Dogs are man's best friend, and they also can be good for business.

Thanks to Gov. John Kasich signing House Bill 263 on July 30, canine lovers soon will be able to enjoy food and beverages with their dogs by their sides in outdoor seating areas at willing restaurants and other food-related establishments.

The law, which will go into effect Oct. 28, gives business owners a choice that had previously been curtailed.

Many central Ohio businesses had benefited from allowing customers to bring dogs onto their patios, but they unknowingly were breaking the law until a letter from the Franklin County Public Health reminded them last year it was illegal.

In response, Columbus resident Christie Mayo started a petition and obtained more than 12,000 signatures to launch the Ohio 4 Pups On Patios initiative.

Mayo volunteers at a nonprofit rescue group called RescuedOhio in New Albany and works for a business that caters to dog owners.

She said she started the petition after a Gahanna business told her it couldn't host an event to support her cause because of a notice from Franklin County Public Health.

The notice from food-safety program supervisor Garrett Guillozet, dated April 17, 2017, went to all Franklin County food-service operations and retail food-establishment licensees.

"Franklin County Public Health has been made aware of several events advertising animals, specifically dogs, on the premise of licensed food facilities," the notice said. "The premise of a licensed food facility includes patios, open-air bars and other outdoor seating areas. Events such as 'Pups on the Patio' or any similar event are not permitted, according to the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code."

Mayo's petition said, "(Ohio residents) say: Let the business owners choose whether or not to allow dogs on their patios."

Mayo said research shows that healthy, vaccinated dogs on outdoor patios do not pose health or sanitary concerns.

In addition, the petition said, local shelters and rescues rely on some patio events for adoptions and fundraising in order to save homeless dogs.

"Prohibiting these events has a negative impact on all of the work these organizations do to save homeless animals," the petition said. "Dogs on patios (drive) consumerism and (give) business owners access to a unique customer base."

Legislation

State Rep. Laura Lanese (R-Grove City) sponsored HB 263.

"What got me behind it is that people have been doing this for years anyway," she said. "Someone filed a complaint and the health department had to close down the operation. Other restaurants and bars got concerned and shut down (events), while others kept going.

"I want to help businesses flourish. This is a popular way for a lot of businesses to attract customers. It's another tool for people to increase profits. One (business owner) testified that it cut business 20 percent (when dogs were prohibited)."

Lanese said she couldn't find any connections to diseases caused by dogs on outdoor patios.

"Basically, it isn't harming anyone," she said. "I don't think people will see an onslaught of dogs. Most dog owners are responsible."

According to HB 263, establishments that allow a person to bring a dog to an outdoor dining area must adopt a policy that requires patrons to control their dog, with a leash or otherwise; prohibit the dog in the inside of the establishment; and comply with sanitation standards in the Ohio uniform food-safety code.

The bill won't permit dogs inside eating establishments, except for service dogs that already are permitted under law.

Lanese's bill was amended with language from Senate Bill 182, sponsored by Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester).

The intent of the bills is the same, with Coley's allowing the Ohio Department of Health to draft rules and regulations, if needed.

The final votes were 32-0 in the Senate and 81-11 in the House.

Opposition

HB 263 faced no organized opposition, but two individuals provided testimony on Oct. 24, 2017.

Joseph Rocco Marchi, who has a service dog, opposed the bill.

He said he went through training and structured lessons that taught him everything there is to know about a service dog.

Marchi said his dog, Iggy, knows every type of instruction one could imagine, because he was trained by social workers for one year.

He said more than $20,000 was put into his training.

"No other dog has that experience," he said. "You're making a big mistake bringing untrained dogs into any venue."

Valerie Slayman, who also has a service dog, provided written testimony against the bill.

"While an animal may behave in the comfort of their home environment, many will not when faced with being around other dogs and having the smell of food lurking in the background," she wrote.

Slayman said sanitation would be another factor, as well as what a dog owner would do if a canine is thirsty or hungry.

"Some owners wouldn't think twice as to taking a plate or bowl from the table and adding water or food to it, then passing it to the pet," she said. "Some of us would not like that."

Health department

Guillozet said Franklin County Public Health officials support HB 263 and believe it will work to protect food safety.

He said the department had received an increase in complaints in 2017 from previous years.

The complaint numbers were: 2018, three (to date); 2017, 14; 2016, five; 2015, none; and 2014, two.

"Our complaints were general in nature," he said. "People reported that they saw a dog and they knew that it shouldn't have been there."

Shelia Hiddleson, health commissioner for the Delaware General Health District, said her county received only one complaint in the past five years.

"The complaint came in November 2017 that a patron had a small dog in her arms at a local restaurant and when she was paying her bill at the register, she handed the dog to the food-service worker," she said. "We followed up with the food service and informed them this was a violation of the food code."

On June 22, Hiddleson said, the health district was informed that a "Real Big Puppy Pub Crawl" was going to be held in Delaware on June 23.

An email was sent from Steve Burke, environmental-health director, to remind the food-service operator licensee that current food-service law doesn't permit dogs on patios or inside the licensed food-service establishment.

Guillozet said the first iteration of the food-safety code was established in 1983.

It was based on the 1977 FDA Food Code, with the current version saying, "Live animals may not be allowed on the premises of a food-service operation or retail food establishment."

The Ohio Revised Code in section 3717.05 establishes the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code, and 3717-1-06.4(O), which outlines maintenance and operation of physical facilities, states that animals are prohibited. The prohibition doesn't apply to service dogs.

Under the current law, Guillozet said, the penalty would be a violation of the code and enforced by health inspectors.

He said no fines are issued, because local health departments don't have the authority to levy fines for violations of the food code.

"Inspections are conducted by the local health department, and if a violation is observed, it is cited on the inspection report," Guillozet said.

If a violation persisted, the state could suspend or revoke the food license, he said.

When the new rules are in place, Guillozet said, Franklin County will notify licensees about how they apply to facilities who want to allow dogs on outdoor patios.

Business support

Tim Latorre, owner and manager of Gahanna's Signatures Mill Stone Tavern, said the elimination of dogs on patios hurt many Creekside District businesses that had been welcoming them for years.

"I've had Signatures for five years and have always allowed pets on the patio," he said. "It was pretty substantial when it first happened. To get a letter from the health department and stop cold turkey was just a big shocker.

"We didn't have any complaints. We were dumbfounded when it happened."

Gahanna's Paws in the Plaza event at 117 Mill St. at Creekside started 10 years ago to introduce residents to the area and boost business at pet-friendly patios.

Many pet-related vendors and rescue groups set up in the plaza area the first Thursday of every month from April through October.

"Unfortunately, we sure have experienced a decline in attendance at Paws in the Plaza events," said Amy Evans, director of the Olde Gahanna Community Partnership, organizer of the event. "There are so many great patios within steps of Creekside and such a wide variety of restaurants, everyone could find something and could try different things on each visit."

She said she and the local businesses didn't know pets on the patio were prohibited under the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code.

Ben Mooney, general manager of Barrel & Boar at Creekside, said he always supported Paws in the Plaza from the time the restaurant opened in May 2016.

"Opening in the summer promoted a high concentration of business on the patio right from the start, and I kowtowed to the law as it stood," he said. "It was a real challenge generating business on the (Paws in the Plaza) days, given the law didn't allow it. Most patrons were understanding but noticeably disappointed, as was I."

Mooney said he understands the law is rooted in health and safety, and regardless of his or anyone's opinion, it is paramount in running a safe and successful full-service restaurant.

"Promoting and fostering true, all-inclusive hospitality is what I love about my business, and dogs being allowed on restaurant patios seems to be a natural extension of that," he said.

Several chamber of commerce leaders said HB 263 could be good for business.

Leslee Blake, president of the Gahanna Area Chamber of Commerce, said it's important to keep events at Creekside.

"We need activity," she said. "Anything we can do to create a level of attraction for business in this area, I say we're all for it."

Libby Gierach, president of the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, said knowing that business owners can make it their choice is important.

"There are definitely Hilliard businesses that will welcome the opportunity to include this and will market it to increase their business," she said.

Janet Tressler-Davis, president of the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, said she believes some of the 21 city businesses that have patios would welcome dogs.

"We're a friendly community to the point you see animals in the community," she said. "I think some areas will be accepting and others won't choose to do it."

Dog-friendly travel

Megumi Robinson, public-relations director for Experience Columbus, said Experience Columbus launched a citywide dog friendly travel initiative in 2017 because vacationing with pets has become common.

According to the American Pet Products Association, 37 percent of pet owners take their animals on the road, up from 19 percent 10 years ago.

"At Experience Columbus, it's our responsibility to watch consumer travel habits and trends so that we can continue to improve the city as a visitor destination," said Kari Kauffman, vice president of tourism. "We're responding to the increased demand we're seeing from visitors in the marketplace to bring their pets along. This pet-friendly initiative is strengthened by the number of amenities and offerings Columbus has to accommodate them."

As Experience Columbus prepares for HB 263 to become effective, Robinson said, its member organizations of more than 1,200 are being encouraged to update their information regarding if they are pet friendly.

"Restaurants have the ability to note if they allow dogs on their patio," she said.

Those businesses will be featured on dogsincbus.com, and they will receive a window sticker that says "Dogs Welcome Here" and a custom water bowl.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla

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