The Montezuma County Board of Health is considering giving restaurant owners the option of allowing non-service dogs to join their people on outdoor patios and decks.
Certified service dogs are already allowed inside restaurants in Colorado.
Under Colorado statute, the county Board of Health, which also serves as the Board of County Commissioners, could seek variances to the state retail food code to allow restaurants to welcome patrons’ dogs to an outdoor deck for a meal or a drink.
But there’s a catch, said Montezuma County Health Department Director Bobbi Lock – regulations.
There is a long list of rules if a restaurant owner decides to do it, she said, and they would first have to be approved then enforced by the county health inspector.
For starters, only decks and patios accessible from the outside would qualify. Non-service dogs cannot be brought through the interior of the restaurant, and they could only hang out in the outdoor area. They would have to be well-behaved and leashed, stay with their person, and not get on chairs or tables. Signs with these rules would have to be posted.
Doggie waste bags would have to be made available, and the dog’s handler must clean up after the pet if there is an accident. Trash receptacles would be required to dispose of the bags.
“Also, the dog could not eat food or drink off restaurant dishes,” Lock said.
Employees also would face a set of rules. They could not pet or hold the dogs, and if they accidentally came in contact, they would have to wash up. Water bowls for dogs would be required to be stored separately from other restaurant equipment and dishes.
“I’m for it,” said Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “It gives the restaurant owner the freedom to decide.”
Debbie Valerio, owner of The River in Dolores, said she supports the proposal. Her restaurant has a large deck and backyard beach area along the Dolores River.
“It would be nice for the customer to not have to leave their pet in the car and be worried and feel rushed,” she said. “If they are well-behaved, there’s no issue. I would do it. It’s fun and makes the meal more enjoyable for the customer. You don’t want to lose business because someone can’t bring in their pet.”
La Plata County gave a green light to restaurant owners to seek permission for allowing dogs in outside areas if they meet regulations.
Word of the convenience has drifted west, and customers have been asking that if they can do it in Durango, why not here?
County restaurant inspector Melissa Mathews said letters are being sent to the 30 restaurants in Montezuma County that have patios informing them of the proposal.
Dogs will be dogs, so the measure could bring added hassles for restaurant owners, officials noted. For example, dogs could get into scuffles with one another, and if a child was running around with, say, a corn dog, it might be too hard to resist for some dogs to steal a snack. And a dog that snapped at customers might lead to a visit by law enforcement officers.
“You could end up with more dog bite cases,” Lock said.
Tricia, a Vancouver tourist traveling through Dolores with her dog Missy, said she would be more likely to stop at a restaurant if it were dog-friendly.
“Most pet owners are responsible, and it is better than leaving her in the car,” she said. “In Vancouver, they don’t allow it, but I wish they would.”
To get a feel for whether there is interest in the idea, the county plans to poll restaurants to gauge support for the proposal.