Evanston Pet Homeowners Might Not Be Consuming Alone If Council Approves Proposal for Canine-Pleasant Eating Areas

Outdoor dining for Ivy, Too

Gretchen Brewster, who like many Evanston residents lived single during the pandemic, said she found her dog an important source of camaraderie.

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

Gretchen Brewster and Ivy out for a walk in downtown Evanston (RoundTable photo)

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

Your use of “almost” was by design.

“Having the opportunity to eat together in the great outdoors would have been such a relief, but the arrogant regulation that says no dogs are allowed banned that opportunity,” she said.

Ms. Brewster raised her concerns to current First Ward councilor Clare Kelly a few months ago when Ms. Kelly was running for office.

Now in the council seat, Ms. Kelly referred the matter to the Human Services Committee for discussion, suggesting a system that would allow restaurant owners to request a derogation from the city that would allow them to set up “dog-friendly” areas for diners.

Committee members showed enough interest in the idea at the June 7 meeting to instruct Ike Ogbo, the city’s director of health and human services, to work out a pilot program to begin this summer.

The city is currently following both state and local regulations banning dogs in sidewalk cafes, Mr Ogbo said in a presentation to the committee.

Current bans

A sidewalk cafe is an extension of a food business, Mr. Ogbo explained. He said the issue is specifically addressed in the Food and Drug Administration Code, which prohibits animals in outdoor dining areas, with the exception of service animals and police patrol dogs accompanied by police or security guards.

There are criteria for service animals, he said.

A service animal is “defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or 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 officials had conducted extensive research into ordinances in nearby communities and found that dogs, other than safety dogs, were also not allowed in their food establishments.

The City of Chicago was an exception as a state law allowed cities with a population of 1 million.

Even there, Chicago has criteria for so-called “dog companion areas”, such as that animals must 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 have also written letters of support allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas, announced Ninth Ward councilor Cicely Fleming, who chaired the meeting. She named Patrick Fowler of Firehouse Grill and Amy Morton of Found and The Barn Steakhouse for support.

Ms. Brewster, who brought Ivy to the Zoom television show, noted that “Cities and towns like Chicago, Wilmette, and Winnetka have been successfully allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas and at their farmers markets for some time. Why is Evanston so far behind? I understand that in Paris there are no restrictions on where people take their dogs, ”she said.

“Also,” she said, “as a longtime Evanston taxpayer. I think the use of our sidewalks belongs to me as well as restaurateurs and guests. It would be a pleasure for us and our companions to eat dogs and other pet owners al fresco frequently and would bring additional income to our restaurants. “

“By the way,” she added, “I bet my dog ​​Ivy is behaving better than 95% of current customers – certainly a lot calmer and very amiable.”

Economic benefits, health certification concerns

Ms. Kelly also spoke of the economic boost a program that allowed for variance would bring.

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

Evanston, one of the few cities in the state to have its own health department, “can do this,” she said.

In his memo to the committee, Mr. Ogbo expressed concerns about how a change could affect the city’s reputation with the state.

“The Evanston Health and Human Services Department enforces the food code that bans dogs in food establishments,” he noted. “The ban on dogs in food establishments, with the exception of service and safety dogs, complies with the State Code, which, if revised or violated, affects our position in audits as a certified health department.”

“As a certified health ministry,” he continued, “we receive annual grants 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 further reservations about amending the regulation, noting that animals “can transmit diseases and cause allergic reactions in other patrons”.

“Dogs also produce waste and can carry fleas, disturb the peace, attack, bark or show aggressive behavior. Additionally, admitting dogs to restaurants becomes enforcement challenges and time for staff to respond to complaints from restaurant owners or guests who fail to comply. “

Nonetheless, council members supported the progress and directed staff to develop a pilot program that would allow dogs to eat outside.

As “an adult owner who never takes my dog ​​out to eat,” said Ms. Fleming. “I support that. … I mean, once again, with our businesses that are obviously through with COVID-19 – I don’t want to just go back and forth and allow everything – but we have allowed sidewalk cafes, cut off streets, all those things that we had never imagined … and it worked out fine.

“I want us to push this forward, even if we only do it for this summer,” she said.

The program could require restaurant owners to request a derogation. City officials would be drafting an ordinance that would allow restaurant owners to request a change to allow the animals and tell business owners that they don’t need to set up some areas if they don’t 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 problems were,” she added.

Mr. Ogbo suggested that a change may not be immediate. “I don’t know how feasible that would be, because we will have to prepare applications, we actually have to clarify the deviation from the state … and we have to define parameters and measures and what do you have? . “

Ms. Fleming replied, “I’m not saying, bring it up at the next Human Services [meeting] – [but] We just know we’re dealing with the limited time we can eat out here. So when we have the legal basis to see what we need to do legally, we will start working on it right away. “

But Councilor Devon Reid, 8th Ward, argued that quick action was feasible, and officials could pass laws saying, “‘Anything in conflict is now annulled.’ So we don’t have to find everything in the code, but we can implement this as a pilot or something else to get it going this summer without doing too much work, ”he said.

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

Dog-friendly overtures

In fact, Mr. Reid said, “I think there are restaurants [in Evanston] that I don’t want to 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 to hang your dog and I’ll sit there with mine Dog and eat lunch sometimes.

“I think this business is in Chicago too,” he said. “So our companies are at least used to the Chicago model.”

During the several blocks walk to downtown Ms. Brewster’s condo on Hinman Avenue, she stops to let Ivy catch her breath on a warm June 9th day.

Some stores will helpfully place bowls of water on the sidewalks of their facilities for the animals to freshen up.

Ms. Brewster, a retired real estate agent, said she was volunteering at the Evanston Animal Shelter on Oakton Street when Ivy, then a year and a half, walked in.

“We were together a few years before the pandemic,” noted Ms. Brewster. “During this time we have come much closer and depend on each other.”

Regarding the change she requested, Ms. Brewster said, “It just seems to make sense.”