In Sydney, dog-friendly dining is rare.
The Companion Animals Act 1998, which is enforced by local councils through the Food Standards Code, prohibits dogs from being within 10 metres of food and drink consumption. Exemptions are made for special assistance animals and cafes and restaurants that permit dogs in their outdoor dining areas.
“Under the Companion Animals Act local councils can issue fines to dog owners for having a dog in a public place within 10 metres of food preparation or consumption," an official Office of Local Governmetn spokesperson told Broadsheet.
The same spokesperson went on to say that under the Food Act, local councils can issue fines to pub, cafe and other venue owners for allowing animals in areas where food is handled.
Over the past year, local police and rangers have been putting pressure on pub proprietors, threatening to fine or actually fining them up to $600 for allowing pets inside. In turn, pubs have started banning pets.
Balmain Greens MP Jamie Parker wants equal rights for doggos and drinkers alike. He’s introduced a private member’s bill to the lower house to overturn the state ruling and allow proprietors the right to welcome dogs back inside, as they do in the UK and parts of Europe. He doesn’t want our pets to be managed by the state government.
“I want to bring the act in line with some of the other standards of the world,” Parker told Broadsheet. “In the UK, you’re able to have dogs inside as long as the proprietor ensures food prep and servicing is done hygienically. It’s up to the venue to manage this. NSW has some of the strictest rules in the world.”
Parker says: “The [health] risk is absolutely minimal.”
After getting away with welcoming pets for more than 30 years, Balmain’s The London and Dry Dock had to exclude them last October.
“A lot of people in Balmain have dogs, they love being with them. It’s a great atmosphere having a beer with your dog at your feet,” says William Stevens, the owner of The London. “We haven’t seen any fines yet, only been threatened with: ‘Next time … you will be fined $800 a dog,” he says. After one “serial complainer” went to the council several times, Williams reluctantly banned pets inside for good.
“I am all for dogs in pubs – especially with our demographic, being located in the inner west [where] so many people own dogs,” says Anne Kessler, the general manager of The Erko in Erskineville. “They are as much a part of family as anyone else here.”
Kevin Luu, the owner of Naked Brew, a cafe in Erskineville, doesn’t want the change. “I’ve had complaints when customers walk in and see dogs at the counter when someone is paying and within the week I’ll have someone from the council at my doorstep,” he says. “Not everyone is into dogs. I don’t think it’s about safety but rather cleanliness. They don’t want to risk getting dog fur in their food.”
“Personally, I don’t want the law overturned [to allow dogs]. In Sydney there are enough cafes with good outdoor seating. Having dogs both in and out would deter people. It will affect small businesses with limited seating: there are only 45 seats at my cafe,” he says.
Parker believes the government is open to a change of heart.
“I’ve had a positive response from people, but you do get some that are horrified by the prospect of having a dog inside a pub. I’ve talked to these people and almost universally they agree it should be up to the business owner to decide, not a mandatory rule,” he says.
With additional reporting by Michelle Elias.