Dogs may now venture onto restaurant patios. That's because a new state law in New York allows restaurants to open outdoor dining areas to them.
The measure was signed into law by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. States including California, Florida and Maryland have similar laws.
Dog lovers and many restaurant owners in New York support the idea. They note that pooches must be leashed and restaurants could choose to keep them out of outdoor eating areas. While health officials expressed worries, Cuomo said the law's "firm health and sanitary guidelines" strike the right balance.
"This action will give restaurants an additional option to boost revenue...by appealing to this new audience of dog-owning New Yorkers and their four-legged friends," Cuomo said.
Dog owners are delighted.
"I think this speaks volumes to where we are as a society. Most people with dogs view them as members of the family," said Kim Wolf. Kim is a New York City dog owner. Kim works for an organization that helps people in poor neighborhoods care for their animals.
Restaurateur Michael O'Neal said he hopes the legislation will settle any uncertainty about bringing dogs to his Boat Basin Cafe, in Manhattan's Riverside Park. Dog owners often stroll through and sometimes stop in with their pets.
"In a park or in a sidewalk cafe, people should be allowed to have their dogs," O'Neal said Tuesday.
But health officials disagree.
The state Association of County Health Officials opposed the legislation this spring, saying it was "deeply concerned" about biting, sanitation and bringing "additional public health risks into food service establishments where none need exist."
But the association's members will follow the law, Executive Director Linda Wagner said.
As a Manhattan dog owner, Evelien Kong is enthusiastic about doggie dining, but she understands those who aren't.
"Maybe there's a happy medium," such as having dog-friendly and dog-free sections of restaurant patios, Kong said Monday night while walking her 8-year-old Shih Tzu, Gracie. "There has to be a healthy, mutual respect for both sides."
The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, said "99.9 percent" of people she's spoken with support the measure.
"Once in a while you hear, 'I'm never going to go to restaurants that allow dogs,'" she said. "That's the beauty of the bill: The restaurant owner gets to choose."
Legislation intended to help New York's cats didn't fare so well. Cuomo vetoed a proposal to fund groups that trap and neuter feral cats and then release them back into the wild. In the veto, he noted that releasing wild cats is technically illegal and that feral felines threaten local wildlife such as birds.
A recent Siena College poll shows dog owners may have more political clout anyway. The survey found that 57 percent of New Yorkers consider themselves "dog people," while 17 percent call themselves "cat people."
Overall, 30 percent reported having a dog, 20 percent live with a cat and nearly 10 percent own at least one of each.
Cuomo has neither, but his girlfriend, chef Sandra Lee, has two cockatoos.
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