Guidelines were established after numerous requests from dog owners and the owners of dog-friendly restaurants, says Angelo Bellomo, Director of Environmental Health for Los Angeles County.
"The department wanted to take this opportunity to say 'Okay, here are the conditions under which this could be done without sacrificing our basic public health requirements.'"
The new rules put L.A. in company of cities like Paris and Prague, where dogs have long been welcome to dine alongside patrons on patios. L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe spearheaded the effort; he was approached about advocating for laxer restrictions while dining at a Lazy Dog Café in Cerritos. A spokesman for Knabe says the supervisor is a dog lover but, due to his wife's allergies, he is unable to own a dog himself.
There have already been complaints, Bellomo says, about the new policy from people who (like Knabe's wife) have allergies to dogs, people who worry about the risk of dogs biting other patrons, and people who are just grossed out by the idea of eating next to an animal that uses its tongue to clean its own anus.
("Dogs in Cafes/Outdoor Restaurants" recently topped a Zagat list of top ten most annoying restaurant trends.)
Dogs (except police and service animals) are still prohibited by state law from entering the interior of restaurants--a provision that remains in place because of sanitation concerns, Bellomo says.
Take for example, a dimly-lit restaurant "where it could be difficult to see what they are leaving behind," Bellomo says, "you could imagine you'd be tracking urine or vomit or excrement from the interior of the food facility, immediately, feet away, into the kitchen."
Germaphobes can be comforted by a provision in the county's new guidelines that states: "In cases of excrement or other bodily fluids (urine, saliva, vomit), employee shall immediately clean and sanitize the affected areas."