TORONTO – Something as simple as stopping for a drink on a patio or grabbing an ice cream cone during a summer stroll is a challenge for dog-lover Carola Rong.
A recent craving forced the 25-year-old Toronto medical student to get a stranger to hold her pup while she dashed inside for a treat. It was better than trying to sneak the dog into the shop, which she admits she’s done when grabbing a coffee at Starbucks.
“They’re not really happy with dogs inside,” Rong says with a grimace after retrieving her two-year-old French bulldog and sitting on an outdoor bench to enjoy her cone.
Rong and other Canadian dog owners are no doubt envious of the pooch-tolerant cultures that exist in many other parts of the world. Many of London’s famous pubs allow dogs inside, and in Paris, dogs routinely visit cafes, bakeries and even fine dining eateries sans problem.
Closer to home, new rules were recently enacted in New York City allowing bars and restaurants to legally welcome doggy diners onto their patios.
In Toronto, it’s a provincial law that puts Rong and other urban pet owners on a constant search for eateries with outdoor spaces enclosed by leash-friendly railings, so they can park their pal on the other side of a fence while they imbibe on a patio.
It’s rare to find an establishment that has figured a way around the regulation — like the William’s Fresh Cafe near the waterfront, which only serves takeout but is adjacent to the Purina PawsWay museum, which has a pet-friendly seating area.
Then there’s the east-end lounge Tom&Sawyer, which sells human-grade pet food. It also offers takeout coffee for the humans and a pet-friendly lounge where you can drink your joe surrounded by furry friends.
Store owner Kristin Matthews says it’s legal because they make no food for humans, and all drinks are served in disposable cups. That means no utensils or dishes re-enter the kitchen after being in contact with Fido.
Matthews eyes pet-friendly eateries around the world with some envy. She notes that after a trip to Japan her husband recounted dining with associates at a restaurant where they brought their dogs and held them on their laps. She wonders why Canada doesn’t boast more options for pet-owners.
“Whenever we go somewhere with (our dog) Sawyer we’re looking for dog-friendly hotels and we’re looking for dog-friendly sites and dog-friendly malls and places that we can go,” she says.
“A lot of our friends and a lot of the research we did showed that people are looking for that, too.”
Toronto has taken notice, says the city’s public health spokesman Sylvanus Thompson, who nevertheless refrained from speculating on the chance of a similar move in Canada’s most populous city.
“It has spurred interest and some people are saying, ‘Well, so when are you doing what New York is doing? What are you doing about that?” says Thompson, noting it’s ultimately up to the Ontario government.
“We would look at the risk associated and if we’re asked for advice we would provide our advice based on available evidence.”
Most other provinces feature near identical legislation banning live animals — other than service animals and fish in an aquarium — from food premises.
The most permissive Canadian province would seem to be New Brunswick, which boasts the standard ban with the caveat that it does not apply to “an outdoor eating area.” Restaurants in New Brunswick don’t have to allow dogs on the patio, but like New York, they have the option to do so, said a provincial spokesman.
Alberta takes a middling approach by allowing business owners to request permission to welcome pets — which has resulted in cats, birds, fish and dogs in a range of food-permitted facilities across the province including a social care facility, restaurant, and water bottling facility.
Dr. Kathryn Koliaska, the province’s lead medical officer for environmental public health, says the approval process is “quite rigorous.”
In Calgary, dogs can sit on the patio of Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall as long as their owners have proof of their rabies shots and vaccinations.
The eatery boasts a leash hitch on every table, water and kibble table service, and a fenced-off area for dogs to do their business.
Owner and dog-lover Harris Dvorkin says he sought approval after seeing too many animals left out in the parking lot.
“What used to drive me nuts, probably all my life, is seeing people in the club and the dog is in the damn car and they’ve got the windows up. Or they got them in the back of the truck,” says Dvorkin.
Of course, having dogs on a patio is not for everyone.
Dog-owner Corrine Luxon, 28, says she’d never bring her German shepherd border collie mix to a patio, fearing the dog would try to befriend other patrons or even steal their food.
And she suspects some ardent pet-lovers would be tempted to interpret a lifted ban too liberally.
“How far are people going to go, are they going to hold the dog at the table?” asks Luxon, a Toronto dog-walker and dog-sitter.
“I feel like some people humanize their dogs a bit too much and then they’ll maybe put it in a seat beside them. It’s just kind of unhygienic.”
Dvorkin says he hasn’t had a single incident with dogs at his establishment. And if he’s lost customers because of his dog-friendly rules, so be it.
“I don’t want those kind of people near me anyhow. So we can live without them very easily, especially the ones that have a fear of dogs; that’s not my cup of tea.”
But annoying your customers can have consequences.
It took just one anonymous complaint to end nearly two decades of welcoming four-legged patrons at The French Baker in Ottawa, says chef and co-owner Scott Adams.
Sanitation was not an issue, he insists, believing that a broad ban for every establishment isn’t fair.
“I know the risks of washing my hands as much as I know about not having the dog putting his nose in the salad greens or something. We’re not idiots,” says Adams.
“But there are people that do not know the difference and so that’s why we have these kind of blanket regulations.”
He says the crackdown took away what made them unique and hurt the Parisian ambience they were after.
“I’ve noticed some of those regulars don’t come as often and when they do then they have to tie their dog outside on the street. It’s just not the same experience,” says Adams.
Then there are those establishments that are willing to risk fines for the sake of accepting furry pals.
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Quebec City restaurateur Kevin Quinn displays a laissez faire attitude about pets on the patio of his Cafe-Terrasse La Nouvelle-France.
He’s not 100 per cent sure of the legality but noted no one has stopped him so far: “We’ve had food inspections with dogs on the terrace and they never said a word,” Quinn asserted, noting dogs have been served there since 1984.
(A spokesman for Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food says pets are fine on patios, as long as they stay out of the kitchen and dishes remain separate.)
Quinn says customers seem to love his policy, especially since many are tourists who travel with their pets and otherwise would have few options to dine with their four-legged companion.
One of his best customers are a couple with three golden Labrador retrievers.
“They order five meals,” says Quinn.
“Depending I guess on their finances, they’ll order steak or hamburger steak for the dogs and we have to cook it really well done, we have to make sure it didn’t come in contact with onions or anything else, and we serve it in their plates to them on the terrace.”
He says it works well for him.
“We’ve never had a problem with it, ever.”