Politics & Government

Sacramento pooches earn a place at the table – or at least under it

Christy Mankin dislikes dining alone. She prefers the company of a silver-haired Siberian husky named Vita, whom she calls “a great conversation starter.”

The sleek, blue-eyed canine lounged under a patio table at Cafe Dantorels in Curtis Park on a recent August afternoon, basking in Sunday sun and compliments from strangers. Mankin, a self-identified “proud dog mom,” watched with a smile and a cold beer.

“She is my family, and she’s a great companion to me,” Mankin said. “Everyone wants to come up and say hi to her . There’ve been some occasions where I’ve left her at home because it’s too hot out, and I end up just missing her.”

The dining duo’s weekly outings will continue indefinitely thanks to the recent passage of Assembly Bill 1965. The legislation, authored by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 21, amends the California Health and Safety Code to allow dogs in outdoor restaurant areas where food preparation does not occur, providing the dog is on a leash and does not walk through the indoor portion of the restaurant to get to the permitted area.

The statewide code initially prohibited dogs, except for service dogs, anywhere on a food facility’s premises, said Yamada, though many local jurisdictions would “tend to look the other way.” The amendment, which takes effect Jan. 1, makes it so that counties that have long been Fido-friendly are no longer in conflict with the state.

Mark Barcellos, supervising environmental specialist for the Sacramento County Environmental Management Department – the agency responsible for conducting restaurant health inspections three times each year – said his inspectors have always interpreted the state law more loosely than officials in other counties, and have permitted pooches on patios at the discretion of business owners.

While the practice is being legalized on the state’s books, local jurisdictions can pass ordinances prohibiting it and restaurant owners can bar it in their own facilities.

“California is a pretty open state and tries to be trend-setting,” Barcellos said. “They could see the writing on the wall that this is where it was already. They just had to clean up the law so all the counties were on the same page.”

Public health issues prompting the initial ban included concerns about defecation, saliva and shedding, which can all be controlled providing the animal is trained and the owner is willing to sanitize any area the dog might affect, Barcellos said.

Under the new law, dogs must be under the table, leashed or in a carrier, and are forbidden from climbing on seats, tables or benches. To prevent contamination of utensils and other items, dogs cannot be in any area where food preparation occurs – including outdoor bars.

A recent study from Loma Linda University, titled “Public Health Implications of Animals in Retail Food Outlets,” found that while dogs can carry bacteria and parasites, including salmonella, the risk associated with pets in dining areas has “yet to be established in a clear and consistent manner.” Still, researchers said special accommodations should be considered for people – such as children, asthmatics and the elderly – who might be vulnerable to animal-borne illness.

The dogs also could pose a problem for people with allergies, said Dr. NaYoung Kim, a Kaiser Permanente allergist.

About 10 percent of all people with allergies are allergic to pets, and the rate can be as high as 1 in 5 for individuals with asthma. Their symptoms can range from runny noses and itchy eyes to hives and breath constriction, Kim said. Pet allergy sufferers are allergic to a protein called CAN-F1, which is found in canine saliva, urine and dander but, surprisingly, not hair.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no truly “hypoallergenic dog,” as every dog, regardless of breed, has a different amount of the problematic protein, and every human has a different level of sensitivity to it, Kim said.

Kim recommends that allergic diners avoid touching a dog in a patio dining setting or ask to be reseated.

“It’s not common, but there may be very sensitive individuals who may have some symptoms,” she said. “You may see some people sneezing or having some more mild symptoms. People who develop hives need to be touching the animal to have a reaction.”

At the Plum Cafe and Bakery in midtown, owner Rey Ortega said he did not know having dogs on the patio had ever been prohibited.

“It was actually kind of a shock to me,” he said. “We’ve always had an open-door policy. We’re vegan, first of all, so we attract people who love animals now the law is on our side.”

Mankin said that while she and Vita have never been turned away from a patio, some restaurant staff do a better job of accommodating dogs by bringing out a bowl of water or taking orders outside so the dog is not left alone while the owner is at the counter.

At Monkey Bar on Capitol Avenue, the staff is known for its house-made peanut butter dog treats, which it cooks up in big batches and distributes to customers as a neighborhood gesture, according to assistant manager Tom Brennan.

Yamada said she is not a dog owner herself but understands the needs of diners who like to keep their pets close by.

“This puts the pet in a place where it is recognized as part of the family, not just a creature that is to be left in the car or tied to a post outside,” she said. “It just represents a recognition that animals, and especially pet dogs, are a part of people’s families.”

While dogs at restaurants seem to be going mainstream, there’s still no place for them at farmers markets, according to Dan Best, who manages 11 markets in Sacramento County. At Best’s under-the-freeway market on Sunday, his largest and most crowded market, canines are more than just a sanitation risk – they’re a public safety hazard.

From elderly patrons who can trip on leashes to small children likely to come face-to-face with larger dogs, market shoppers only would be burdened by pets in the heavily trafficked aisles, Best said. He has been notified of at least two incidents of children suffering dog bites during his markets, and he said he fears negative experiences with dog droppings should the laws ever change.

Under the current California Retail Food Code, the farmers market, like the grocery store, does not allow pets within 20 feet of any area where food is stored or sold. The law, like the one prohibiting pets inside restaurants, does not apply to service dogs.

As more and more people want to take their dogs with them everywhere, Best said he has had to post “no dogs allowed” signs and has asked people to tie their dogs up away from the market.

“I have a horse. I love my horse, but I don’t bring it everywhere,” Best said. “In a restaurant setting, where the dog is at the owner’s feet and there’s absolute control, I can understand how it may not present a problem . There’s just a place for everything.”

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