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Mich. Senate votes to allow dogs on restaurant patios

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan restaurants could legally allow patrons to bring dogs on their patios under legislation approved Wednesday by the state Senate that supporters argue will be good for business.

Senate Bill 122 would require restaurants to notify their local health department if they intend to allow dogs in their outdoor seating areas. A local government could choose to prohibit it.

Sponsoring Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, said loosening current restaurant restrictions on dogs could benefit owners and the state’s tourism industry.

“We have hotels that allow dogs in there, we have dog parks, we have dog drinking fountains, but there’s nowhere for tourists to enjoy any kind of fine dining or any of our great breweries with their pet,” she said.

O’Brien sponsored similar legislation last session that cleared the Senate but did not see a vote in the House. There’s no guarantee this year’s version will either despite passing the upper chamber by a wide 32-6 margin.

While some Michigan restaurants already allow dogs on their patios, it is technically illegal under state food laws. Several major American tourist cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles have ordinances allowing dogs on patios.

Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, voted against the bill and said he’s turned off by the idea of other patrons feeding dogs without washing their hands or seeing a pet doing “his normal, natural thing right on the porch,” an apparent reference to urination or defecation.

“I can’t control that, but I’m seeing that, and I’m trying to eat a meal,” said Booher, telling reporters he loves dogs but doesn’t want to have to worry about their behavior while eating an outdoor meal at a restaurant. “I have problems with that, and I’m flat out against it.”

The legislation would allow restaurants to deny entry to any dog, determine the space allowed for a dog or establish other limits. The owner would be liable for any damage or injury caused by their pet.

“Restaurants are not mandated, most are not going to do it, and the legislation requires the owner maintain control of their pet at all times,” said O’Brien, who owns a “big” miniature schnauzer and a small Shih Tzu.

“I’m not going to take my dogs to a restaurant patio. They don’t fit in the setting, but there are some really well-behaved dogs that would fit. Mine are just too food-motivated.”

The proposal now heads to the state House for further consideration.