If one thing is evident about where we live, it is that many visitors and residents love their dogs. They’re sure to be seen on trails, at the Dog Park, and strolling with their people in downtown Durango. They also may be seen in grocery stores, in restaurants, and definitely on outdoor patios around town during warm summer months when we all enjoy being outside. However, there are clear rules dogs and their handlers need to follow when retail food is being served. As the local regulatory authority over food safety, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) is working with both restaurant owners and community members to clear up confusion around a somewhat complex issue.

Are our furry friends welcome on outdoor patios?

The answer can be both yes and no, depending. Food safety regulation, 8-106 Prohibiting of Animals, states that live animals may not be allowed on the premises of a food establishment. This includes outdoor patios. However, if a restaurant owner believes that the requirement results in an undue economic hardship, or when it is believed a standard may not apply to the specific situation, they can apply for an exception reviewed by local and state public health agencies.

What about service animals?

Trained service animals as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are not only necessary for some individuals, but are also protected by the federal law. A service animal is defined as any dog or miniature horse that is specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. This can include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. A business owner is allowed to  ask the handler only two questions: “Is this a service animal?” and “what task has the animal been trained to perform?” Service animals are not required to wear vests and handlers are not required to prove that it is a service animal in any way, including presenting documentation. In fact, there is no national certification process for service animals. Trained service animals must be allowed in the same public spaces and businesses their handlers are permitted, including those that are food-related. Those with service animals may not be excluded or segregated from other customers. However, service animals must be under control at all times and must have a harness or leash. If service animals are not under the control, act aggressively, or are overly disruptive (barking excessively), the business owner may ask that the animal be removed.

Any other species of animal besides dogs or miniature horses, trained or untrained, are not considered a service animal, and  are not protected by the ADA. For some individuals, having their animals with them for emotional support, therapy, or companionship is important to them, but is not lawful. In places like restaurants and grocery stores, these animals are not allowed – only trained service animals are permitted. It is a crime in the state of Colorado to misrepresent pets as service animals, but beyond the legal issue, it is ethically wrong. With every abuse of the system, legitimate service animals and people with disabilities receive increased skepticism, adding to the difficulties and discrimination they already face.

Which restaurants are dog-friendly?

So far, four SJBPH-regulated restaurants have demonstrated that they can properly mitigate food safety risks and have received variances to allow non-service animals on their patios: Pagosa Brewing Company, Homeslice North and South, and Cyprus Café. These businesses are required to adhere to practices that maintain a standard of cleanliness and food safety in line with public health regulation. Also, these restaurants can request pets to leave the property if they are disruptive or aggressive.

For the benefit of the entire community, please seek to understand and follow the rules that guide where dogs are permitted and the designation of service animals. If you have questions or concerns regarding pets and/or service animals in retail food establishments, please contact San Juan Basin Public Health’s Consumer Protection Program at eh@sjbpublichealth.org or 970-335-2052.