I was there - testifying at City Hall a few years ago to support the notion that dogs should be allowed to dine on restaurant patios and sidewalk cafes in Chicago. As the co-chair for the Task Force on Companion Animals and Public Safety, this is an issue we supported as a group, and I long pushed locally.
At City Hall, the City's health department maintained concerns in their testimony, which I said:
"The problem isn't about dogs - who I bet most of you (Aldermen on the License Committee and members of the City Health Department) have your dog in your kitchen when you eat, and I am certain that has not affected your health....though maybe your dog's health if you're offering too much table food. The only threat to human health of dogs eating next to tables outside at restaurants comes from above. But until we can diaper birds, there's not much we can do. Also, allowing dogs on patios and sidewalk cafes helpx small businesses, which most restaurants are, though I do believe we're charging them too high a fee for this."
The truth is I already had worked with then Alderman Gene Schulter to lower the fee which restaurants would have had to pay to allow dogs, if they so desired.
Fast forward to today...Mayor Rahm Emanuel realizes that small businesses have a potential 117 licenses, it's ridiculous - nearly impossible to even keep up, and the businesses are being nickled and dimed to death (literally). His office wants to lower the number to 48 different licenses. Under a proposal, the city's four-year-old “dog-friendly area” license would be folded into the main food retail license - the vote is scheduled for May 9. And I am in absolute fully support!
Here's some history.....Mayor Richard Daley's office - seeking revenue - began to fine restaurants for allowing dogs on patios and cafes about seven or eight years ago. The Daley health department office maintaining there was no specific ordinance to allow dogs. True. But there was also no ordinance against it. I called Daley's press office and said I will go public about how the Daley administration has become "dog hating" if you don't leave it alone....your fines are not complaint drive, they are about revenue and not health, and it's wrong! My threat worked - for a time.
But the following Spring, it began to happen all over again. This time, the Mayor's office wasn't about to listen, pointing to the City ordinance which was so antiquated - the major concern in the ordinance (which didn't say a thing about dogs) was about keeping chickens outside restaurants.
In order to change the local ordinance, others worked on the state law first. They did that, state-wide. Now Illinois cities could craft local ordinances to allow dogs on restaurant patios and sidewalk cafes if they so desire. Once the state law was changed (voted on overwhelmingly), our Task Force worked with Schulter worked to change the local Chicago ordinance. I spoke with the Alderman about this on my then WGN Radio show, Pet Central, several times. Following the testimony described above at City Hall, the proposal passed 50 to zero, and Daley didn't dare say a word (at least not publicly).
Sadly, some smaller restaurants never applied for the "dog-friendly area" license because of cost - listen some places are just barely making it - I understand....So, waiving the fee makes sense to businesses and to dog owners. Also, simplifying the myriad of fees makes sense for the city too.
And for those who don't want to dine where dogs are - well, don't - no one is forcing you. . . . Overall, though allowing dogs helps businesses - which I am all for. The overwhelming majority of dogs are better behaved than most toddlers - complaints are few. For the most part, even people who don't have dogs, enjoy the idea of wagging tail nearby (as long as the pup is behaved)....all this enhances the quality of life in a big city.
Chicago isn't alone - many other cities, even some states see the value of allowing dogs to dine with people outdoors.
This Huffington Post story on Chicago's dog friendly restaurants has got it right!