Question:

Dogs seem to be everywhere these days – in stores, in hotels, even in grocery stores. I don’t think this is safe or sanitary. Aren’t there health laws, or other laws, about having dogs out in public?

Answer:

As you have noted, dogs are increasingly welcome in hotels, shops and restaurant patios throughout the United States. The legislatures in both Oregon and Washington recently considered laws to allow dogs in restaurants. But debate is heated on both sides of this issue, and liability and health and safety concerns remain.

Here in California, a dog owner is strictly liable for damages that result when a dog bites a person who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place. This strict liability applies even if the dog has never before shown aggressive tendencies. While the dog bite statute does not extend liability to anyone except the dog owner, under the common law a person who is injured while on the premises of a shopkeeper or innkeeper may sue the owner for negligence. A shopkeeper or innkeeper has a duty to the shopping (or sleeping) public to keep the premises safe. This duty entails warning the public of foreseeable hazards, as well as the removal of known dangers. If Fido is circling in a busy doorway, or is jumping up on fragile Aunt Martha, the business owner has a responsibility to ensure that the dog is controlled or removed before someone is hurt. If an injury is found to have been caused by a dog on the premises, no matter what type of injury, and that injury was reasonably foreseeable by the owner of the shop or inn, the owner may be found liable in a civil suit. Given that business owners are more likely to have “deep pockets” than individual dog owners, lawsuits of this type seem inevitable as dogs become an increasing part of public life. It remains to be seen what the courts will do as the potential conflicts grow.

It is up to the individual business owner to decide whether he or she wishes to accommodate dog-loving clientele and assume the extra duties and liability that are entailed with a doggie welcome mat. It would be wise, however to consult local ordinances before doing so. Failure to understand or comply with local ordinances can sometimes result in increased liability. For instance, in cities with leash laws, liability resulting from injuries caused by an unleashed dog may be enhanced. For example, in Beverly Hills, the California strict liability standard is greatly broadened: any person owning, controlling, or taking care of an animal is liable for any injury to persons or property.

In restaurants, grocery stores, and other “food facilities,” Health and Safety laws limit the presence of dogs (and other live animals). Only working dogs are allowed on the premises of food facilities. Outdoor patio areas, because they are not enclosed, are an exception, as long as they can be accessed without going through indoor food facility areas. Also, many people will be surprised to learn that dogs are not permitted within 20 feet of food storage or sale areas at certified farmer markets. The State can take enforcement actions when these health and safety laws have been violated.
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