Dogs may soon be allowed to accompany their owners at outdoor outdoor dining spots in Evanston.

Human Services Committee members voted Monday night to violate federal Food and Drug Administration guidelines that ban non-service animals in food service establishments.

They directed city staff to draft an ordinance that would give restaurant owners the option of seeking a variation to permit the animals.

Gretchen Brewster, with Ivy.

During public comment, Gretchen Brewster held her 7-year-old dog Ivy as she told the committee, “Living as a single person like so many other Evanstonians, Ivy’s been an amazing source of companionship” during the pandemic, and she wanted to be able to take the dog with her to restaurants.

“Dogs are better behaved than 95% of current customers,” Brewster added.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th), who was chairing the meeting, said the city had received messages from two restaurant owners — Patrick Fowler of Firehouse Grill and Amy Morton of Found Kitchen and The Barn Steakhouse — supporting the change.

Health Director Ike Ogbo said the FDA guidelines, at Sec. 6-501.115, generally bar live animals in food establishments, with exceptions for service animals and patrol dogs.

He said among our neighboring communities only Chicago permits companion animals for diners and then only in a specially-designated “dog-friendly area” and only if they’re kept on a leash at all times.

Assistant City Attorney Brian George said that under home rule Evanston appears to have the authority to permit dogs in restaurants.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said he was “fine with supporting this, with the understanding that the restaurant has to apply for a variance” to permit the animals.

But he expressed concern about possible disputes over animal misbehavior. “What are the consequences when the cute little poodle is yapping?” he asked. “Is it a police officer that’s coming? Is it a fine that’s being given?

The committee directed staff to submit the proposed ordinance change to the full City Council, likely early next month, rather than returning it to the committee for review.

The Animal Legal and Historical Center at the Michigan State University College of Law says 17 states now have laws or administrative regulations that allow patrons to bring pet dogs to outdoor dining spaces in restaurants.

There is a risk that dogs could transmit diseases to restaurant patrons, but a report in Healthline suggests those risks are low.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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