Bill and Sandra Weber enjoy lunch on Picante’s pet-friendly patio with their dog Annie. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Bill and Sandra Weber enjoy lunch on Picante’s pet-friendly patio with their dog Annie. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

California is catching up with France: dogs will be allowed on restaurant patios and in other outdoor dining areas when a new law goes into effect January 1.

The change may be unnoticeable in Berkeley, where many restaurants have allowed dogs to join diners outdoors for years. The little-known prohibition was rarely enforced.

“We don’t get a lot of complaints, maybe three to five a year, so we would respond to those to enforce the state law if it was violated,” said Manuel Ramirez, director of Berkeley’s Environmental Health Division.

The law, AB1965, sailed through the Senate and Assembly and was signed by Governor Jerry Brown, a dog owner himself, in August. Restaurants can choose to continue prohibiting dogs, and the law allows individual cities and counties to create their own ordinances banning them.

Pet welfare group Social Compassion in Legislation drafted and pushed for the law after the organization’s president, Judie Mancuso, was kicked out of a restaurant with her two rescue chihuahuas and became aware of the state prohibition. Reception to the new law has been positive across the board, she said.

“It’s pro-business, it’s pro-family,” Mancuso said. “And it’s not like all of a sudden a switch is flipped and there will be dogs everywhere. It’s just like anything. You walk down a street and there are five restaurants, and you pick the one that works for you.”

Many Berkeley restaurateurs say they were unaware of the former prohibition. Others watched the bill closely and cheered the new law.

“We’re really happy that this has happened because of what our guests want,” said Jim Maser, owner of Picante, which has topped several lists of dog-friendly restaurants in Berkeley. “It seems like every one of our guests has a dog now.”

Signs on Picante’s patio warn dogs against misbehaving. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Signs on Picante’s patio warn dogs against misbehaving. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Despite some disorder when Picante’s patio first opened, dogs have never caused any problems at the restaurant, Maser said. He credits the signs set out on the patio tables this spring, which instruct dogs to “Stay on a leash near your person,” and “Keep your tongue off our dishes.”

Dog-friendly dining options are crucial, said Sandra Weber, who enjoyed a Friday lunch at Picante with her rescue dog Annie.

“It’s one of the reasons we come here, for sure,” she said. “We don’t have to leave her sitting in the car in the warm weather.”

Other restaurants say they plan to keep their humans-only policies.

“We unfortunately aren’t pet friendly, simply because of health reasons,” said E.J. Russo, the general manager at Jupiter, which has a large outdoor dining area. “It’s one thing to pick up dirty dishes and mop up beer. It’s another thing to have other types of messes on the floor, inside and out.”

Russo said he was unaware of the new law, but plans to continue only allowing service animals, which have always been exempt from the prohibition.

The public health concerns are legitimate, Ramirez said, but the law includes regulations that aim to address them.

“Certainly there’s concern over food safety and contamination of eating areas,” he said. “And some people have allergies to pets.”

The new law does not allow dogs to sit on seats or tables, prohibits contact between employees and dogs, and bans dogs from areas where food is prepared — “real common sense stuff,” Mancuso said.

One Berkeley restaurant owner said the potential consequences of allowing canine customers are greater than a contaminated utensil. Andrew Clark, a manager at Café Gratitude, which has a front patio, had an unfortunate run-in with a customer’s dog.

“I’m a dog lover and a dog owner. And I’ve been attacked by a dog on this deck,” said Clark, who hadn’t heard of the new law. “So I can see merit to both sides.”

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...