A Plea to US Restaurateurs and American Culture: Let Our Dogs Dine!

Dr. Patty Khuly

If you’re reading this post on a pet insurance website, you're almost certain to hold the belief that a dog should not be denied entrance to a restaurant based on the code of his DNA. After all, pets are people too.

Well, not really... but when it comes to offering us mealtime companionship, they might as well be.

In any case, the fact that they don't share our DNA is a point that counts in their favor when it comes to restaurants and their "health based," no-dogs-allowed policies. After all, the fact that dogs are not human means they’re far less likely to transmit diseases than any old dude snorkeling into his tableware, mom coughing over her shoulder, or kid launching snot-bombs in your direction.

I mean, what harm could a dog do? At worst, she’d lick your hand, transmitting little more than some inert saliva with its sloppy mess of innocuous germs. No salmonella, no campylobacter, and no ringworm. In fact, in a restaurant setting, you're more likely to get all of these from your fellow humans than from nearby animals.

Which is why, alarmist public health regulations notwithstanding; it’s my firm belief as a veterinarian that dogs are disallowed on the basis of American culture rather than on any science. The fact that the French are so forward-thinking in this regard got me to thinking about our cultural differences relevant to dining en famille with dogs in tow.

As much as we adore our pets, why, I wondered, does America eschew this practice when it comes to our own dogs? Except for limited outdoor seating during balmy months, relatively few establishments offer the open access the French do. Is it that our culture of canine companions is not yet as evolved as France's? Or perhaps it's that our dogs are infinitely less well-behaved (a distinct possibility, I'll concede).

The possibility of bite wounds and other bad behavior notwithstanding, it seems most likely that our culture of cleanliness is what does us in when it comes to welcoming dog patrons in our nation's eateries. One has only to compare the intolerable French railway fug to our relatively pristine American subway air to understand that the two cultures harbor differences when it comes to personal hygiene and cleanliness in general.

For their part, the French think us overly fastidious and too willing to dispense with life's little luxuries (dogs at restaurants being only one among many). Meanwhile, from our squeaky-clean American POV, their hygienic laxity represents a distinct threat to public health.

It's undeniable that we Americans are super-sensitive in our uber-hygienic ways. Perhaps it's the Puritan influence ("cleanliness is next to godliness" and all that), but the fact that personal health and hygiene products take up eight full aisles in my local Target speaks to our near-obsessiveness on this subject. Which, I'll posit, argues against our American ways. After all, for all our clean extremes, we experience no lower rates of infectious disease than the French do.

Which brings me back to restaurants, and the concluding notion that if we were serious about controlling rates of infectious disease and bad behavior in our restaurants, we'd do better to ban babies and children than dogs. Just a thought. What say you?

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