One day after the Nova Scotia government announced a new policy allowing dogs on outdoor patios, some accessibility advocates and guide dog users are raising concerns that the presence of pets could compromise their safety.
While service animals are well-trained, any barking or play from dogs at other tables may still distract them, interfering with their ability to keep their owner safe, said guide dog user Shelley Adams.
“I’m just worried about the extra distraction it’s going to bring,” said Adams, sitting next to her own guide dog, Rookie.
“I don’t want to have to be sitting there worrying that another dog is going to try and engage with him, or I don’t know, hurt him in any way … He is my mobility aid.”
Adams said she is not opposed to the policy, and would still attend an outdoor patio but ask to be seated away from other dogs.
In the event someone else’s dog were to start misbehaving, however, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) said the desire of the service dog user to sit on the patio must be prioritized.
“If there are going to be other animals on a patio, there’s potential for the other animals to negatively interfere with the work of a guide dog. I think the behaviour of the animals needs to be held to the same high standards that we as guide dog users have our dogs following,” said CNIB guide dog program president Diane Bergeron.
It’s important to distinguish between the rights and needs of a service dog user and the preference of a pet owner, she added.
The provincial change came into effect on Tuesday, answering a longstanding request from the restaurant industry to remove barriers for dog owners, who may be more likely to stop for a meal or a drink if their dogs can accompany them.
In a Wednesday statement, Environment Department spokesperson Barbara MacLean it’s important for Nova Scotians to do their part not to distract service dogs or interfere with their ability to do their job, but ultimately, establishments are responsible for enforcing the policy properly.
“It’s up to restaurant owners to ensure that dogs on patios are not impeding their customers, including those from the accessibility community and service dogs,” she wrote.
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Businesses that choose to allow pets must also follow certain rules, she added, including keeping their dogs leashed, on the ground and away from the aisles. Pet dogs are still prohibited from entering bars and restaurants, while service dogs are not.
Luc Erjavec, vice-president of the Restaurants Canada Atlantic chapter, emphasized that the new patio provision is voluntary and not every restaurant will choose to adopt it.
Restaurant owners who do choose to allow pets, he added, will do their utmost to accommodate all customers.
“I don’t think any operator wants 10 dogs on a small patio. I think they’re going to look at each individual situation, the time of day, what’s going on and respond accordingly,” he said. “Our goal is to keep our customers happy.”
Accessibility advocate Paul Vienneau, who helped win the case for accessible washrooms in Nova Scotia restaurants, said he shares the concerns of guide dog users.
He loves dogs and sympathizes with the restaurant industry, he told Global News, but he fears the policy decision was taken without consultation from the disability community, casting a shadow over years of accessibility progress.
“There are other ways to make money than doing this,” said Vienneau. “For the government to just wave their hand and basically wipe away decades of hard work by disabled and blind folks that they’ve done is pretty disrespectful to these people.”
David Fraser, a privacy lawyer who represented wheelchair users in the 2018 challenge for accessible restaurant washrooms, also wondered whether the new policy was “thought through.”
“My concern is by allowing dogs access to patios, you might be reducing the access to those patios that are otherwise accessible to individuals who use service animals, and I think that’s a real concern,” he said.