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Outside Dining for Ivy, Too
Living as a single person like many Evanston residents during the pandemic, Gretchen Brewster said she found her dog a major source of companionship.
Ms. Brewster told a City Committee June 7, she and her pet, Ivy, a 7-year-old miniature shiatsu, “have walked many miles together, shared morsels, and learned to communicate on a new level.
“She grew to rely heavily upon me, and me upon her, so much that as she now goes almost everywhere I go,” she told members of the City Council’s Human Services Committee on June 7.
Her use of “almost” was intentional.
“To have the opportunity of having a meal together in the great outdoors would have been such a relief, but the overbearing ordinance, stating, ‘No Dogs Allowed,’ forbade that possibility,” she said.
Ms. Brewster raised her concerns several months ago with now First Ward Council Member Clare Kelly when Ms. Kelly was running for office.
Now in the Council Member seat, Ms. Kelly referred the issue to the Human Services Committee to be discussed, proposing a system whereby restaurant owners could request a variance from the City, allowing them to establish “dog-friendly” areas for patrons.
Members of the Committee showed enough interest in the idea at the June 7 meeting to direct Ike Ogbo, the City’s Health and Human Services Director, to draw up a pilot program, with the aim of starting it this summer.
Currently, the City follows both State and local ordinances disallowing dogs at outdoor cafés, Mr. Ogbo said in a presentation to the Committee.
An outdoor café is an extension of a food establishment, Mr. Ogbo explained. He said the issue is specifically addressed in the Food and Drug Administration Code, which prohibits animals in outdoor dining areas, except for service animals and police patrol dogs accompanied by police or security.
As for service animals there are criteria, he said.
A service animal is “defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability,” said Mr. Ogbo, quoting from Americans With Disability (ADA) website.
“The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals.”
Mr. Ogbo told Committee members that City staff had conducted extensive research of ordinances in nearby communities and found dogs, apart from security dogs, are not allowed in their food establishments either.
The City of Chicago was an exception, because of a State law making an allowance for cities with a population of 1 million.
Even there, Chicago has criteria for so called “dog-companion areas,” such as requiring the animals to be in a leash at all times and kept away from areas of food preparation.
Ms. Brewster, Ms. Kelly, and several other Council Members argued Evanston should pursue its own course. Several restaurant owners had also written letters of support allowing dogs in outside dining areas, announced Ninth Ward Council Member Cicely Fleming, chairing the meeting. 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 to the Zoom telecast, pointed out that “cities and towns like Chicago, Wilmette, and Winnetka have successfully allowed dogs in outdoor dining areas as well as at their Farmers’ Markets for some time. Why is Evanston so far behind? In Paris, I understand there are no restrictions about where people chose to bring their dogs,” she said.
“In addition,” she said, “as a longtime Evanston taxpayer. I believe the use of our sidewalks is equally mine, as well as for restaurateurs and patrons. Allowing dogs and other pet owners to frequent outdoor dining spots would be a joy to us and our companions and bring added revenue toward our restaurants.”
“By the way,” she added, “I bet you my dog Ivy is better behaved than 95% of the present customers – certainly a lot quieter and very amiable.”
Economic Benefits, Health-Certification Concerns
Ms. Kelly also spoke of the economic boost a program allowing variances would bring.
“This is just a wonderful opportunity 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 stream of clientele that’s so important right now.”
Also, Evanston, as one of the few cities with its own health department in the state, “can do this,” she said.
In his memo to the Committee, Mr. Ogbo raised concerns about how a change might affect the City’s standing with the State.
“The Evanston Health and Human Services Department enforces the Food Code which disallows dogs in food establishments,” he noted. “Disallowing dogs at food establishments, with the exception of service and security dogs, is in compliance with State Code, which if revised or violated will affect our standing during audits as a Certified Health Department.”
“As a Certified Health Department,” he continued, “we receive grants annually which has supported many of our public health programs over the years and any infraction in our Food Protection Program may affect our standing.”
He also expressed other reservations about a change to the ordinance, noting that animals “can carry diseases and cause allergic reactions to other patrons.”
“Dogs also produce waste and can carry fleas, disturb the peace, attack, bark or exhibit aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, allowing dogs at restaurants will create enforcement challenges and staff time in responding to complaints of restaurant owners or patrons who fail to comply.”
Nonetheless, Council members supported moving forward, directing staff to develop a pilot program allowing dogs in outside eating areas.
As “adult owner who never takes my dog out to eat,” said Ms. Fleming. “I do 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’ve allowed sidewalk cafés, had streets cut off, all those things which we had never before imagined … and it’s worked out well.
“So I would like us to move forward on that, even if we just are doing it for this summer,” she said.
The program could require restaurant owners to apply for a variance. City staff would draft an ordinance that would give restaurant owners the option of seeking a variation to permit the animals, communicating to business owners they do not have to establish some areas if they do not want to, she said.
“And then we’ll revisit this in the fall when the sidewalk cafes are closed to see if it worked and what the issues were,” she added.
Mr. Ogbo suggested a change may not be immediate. “I don’t know how feasible that would be, because we will have to create applications, we will actually have to get clarification from the state in regards to the variance … and we’ll have to set parameters and measures and what have you.”
Ms. Fleming responded, “I’m not saying like, bring it back up at the next Human Services [meeting] – [but] we just know we deal with the limited amount of time that we can eat outside here so if we have the legal leg to see what we need to do legally we start working on it right away.”
But Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, argued that quick action was doable, maintaining officials could draft legislation saying “‘Anything that conflicts with this is now nullified.’ So we don’t have to go and find everything in the code, but we can implement this as a pilot or something else to get it going this summer without having to do too much heavy lifting,” he said.
“Chicago does this,” he said. “I think we could model our ordinance, at least the pilot, after the Chicago model because it exists.”
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 go to, and they have a place where you can hook your dog up, and I sit there with my dog and have lunch sometimes.
“I think this business also operates in Chicago,” he said. “So our businesses are used to at least Chicago model.”
During the several block walk from Ms. Brewster’s condominium on Hinman Avenue into downtown, she stops several times to allow Ivy to catch her breath on a warm day, June 9.
Some businesses, helpfully, put out bowls of water on the sidewalk of their establishments, allowing animals to refresh.
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, came in.
“We were together a few years before the pandemic,” Ms. Brewster observed. “During this time we became a lot closer and dependent on one another.”
Regarding the change she requested, Ms. Brewster said, “it just seems to make sense.”