Friday, March 13, 2015

Cheeseburgers with Leonbergers: Would It Really Be That Bad?

             It’s the weekend, maybe Friday night.  You’ve worked hard all week and you deserve a reward.  You decide to treat yourself to dinner with friends at a nice restaurant, the kind you typically don’t go to on a weeknight.  Once seated and handed a menu, there’s nothing left to do but enjoy the company of your companions, order a nice meal you don’t have to cook yourself, and let the stress melt away.  Even the atmosphere helps to set the mood.  Or it would, except…what is that, a dog?  Some obnoxious woman, mere seats away, has snuck a buggy-eyed Chihuahua-looking thing into the restaurant, using a large purse as concealment.  You watch as she portions some of her own food into small bites, depositing them into the snapping mouth that protrudes from the handbag.  But all that mouth does is eat.  It doesn’t bark, whine, or chew on your shoes.  In fact, you might not have even known it was there were it not for your careful scanning to see if any noisy children were present.  And, since the dog doesn’t seem to bother you, you can enjoy your evening like you’d planned all along.  So, what would be the harm in allowing dogs in restaurants?
            There are some who are certain dogs are naturally incapable of this (Anderson).  A large establishment with no dog restrictions might have, say, ten dogs inside, seated with their owners.  Those against allowing them believe these dogs would inevitably begin to bark at each other, even engage in vicious brawls mid-salad course.  Not to mention, there’s the possibility of dogs choosing to relieve themselves inside the restaurant, or getting their hair in customers’ food.  And what about people who are afraid of dogs, or miserably allergic to their fur?  Don’t they have a right to enjoy their meal just like anyone else? 
            To answer all these questions, it is important to consider what paying restaurant customers want.  Most notably, they would prefer to eat somewhere that is clean.  This includes wiped down tables, tidily swept floors, and a pleasant food smell untainted by garbage odors or overpowering scents.  In addition, they enjoy environments with a reasonable murmur of chatter, not too loud as to deafen other patrons, but not too soft as to require everyone whisper self-consciously.  Of course, the food is of utmost importance, so it must be sanitary and appealing.  All these components are part of what makes a good restaurant good, and a lack of one or more will cause some paying customers to turn away, choosing to take their business elsewhere.
Even English Bulldogs can have excellent table manners.
           So what would happen if dogs were suddenly part of this scene?  While some claim they are uncontrollable barkers, this is simply not true.  Any dog can be taught when it is okay to bark and when they should be silent.  An increase in the number of dogs may excite them to where they may like to bark, but again, they can be taught to ignore dog distractions and focus on being obedient.  Part of this obedience is controlling their bodily functions, and just as they can be trained to not relieve themselves inside the house, they can similarly be trustworthy dinner guests as well.  In addition, a well-behaved dog would remain calm at the owner’s table, either lying beneath it or sitting at quiet attention, reliably above any inclinations to jump or otherwise bother guests and let their fur puff throughout the dining area.  (Their hairs are no more likely to end up in the food than yours or mine.)  In short, dogs can be taught to behave properly in a social situation, including how to be respectful of strangers and keep to themselves.
            It is certainly true some people are allergic to dogs.  It is also true some people are allergic to perfumes, pollen, and some commonly encountered foods.  Allowing dogs in restaurants would not significantly impact these unfortunate few because some dogs are already allowed to go anywhere their owner can go.  These dogs serve those with disabilities, such as guiding the blind and alerting the deaf.  They occur where fearful and sniffly people go, and so far have coexisted without any big scenes.  Thus, the presence of other, similarly well-behaved dogs would not increase their discomfort, as they have already made any necessary personal adjustments for the inevitable service dog.
            Regardless of these efforts, some irresponsible dog owners have chosen the selfish route, purchasing a vest and identification card for their pet and claiming it is a service dog (Shah).  Without the years of work and training that go into the real deal, these imposters have created a negative reputation for actual service dogs and well-trained pets alike.  It has gotten to the point where either the out-of-control “service” dog is allowed because the restaurant owner cannot tell it is disguised, or the real service dog is denied because they cannot tell it is legitimate.  To top it off, there are other careless owners who will act like celebrities, smuggling poorly trained dogs in their purses and ignoring its aggressive displays.  These obnoxious diners ruin the meal for everyone else, and hinder the possibility for respectful dogs to accompany their owners out to eat.
            But what if they were all good?  Over in Europe, there are already many restaurants and stores that welcome the well-trained dog, often offering water and treats to these canine companions (Khuly).  So far, there seem to have been no complaints, and since it is still an existing practice, businesses must remain successful as well.  It would not be difficult to follow their lead and include the polite dog at the table, allowing dog owners the opportunity to bring their furred friends with them on errands and to social outings.
This guide dog calmly waits beneath the table
 at a nice restaurant. (Rothman)
            By allowing only the obedient dogs, restaurants can help foster dog obedience.  The Americans with Disabilities Act states that proprietors cannot discriminate against a disabled person and their service dog, but proprietors may have the dog removed if it is deemed to be dangerous or a nuisance.  What if the law included all dogs, not just those in vests and harnesses?  Business owners could police their own establishment, judging which dogs are violent or an irritant and which are suitable dinner guests.  Dog owners would have a greater incentive to teach their dog good behavior, while disruptive dogs would be shunned from public eateries until they have learned to be good.
            I understand some may object to allowing dogs in restaurants.  They may worry about the reliability of dogs to do what they’re told, or that the scent of all that food would return them to some sort of primal, wolfish state, and they would start jumping onto diners’ tables to steal their meals.  While there are always going to be dogs that will disobey, it is because they have not yet been taught self-control.  It is entirely possible to teach a dog to remain calm while food is being passed around on the table above their head.  They can absolutely learn perfect obedience, staying put even when you have to leave the table.  They can even learn to ignore the accidentally dropped bits of food that land near their face.  The proof of this is in the already existing and restaurant-frequenting service dogs, who, when properly and completely trained, can even behave better than most children.
            I have spent many hours reading article after article on this subject, navigating the back-and-forth of online comments and opinions.  While there were some, regardless of their side, who were respectful and insightful, there were disappointingly many that were typical internet arguers, strengthened by anonymity to state opinions as fact and base their arguments on insult.  They are the kind of people I would not like to have to sit near in a restaurant.  A well-behaved dog, on the other hand, wouldn’t bother me at all.  Unfortunately, he is not allowed, and until we open our minds to the possibility of good dogs, we’ll be stuck with “Yappy” the fake service dog and “Smuggles” the contraband purse hermit.

Anderson, Lessley and Jason Krause. Why Aren’t Dogs Allowed in U.S. Restaurants? CBS, 2007. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Khuly, Patty. Should we be more like the French and invite dogs to dinner? Gannett Co., 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Roberts, Donna Twichell. Cover from Good Food Cookbook for Dogs. London: Quarry Books, 2004; print.
Rothman, Carly. Commercial by Morris Twp. group highlights rights of visually impaired. NJOL LLC, 2008. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Shah, Khushbu. Diners With Fake Service Dogs Could Face Jail Time. Vox Media, 2014. Web.  12 Mar. 2015.
United States. Department of Justice. ADA Title II, Pt. 35, Subpart B, § 35.136 (a). 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.