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Health Department Endorses Dogs on Restaurant Patios, But Staff Better Clean Up That Poop

Health Department Endorses Dogs on Restaurant Patios, But Staff Better Clean Up That Poop
AndyPants is the bar dog at the Midlands. Photo by Jessica Sidman.

The DC Council is moving forward with permanent legislation to allow dogs on restaurant and bar patios, and the health department gave its blessing in a public hearing Tuesday.

Emergency legislation reversing the ban on pups in outdoor dining areas for 60 days was introduced in October. It came after a health department crackdown drew outrage from pet owners.

The new law would allow business owners to choose whether they want to allow dogs (on leashes) at their establishments. They can also set restrictions based on the dogs’ size or temperaments. The DC Department of Health provided additional recommendations: Namely, patrons should be responsible for bringing their own waste bags, but restaurant staff better make sure there’s no poop still on the ground after pet owners clean up. 

“The best practices in the food safety industry is for dog owners to maintain waste bags for management of pet waste. The disposal and cleanup of biologic waste either of pets or patrons should be done by food establishment staff with the protocol established by the department of health in handling incidents of this nature,” Vito DelVento, executive director of the health department’s Board of Veterinary Medicine, told members of the DC Council. 

DelVento, testifying on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser and DOH Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, also recommended that restaurants allowing dogs post signs out front stating their policies and any restrictions.

“I hope it doesn’t scare them off when they look at this big sign posted,” Councilmember Vincent Gray said. 

The whole drama over dogs on patios began in September when health inspectors showed up at The Midlands beer garden in Park View and Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights and told the owners that no animals were allowed on the premises except for service animals. This had long been the law, but it was not often enforced. As a result, many restaurants promote “yappy hours,” and the Midlands even had a bar dog named Andy Pants.

A Freedom of Information Act request to the DC Department of Health reveals that the crackdown stemmed from an anonymous phone complaint, referencing a story about dog-friendly restaurants.

The Midlands owner Peyton Sherwood swiftly organized a “doggy sit-in and petition signing” to change the law and encouraged pet owners to email their councilmembers.

“It’s one of the few bills I’ve ever gotten where it was just overwhelmingly in favor,” Councilmember Vincent Gray said in yesterday’s hearing. He says he got one email “raising questions” about allowing dogs on patios but dozens in support.

“This should not have been an issue in the first place.” 

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.