NYC’s ‘Dining with Dogs’ regulations could ruin new state law, pet fans say

A Manhattan legislator and some city pet owners say the city’s putting dog owners and restaurants on too tight a leash.

Assemb. Linda Rosenthal testified Tuesday at the city’s Department of Health, criticizing it for restrictions she says will hamper the intent of the state’s “Dining with Dogs” law, which was passed last summer.

The law authorizes restaurant owners to allow dogs in certain outdoor areas. Rosenthal, a primary sponsor of the bill, has hailed it as a way to increase business for pet-friendly eateries.

Health Department regulations would require that any canines at restaurants be licensed and currently vaccinated. Fencing and signage would be mandated as well.

“It’s bizarre to have a waiter or waitress bend down and look at the dog’s neck to see if they are licensed,” said the Upper West Side assemblywoman.

A spokesman for the Health Department said the regulations are necessary to ensure New Yorkers are safe and healthy.

“The Food and Drug Administration recommends that animals be excluded from restaurants, as they can create a risk to the health and safety of diners, restaurant workers and other dogs,” the DOH said. “These rules explain to restaurant owners how to protect the health and safety of their patrons, and passers-by.”

Rosenthal said the Health Department rarely fined restaurants that allowed dogs in outdoor seating areas before the law was on the books. She said Health Department statistics show only 20% of dog owners have a valid license and up-to-date rabies vaccine.

“What this regulation is doing is turning restaurant personnel into enforcement agents,” she said. “A lot of restaurant owners are not really familiar with the law and it’s giving them more work.”

Rafael Abarca, manager of the dog-friendly eatery The Barking Dog on the Upper East Side, called the proposed regulations “over the top.”

Abarca said his restaurant has always kept food safe from any pet-related contaminants while minimizing potential annoyances.

“I don’t think we as a restaurant have to ask all these questions to a customer or have them have to provide this information,” he said. “I don’t feel too comfortable with it.”

Dog owners were mixed about the regulations.

Mike Baum, 29, a clothing designer from the West Village who owns a 2-year-old French bulldog, Monkey, said having restaurants check for tags would be bad for business.

“I think it’s stupid,” Baum said. “But if they do it, I’ll do it. I’d rather have her eat with me.”

Gayle Balcon, a jewelry designer who lives in NoHo, said she doesn’t appreciate having to carry her dog’s proof of vaccination. Her dog, 4-year-old Shanti, a Catahoula Leopard dog, never got a rabies tag when she got the vaccination outside of New York State.

On the other hand, Rebecca Friedman, 41, of the West Village and owner of a 5-year-old lab mix, Farfel, said the regulations are worth it.

“I think the city needs it. New York is such a dog-friendly place,” she said.

Rosenthal said the Health Department hasn’t given an exact date for when it will finalize the regulations. Even though the public comment period ended Tuesday, she requested an extension to allow more New Yorkers to weigh in.

The assemblywoman noted that she has not heard any opposition to Dining with Dogs, and a similar law in California has gone smoothly.

“To me, one of the most ironic things is bringing dogs to outdoor cafes has been going on for years and they had no problems,” she said. “Now it’s legal and they are having all sorts of objections.”

(With Alison Fox)