HEALTHY LIVING

NYC Department Of Health Says Dogs Are 'Unsanitary.' In Reality, Dogs Are Awesome.

06/09/2015 11:14 am ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015

A new bill proposed in New York state would make it legal for dog owners to dine with their pups in the outdoor areas of restaurants, like patios and gardens and sidewalk tables.

While the bill has received thumbs up from the state Senate and the city council of New York City, the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a memo arguing the change would be unsanitary.

"Dogs in restaurants can create unsanitary conditions through shedding hair and dander among other things," Christopher Miller, the department's press secretary, wrote to The Huffington Post in an email. "Their presence outdoors at sidewalk cafes on crowded sidewalks with pedestrians, strollers, children and other dogs passing by, often with no barrier separating tables from sidewalks, invites opportunity for negative interactions and bites."

This notion is "uniformed," New York Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who is sponsoring the bill, told HuffPost over the phone. "It doesn’t really make any sense to me."

Indeed, there are already 600,000 pet canines currently populating the city, wagging their tails and shedding hair on sidewalks, park benches and probably a few restaurant chairs. (And like dogs, people carry germs, shed hair and can be threatening all on their own.)

For every dog hair found nestled in the lettuce leaf of a salad niçoise, there exists a reason it'd be a pleasure to dine outdoors with dogs. Here are 12:

People with standard dog allergies are at low risk.
Most people who are allergic to dogs are actually allergic to the animal's dander or saliva rather than the hair, Rosenthal pointed out.

Dr. James Sublett, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, told The Huffington Post that allergens are already found in public places: "They get transferred by people, on their clothing." Sublett said that animal allergens can even be found in places where animals have never been before -- all it takes is for a person or piece of clothing to come in contact with the allergens in order to transport them. The diners at pet-friendly restaurants are likely already exposed to animal allergens, whether on the streets, at work and even at home.

"The vast majority of people who have animal allergies shouldn't be affected at all," Sublett said. Someone who is highly allergic to animals should have knowledge of their condition and physician-approved directives.

Dogs make families whole.

A photo posted by @ninapampel on

"People feel their dogs are part of the family," Rosenthal said. Ain't it the truth? Being able to bring them along to an outing could help mitigate the guilt owners feel when they have to leave their family member home alone. It also strengthens the family bond, giving the group more time to spend together.

The legislation has been successful elsewhere.
In August 2014, the state of California passed AB-1965, a bill that as of January 1 allows patrons to bring their dogs to outdoor cafes and patios. According to Nancy Sarieh, a public information officer at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the city has received the same number of complaints on dogs in food facilities since the bill went into effect as it did the previous year, before the legislation was passed. The total number of complaints in 2014 was four.

Rosenthal and other bill proponents brought in leading veterinarians from California to discuss the benefits and low risk factors relating to the law with the members of the NY Department of Health. Those in opposition weren't swayed. “It’s easier to say no than say yes," Rosenthal supposed. But New York would not be a guinea pig in this ruling, a fact that should help alleviate concern. Much of California's city landscape is similar to New York's, with its crowded sidewalks and restaurants and traffic-filled roads. If Californians can pull it off, New Yorkers can manage, too.

The dogs will be leashed or in a carrier.

A photo posted by Nova (@superdognova) on

The pups won't be sticking their snouts in everybody's bloody Mary. Per the bill's guidelines, all dogs will have to be kept safely restrained near their owner, mirroring the way dogs are handled on sidewalks. As pet owners have managed to appropriately handle their animals on the streets, they should have no problem doing the same while sitting for a meal.

Dog people will more easily connect with other dog people ...
"Dog people" have very specific personality traits: They tend to be more extroverted, relaxed and conscientious. When there are dog-welcoming restaurants, these like-minded folk will have an easier time finding one another and bonding.

... And people will become more social.
A 2009 study found that dogs act as a catalyst for social interactions -- who hasn't stopped a dog owner on the street to revel in the beauty of his Labradoodle's curls? Forty percent of people in the study reported making friends was much easier as a dog owner.

In the age of social media, when in-person connections may pale compared to the time we spend texting and looking at screens, the prospect of two strangers bonding over something as tangible as a living, breathing dog is exciting. In a sense, dogs have the potential to elevate humanity.

Dogs are happiness wizards.

A photo posted by katebratskeir (@katebratskeir) on

When owners simply look at their dogs, their levels of oxytocin -- the neurohormone that promotes feelings of happiness -- rise. A restaurant service worker probably enjoys waiting on a happy patron rather than one who's bummed out. Dogs' happy powers can affect non-owners, too. Petting a pooch for just 15 minutes releases a bunch of happy brain chemicals and reduces levels of cortisol, the stress chemical.

Dogs already safely exist in public places.
The County Health Officials of New York have opposed the bill, citing a fear of higher risk for dog bites. Dr. Gary K. Michelson disagrees. A Los Angeles-based surgeon and philanthropist who backed the move in California, he wrote in a memo supporting the New York bill that "If some hypothesized risk of a dog bite was sufficient to defeat this popular and sensible proposal, then the risk would be universally present and we would ban all dogs in entirety or at the least from ever being in public. The proposition is on its face absurd."

Safety measures have been added to the legislation to ensure it would lead to safe and happy dining. In addition to requiring that all animals remain leashed or in carriers, the bill would require restaurants to offer single-use dishes for animals and owners to clean up any "accidents," the New York Post reported.

The action could actually make New Yorkers healthier.
The Department of Health may be ignoring the health benefits of dogs. For one, dogs reduce stress. Every New Yorker could profit from that. Dog owners tend to be more physically active than their pet-free counterparts. Perhaps, when a petless patron sees how wonderful owning a dog can be while observing another table, he or she will be convinced to get one of their own.

Businesses could boom.
If the bill passes, it will be up to a restaurant's owner whether the business allows dogs or not. While it's illegal, many New York restaurants already host doggy diners anyway. The action would legalize something they're already doing, and enable them to promote the perk to people who want to sit with their pets, attracting additional clientele.

Approval could help save more animals' lives.

Countless New Yorkers crave the company of a friend with four paws, but don't house a pet of their own because they feel they won't have the time to care for it. This action could help those who've always wrestled with the idea of owning a dog take the leap, knowing that they'll be able to maintain a social life while still spending time with their animal. Each year, thousands of dogs are in need of home. The bill's passage could prompt permanent ones for more of them.

Dogs are awesome.

A photo posted by katebratskeir (@katebratskeir) on

They are. It's indisputable. Some dogs can sniff out cancer. Other dogs are army veterans. Some pooches have saved human lives, and others are professional beekeepers. Dogs provide unrequited, unconditional love and they deserve to be toasted conveniently on the patio of a delicious restaurant.

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