Evanston pet owners can’t eat on their own if Council approves proposed dog-friendly eating areas

Dinner out for Ivy, too

Living as one like many residents of Evanston during the pandemic, Gretchen Brewster said she finds her dog a major source of companionship.

Ms Brewster told a city committee on June 7 that she and her pet, Ivy, a 7-year-old miniature shiatsu, “have walked many miles together, shared pieces and learned to communicate on a new level.

Gretchen Brewster and Ivy on a stroll through Evanston town center (panel photo)

“She grew up relying a lot on me and me on her, so much so that she now goes almost everywhere I go,” she told members of the city council’s social services committee on June 7.

His use of “almost” was intentional.

“Having the opportunity to have a meal together in the open air would have been such a relief, but the overbearing ordinance, declaring ‘Dogs not allowed’, prohibited this possibility,” she said.

Ms Brewster raised her concerns several months ago to Clare Kelly, now a member of the First Ward council, when Ms Kelly was running for office.

Now in the board member’s seat, Ms Kelly referred the matter to the Social Services Committee for discussion, proposing a system whereby restaurant owners could apply for a waiver from the city, allowing them to establish “accepting zones for”. the dogs ”for customers.

Committee members showed enough interest in the idea at the June 7 meeting to instruct Ike Ogbo, the City’s director of health and social services, to develop a pilot program, with the aim of start this summer.

Currently, the city follows both state and local ordinances banning dogs from outdoor cafes, Ogbo said in a presentation to the committee.

Current prohibitions

A beer garden is an extension of a food establishment, Ogbo explained. He said the issue is specifically addressed in the Food and Drug Administration Code, which prohibits animals in outdoor dining rooms except service animals and police patrol dogs accompanied by the. police or security.

When it comes to service animals, there are criteria, he said.

A service animal is “defined as a dog that has been individually trained to perform a job or perform tasks for a person with a disability,” Ogbo said, citing the Americans With Disability (ADA) website.

“The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the handicap of the person. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support are not considered service animals.

Mr Ogbo told committee members that city staff had conducted extensive research into the ordinances in nearby communities and that dogs found, except security dogs, are also not allowed in their homes. catering establishments.

The city of Chicago was an exception, due to a state law providing for an allowance for cities of one million people.

Even there, Chicago has criteria for what’s called “dog companion areas,” such as requiring pets to be on a leash at all times and kept away from food preparation areas.

Ms Brewster, Ms Kelly and several other Council members argued that Evanston should go his own way. Several restaurant owners had also written letters of support allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas, Ninth Ward council member Cicely Fleming, chairing the meeting, said. She named Patrick Fowler of the Firehouse Grill and Amy Morton of Found and The Barn Steakhouse in support.

Ms Brewster, who brought Ivy with her on the Zoom telecast, pointed out that “cities like Chicago, Wilmette and Winnetka have successfully allowed dogs in outdoor dining rooms as well as in their farmers markets for quite some time. . Why is Evanston so far behind? In Paris, I understand that there are no restrictions as to where people choose to bring their dogs, ”she said.

“Besides,” she said, “as a longtime Evanston taxpayer. I believe the use of our sidewalks is mine as well, as well as for restaurateurs and patrons. Allowing dogs and other pet owners to frequent outdoor restaurants would be a joy for us and our companions and would bring additional income to our restaurants.

“By the way,” she added, “I’ll bet you my dog ​​Ivy behaves better than 95% of current customers – certainly much calmer and very personable.”

Economic benefits, health certification issues

Ms. Kelly also spoke of the economic boost that a program allowing for waivers would provide.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity that we have as we try to support our businesses, our small businesses and our restaurants in the recovery from the pandemic,” she said. “It can really create a new flow of customers which is so important right now. “

Plus, Evanston, as one of the few towns with its own health service in the state, “can do it,” she said.

In his note to the Committee, Mr. Ogbo expressed his concerns about how a change might affect the City’s position with the state.

“The Evanston Department of Health and Human Services enforces the food code which prohibits dogs in food establishments,” he noted. “Prohibiting dogs from food establishments, with the exception of assistance and security dogs, is in accordance with state code, which, if revised or violated, will affect our position during audits as as certified health service. “

“As a certified health service,” he continued, “we receive grants each year that have supported many of our public health programs over the years and any breach of our food protection program can affect our reputation. “

He also expressed other reservations about a change in the ordinance, noting that animals “can carry diseases and cause allergic reactions in other customers.”

“Dogs also produce waste and can carry fleas, disturb the peace, attack, bark or behave aggressively. Additionally, allowing dogs in restaurants will create enforcement issues and staff time responding to complaints from restaurant owners or non-compliant customers. “

Nonetheless, Council members supported the idea of ​​moving forward, asking staff to develop a pilot program for dogs to go out and eat.

As an “adult owner who never goes out to eat my dog,” said Fleming. “I support this. … I mean, again, with our businesses obviously coming out of COVID-19 – I don’t want to just go willy-nilly and allow everything – but we allowed sidewalk cafes, the streets were shut down, all of them. those things we had never imagined before… and it worked well.

“So I would like us to move forward on this, even if we are only doing it for this summer,” she said.

The program could force restaurateurs to request a waiver. City staff would draft an ordinance that would give restaurant owners the option to request an amendment to allow pets, communicating to business owners that they don’t have to establish certain zones if they don’t want to. , she said.

“And then we’ll come back to it in the fall when the sidewalk cafes are closed to see if it worked and what the issues were,” she added.

Mr Ogbo suggested that a change might not be immediate. “I don’t know if that would be feasible, because we will have to create applications, we will actually have to get some clarification from the state regarding the variance… and we will have to set parameters and measures and so on.”

Ms Fleming replied, “I’m not saying, question it at the next Social Services meeting. [meeting] – [but] we just know we’re facing the limited time that we can eat out here, so if we have the legal leg to see what we need to do legally, we start working on it right away.

But Devon Reid Council member 8th Ward argued swift action was doable, now officials could draft a law saying “Anything that conflicts with this is now canceled.” “So we don’t have to go and find everything in the code, but we can implement it as a pilot or something to make it work this summer without having to do too much heavy work,” he said. -he declares.

“Chicago does this,” he said. “I think we could model our ordinance, at least the pilot, on the Chicago model because it exists.”

Dog-friendly openings

In fact, Mr. Reid said, “I think there are actually restaurants [in Evanston] that I won’t name because I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I have a favorite place on Chicago Avenue that I’m going to, and they have a place you can hook up your dog, and I sit there with my dog ​​and lunch sometimes.

“I think this company also operates in Chicago,” he said. “So our companies are at least used to the Chicago model. ”

During the several-block walk from Ms Brewster’s condominium on Hinman Avenue to downtown, she stops several times to allow Ivy to catch her breath on a hot June 9 day.

Some companies, usefully, install water bowls on the sidewalks of their establishments, allowing animals to cool off.

Ms Brewster, a retired real estate agent, said she was volunteering at the Evanston Animal Shelter on Oakton Street when Ivy, then one and a half years old, arrived.

“We were together a few years before the pandemic,” said Brewster. “During this time, we have become much closer and dependent on each other.”

Regarding the change she requested, Ms Brewster said: “It just seems logical”.

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