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Public health has yappy hours yowling

Pet owners weigh in about law prohibiting animals in restaurants
August 14, 2019

A public health announcement reminding residents to leave their dogs and other support animals at home when they go to restaurants could mean the end of yappy hour and other dog-friendly eatery events at the beach.

But for now, at least, this Thursday's yappy hour at On the Rocks Bar & Grill in Lewes is still on, said Yelena Kretova, terminal manager for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Lewes Terminal, where the event is scheduled from 4-7 p.m.

“The off-centered area is completely outdoors far away from the restaurant and main foodservice area where most customers are dining,” she said.

Meg Searcey, manager of with the Delaware Humane Association of Rehoboth Adoption Center, which will receive proceeds from the terminal's yappy hour, said she expects events scheduled through the rest of the year to continue. “We're still hoping everything will go back to the way it was,” she said.

A yappy hour is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 17, at Rigby's Bar and Grill in Rehoboth Beach and another on Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Purple Parrot Grill, also in Rehoboth Beach.

However, other eateries have changed their rules about dogs. The Wheelhouse, which offers outdoor seating along Lewes Canal, posted Aug. 8 that they will abide by Delaware code and prohibit dogs at their eatery.

“Effective immediately we can no longer allow our furry friends that like to come and hang on our deck due to a ruling by the Division of Public Health,” the restaurant wrote.

The post encouraged pet owners to contact local legislators and sign a petition at change.org. As of Aug. 14, 2,142 people have signed, close to the goal of 2,500.

Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said he enjoyed taking his dog to an area eatery for years and understands why people are upset. “Like many of you, I was shocked to hear that Delaware Division of Public Health was promoting an existing regulation that pets couldn't accompany their owners to restaurants' outdoor seating areas,” he said.

Schwartzkopf said he has asked public health for more information. “They’ve had a regulation that they haven’t enforced in years, so they should get rid of it. If necessary, I will sponsor legislation to return things to the status quo, so everyone can keep enjoying the lifestyle we're accustomed to in our community,” he said.

The controversy over pets in restaurants started Aug. 2 when the Delaware Division of Public Health posted that live animals, including emotional support animals are strictly prohibited from Delaware restaurants. “We know you love Fido. So do we, but leave your pets at home when you go out to eat,” the post read.

A thousand comments by people both for and against pets joining their owners in restaurants followed the post; DPH responded Aug. 8 that the existing Delaware Food Code prohibits pets in food establishments – even those in outdoor eating areas. Service animals and patrol dogs are exempt from the law.

Jen Brestel, spokeswoman for the Division of Public Health, said the division recognizes concerns food establishments and patrons may have about allowing pets in restaurants, but this is not a recent update to the food code. She said public health has no targeted enforcement planned, and the original Facebook post was never intended to indicate that public health would be targeting eateries.

“Animals can transmit pathogens to humans through direct and/or indirect contamination of food and food-contact surfaces. Animals shed hair continuously and may deposit liquid or fecal waste, creating the need for vigilance and more frequent and rigorous cleaning efforts. Additionally, unsocialized animals may present a bite risk to other patrons,” she said.