with dogs

Restaurants could admit canines under proposal

Inspired by practice in Europe

General Assembly

January 20, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Del. Dan K. Morhaim doubts Maryland restaurants would go to the dogs if dogs could go to Maryland restaurants.

Inspired by Europe, where pets often accompany their masters as they dine out, the Baltimore County lawmaker has introduced a bill that would permit restaurateurs to welcome canine customers to their establishments.

The legislation would overrule decades of American public health practice and end the long exile of the animal known as "man's best friend" from the state's eateries.

Morhaim, a physician and a dog owner, said he sees no health risk in admitting dogs to the public areas of restaurants.

(The legislation would not allow dogs in food preparation areas. Nor would it affect the current right of disabled people to bring service dogs into restaurants.)

The Democrat emphasized that the legislation - cosponsored by Republican Del. Charles R. Boutin of Harford County - makes the decision voluntary on the part of the restaurant owner.

Morhaim said that restaurant owners would be free to set size limits or to bar dogs they don't want in their establishments.

"We don't want anyone to fear they have to let a Great Dane into a fine French restaurant," Morhaim said.

The lawmaker noted that the sight of dogs in restaurants is commonplace in France and other European countries.

Morhaim said he believes that the legislation would help some restaurants because some people would be more likely to dine out if they could take a pet with them.

Thomas B. Stone Jr., a lobbyist for Restaurant Association of Maryland, said the group has not taken a position on the bill but expressed doubt that it would pass the "giggle test."

Common in France

But Fernand Tersiguel, the Brittany-born owner of Tersiguel's restaurant in Ellicott City, said it is common to see dogs in France's fine restaurants.

"They go to the feet of the people, and they don't move," he said.

Tersiguel said that if the bill passes he would consider allowing "well-trained" dogs in parts of his restaurant, though he would need to set aside a dog-free area.

Alan Beck, professor of animal ecology and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, said the idea of allowing dogs in restaurants is "not as crazy as it sounds."

Beck, co-author of Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship, said that 15 years ago the idea of bringing dogs and other pets into nursing homes was regarded as laughable.

Today, he said, most nursing homes have pet visitation programs or resident animals because it's been shown to be good for the well-being of the residents.

The professor said the health risks of permitting dogs in restaurants are minimal, and the benefits could be significant.

"It might help people in a downtown area that are not comfortable out without a dog later at night," he said. "It may be a way of getting a kid to enjoy the restaurant experience a little more because his buddy's there."

Not her dog

June Purdon of Baltimore said she is devoted to Benny, her 2-year-old golden retriever, but she wouldn't want to bring the 80-pound dog to a restaurant.

"He's a pain in the neck," she said. "It would be just like with small children."

Still, Purdon said, there are a lot of people with "these little poopy-doop dogs" that could behave in a restaurant.

It's an idea she finds appealing, but she doubts the bill will pass because people will imagine being greeted by a Rottweiler at Applebee's and "have a hissy."

Morhaim said his bill doesn't apply to other pets.

"We'll deal with the dog part first and deal with cats later," he said.

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