Dawn Bennett and Dexter enjoy an afternoon refreshment at the Red Rooster in Cutchogue. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

When Cutchogue dog trainer Dawn Bennett was abruptly told to leave the outdoor dining area of a local waterfront restaurant because she had her dog with her, she was surprised.

“It was a drizzly afternoon; we had seated ourselves on an outdoor deck that had only one other couple on it,” she remembers. “I honestly didn’t think it would be a problem.”

Dexter, her well-trained Australian Shepherd, often accompanies Bennett and her husband to restaurants with outdoor seating and they had never been told to leave before.

This got her thinking about what the rules were for allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas of restaurants and led her on a quest to develop an extensive list of North Fork establishments that welcome pooches. As it turns out, the North Fork is particularly dog-friendly, she says.

So what exactly is the law regarding companion dogs in restaurants?

Since October of 2015 New York State has allowed companion dogs in the outdoor dining area of food establishments on the following conditions:

  (a) the owner of the food facility elects to allow companion dogs in its outdoor dining area or a designated portion of it, and subject to any restrictions that the owner of the facility may establish;

  (b) a separate outdoor entrance is present where companion dogs enter without going through the food establishment to reach the outdoor dining area and companion dogs are not allowed on chairs, benches, seats or other fixtures;

  (c) the outdoor dining area in which companion dogs are allowed is not used for food or drink preparation or the storage of utensils. A food employee may refill a beverage glass in the outdoor dining area from a pitcher or other container;

  (d) food and water provided to companion dogs shall only be in single-use disposable containers;

  (e) food employees are prohibited from having direct contact with companion dogs while on duty. A food employee who does have such prohibited direct contact shall wash his or her hands as required by law;

  (f) the outdoor dining area is maintained clean. Surfaces that have been contaminated by dog excrement or other bodily fluids shall be cleaned and sanitized;

  (g) the companion dog is on a leash or confined in a pet carrier and is under the control of the companion dog owner;

  (h) there is reasonable signage indicating that companion dogs are allowed in the outdoor dining area or a designated portion of it. The signage shall state that restrictions on companion dogs do not apply to guide, hearing or service animals;

  (i) the food facility owner ensures compliance with local ordinances related to sidewalks, public nuisance and sanitation; and

  (j) such other control measures approved by the enforcement agency are complied with.

Service dogs are permitted in all restaurants and no owner can turn them away. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Additionally, the ADA dictates that  “establishments cannot ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability and may not demand proof that the animal is certified. However, if it is not readily apparent that a dog is a service animal, they may ask, (1) if the animal is required because of a disability, and (2) what work the animal has been trained to perform.”

Food establishments are not required to allow emotional support animals onto the premises, however. Emotional support animals are not service animals and are defined by the ADA as “animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions.”

Phil Marcario, owner of Phil’s Waterfront Restaurant in Aquebogue, does not allow dogs on his outdoor dining deck. A self-proclaimed dog lover, Marcario gave the issue a lot of thought and came to the conclusion that restaurants are not a safe environment for dogs.

“My wife and I have a dog, we love to take the dog everywhere with us,” he says. “But we’ve been to places that allow dogs in their outdoor seating areas and as you know, dogs will be dogs and sometimes they don’t get along. We’ve seen dogs lunge at each other.”

He points out that there’s no way for restaurant staff to know whether or not an animal has vicious tendencies toward humans.

“So if your dog decides to go after somebody or bite somebody, that becomes my problem,” he says.

He added that with a high-volume restaurant such as Phil’s, there was danger for the dogs as well.

“People drop food, a dog eats it and gets sick and again, that becomes my problem,” he says. “I would be beside myself if somebody’s animal got sick, stepped on or bitten by another animal.”

Maryann Birmingham, owner of Case’s Place in New Suffolk, also doesn’t allow dogs on their deck.

“I had a couple of instances last year where people were bringing in giant dogs, one dog was jumping up on the table,” she said. “Trained service dogs will enter the deck, go immediately under the table, sit and not be heard.”

Bennett said that she understands the owners’ point of view and has no problem adhering to their wishes. She takes issue with dog owners bringing ill-behaved dogs to restaurants or wineries, saying that they should either leave the dog home or have it trained.

On the North Fork there are far more restaurants that allow companion dogs than there are that don’t. The bottom line, however, is that the owner has the final say.

To view Bennett’s list of North Fork restaurants that allow well-mannered dogs in their outdoor seating areas, visit Coast Dogs Training.

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