New York City's Nanny State Targets Dogs in Bars

The health department is cracking down on canine-friendly establishments, but it's not the government's place to forbid adults from running small risks

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When I lived in New York City, I sometimes patronized a Park Slope bar where people would sit on the outdoor patio with their dogs. In Washington, D.C., I was a regular at Solly's, another bar that is dog friendly. There I'd stand, drinking an IPA from a pint, or if money was tight, PBR from a can.

Was I putting my health at risk?

That is what New York City's health department would have me believe. The killjoys are going to strictly enforce a heretofore ignored regulation that prohibits animals anyplace where food is served:

During inspections, many owners said they were surprised to learn that dogs were not allowed even in outdoor seating areas. Neither does a bar's dearth of actual food products provide any cover. "Beer, wine and spirits have always been classified as food," a department spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. Only service dogs are permitted in spaces that serve food or drink of any kind. 

Once again, public health officials and the lawmakers who write the rules are embracing a wrongheaded view of the role they ought to play in a free society. It's one thing to inspect a restaurant's kitchen for rodent or cockroach infestation. The consumer can't easily do so him or herself, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one that would insist on their right to eat food with rat droppings in it. Or consider mandatory signs that tell employees to wash their hands. A good reminder!

But restaurant patrons can easily discern whether or not there are dogs in an establishment. The health risk of their being present in dining or drinking areas, as opposed to food preparation areas, is quite small, especially if you aren't the owner of the animal in question. And anyone who regards the risk as too great has plenty of alternatives to choose from in a place like NYC, where the supply of bars is staggering and varied.

The insistence on "protecting" adult citizens by telling them something they very much enjoy is impermissible due to miniscule risks -- that is why bureaucrats and the nanny state politicians who unduly empower them are given a bad name. Thom Lambert explains what they're costing us:

How sad for New York City.  Nothing builds community better than a collection of spaces -- bars, coffeeshops, diners, etc. -- where neighbors can go to relax, converse, and share their lives.  And nothing is more likely to keep people coming back and to get them talking to each other than to allow them to bring their dogs. If you don't believe me, head down to your local dog park and watch people interact. Nobody's a stranger at the dog park. 

Of course, there are lots of people who are scared of dogs, or don't like them, or believe that their mere presence renders a place unsanitary (even though millions of Americans have dogs in their homes - often in their beds - and seem to suffer no ill-effects). Such dog phobes needn't worry. Profit-seeking entrepreneurs will cater to their preferences by creating dog-free spaces. The rest of us, then, can head down to our canine-friendly pubs and bond with our fellow dog lovers.

I'll drink to that.

Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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