Pets and pints: Navigating the grey area around bringing your dog to the patio

Some business owners say the province should relax its laws to let more puppers out to play

click to enlarge How could you say no to this face? - VICTORIA WALTON
Victoria Walton
How could you say no to this face?

Beer and dogs go together like summer and patios. But technically, Fido isn’t allowed to frequent your watering hole with you.

“Pet dogs (and other pets) are not able to be present on restaurant patios under our food safety regulations,” says Chrissy Matheson, in an email on behalf of the Nova Scotia Department of Environment.

That may come as a surprise to anyone who’s frequented the city’s beer gardens. Each summer Halifax’s patios (and their bigger siblings, beer gardens) are oases of local brews, barbecued snacks and hotdogs and sometimes, a parade of furry friends.

“We know there are restaurants that would like to welcome pet dogs on their patios,” writes Matheson. “Our primary concern is ensuring that food safety is protected for people who are eating at restaurants.”

Josh Counsil, co-owner of Good Robot Brewing Company, says this is a huge bummer for many restaurateurs and patrons, as he estimates anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of customers at beer gardens are dog owners.

Thankfully for dog-lovers, there’s a loophole. “Dogs are allowed on patios if they’re service animals,” says Chris Reynolds, co-owner of Stillwell’s busy beer garden on the corner of South Park Street and Spring Garden Road. But he says, “You can’t ask people, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with you that you need a service dog?’”

Business owners actually are allowed to ask patrons for their canine companion’s official identification card, according to Section 14 of the Service Dog Act, but it doesn’t happen very often.

You may not want to try to pass off your pet as a service dog anytime soon, though. New legislation effective June 27 will make it an offence to falsely represent a dog as a service dog, including a fine of up to $3,000. To make it easier to tell who’s certified, owners are also supposed to ensure their service dog wears an identification collar or harness in public.

What the legislation doesn’t cover are emotional support or therapy animals. Unlike service dogs, they have no formal training, but can still provide comfort and support for their handlers. According to the Act, “regulations don’t prohibit public places from accommodating therapy and emotional support animals, but these animals don’t have the right of access that service dogs do.”

The rule creates a “don’t ask, don’t tell” grey area when it comes to dogs on patios. When Stillwell first opened its beer garden in 2015, the bar wasn’t sure what legislation it fell under.

“When we opened on the waterfront the first year it was not a category that existed. There was no real precedent for it,” says Reynolds.
They treated their business like a take-out joint with a patio next to it, after seeing several spots using the same model. That summer the patio received several complaints and the Department of Environment stepped in, which has convinced Reynolds some new legislation is needed.

“The dogs are often better behaved and cleaner than some customers,” he says. “We treat them the same: If they’re misbehaving, if they’re barking, if they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing, then we ask them to leave.”

In countries like France, and some American states including New York and California, it’s up to the restaurant’s discretion whether to allow dogs—inside or out. In Nova Scotia, the pups must be separate from the food-prep zone. But again, there are workarounds.

Before Good Robot had a taproom, the brewery hosted a dog-wash in its driveway. “It was a great way to get people in and show them around and whatnot,” says Counsil. “We washed dogs, we served T-Dogs and we played Snoop Dogg.”

The event saw the business’ biggest turnout since opening day.
This weekend, Good Robot will host Hair of the Dog at the Garrison Grounds. The event will include local vendors and beer, with a portion of proceeds going to the SPCA. Liquor regulations force the event to be fenced and insurance requirements mean it will be an on-leash event, but Counsil says outside the fence owners can let their pups run free.

“I hope we can kind of destroy that stigma that surrounds dogs and people having a beer,” he says, despite claiming to not be a huge dog lover himself.

Reynolds says the same sentiment applies at Stillwell. “I’m not going to say it’s discriminatory or argue for ‘dog’s rights,’” he says. “But it feels a bit insane that we’ve completely banned them from this part of our life.” 

About The Author

Victoria Walton

Victoria was a full-time reporter with The Coast from April 2020 until mid-2022, when the CBC lured her away. During her Coast tenure, she covering everything from COVID-19 to small business to politics and social justice. Originally from the Annapolis Valley, she graduated from the University of King’s College...

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