As the popularity of taking pets on vacation and out in public has grown — the website bringfido.com is one of several sites for pet owners looking for pet-friendly restaurants and accommodations — Baldwin officials say what people are seeing online may not be correct.
County Health Inspector and Supervisor Kip Kaiser says sites like BringFido are giving out bad information when it comes to dogs being allowed in restaurants in Baldwin County.
A search of the site claims there are 25 pet-friendly restaurants in Orange Beach alone, 16 each in Fairhope and Gulf Shores, 10 each in Foley and Daphne and seven in Spanish Fort.
“There’s no such thing as a pet-friendly food establishment,” Kaiser said. “It does not exist by our regulations. If a restaurant presents themselves as a pet-friendly establishment, it’s a false statement they are giving to the customers.”
It may not be a popular stance with growing acceptance of pets in public, Kaiser said, but it does violate a specific health regulation, one he and the county must uphold.
“We’re in the enforcement business and we’re ultimately responsible for protecting the public’s health,” Kaiser said. “Even on [bringfido.com], it’s basically telling people misinformation. I’ve had to contact different establishments and let them know that not only is their restaurant on there, but it shows pictures of animals in the dining areas. We’ve had to educate some of these restaurant owners to let them know what they are doing is not right.”
Muddying the waters of people wanting to bring dogs into restaurants are the growing number of “comfort” or “emotional support” dogs. Many patrons show up with certifications in hand, but Dr. Graham Sisson Jr., Alabama executive director of the Governor’s Office On Disabilities, says there’s legally no such animal.
“If they say, ‘I’ve got certification,’ then that’s something they bought off the internet,” Sisson said. “The same with emotional support animals. They buy something off the internet or they get the vest they bought off the internet, which is not sanctioned by the law or any government that enforces the law.”
True service dogs, on the other hand, are completely acceptable, but also aren’t required to have certification.
“A comfort animal is basically not a service animal,” Kaiser said. “There are two things we can ask if we do see an animal inside or outside of a dining area. The first thing is we can approach the person and say is this a service animal. The second thing we can ask what task does the animal perform for your disability. We have to be very careful about that because we don’t ask the disability, we just ask what the dog does.”
Otherwise, Kaiser says, there are no rules for allowing pets anywhere on a restaurant’s property.
“The specific wording is: Animals cannot be on the premises,” Kaiser said. “That’s the entire area or piece of land that establishment owns. That includes indoor and outdoor dining.”
Kaiser says he and his inspectors will likely consult with restaurant owners not complying, but there can be consequences.
“If they are allowing pets and willingly tell you that, then it is a four-point deduction and a critical violation,” Kaiser said.
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