A friendly dog named Watson is shown in this file photo.
A friendly dog named Watson is shown in this file photo. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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A couple weeks ago, PoPville published a memo from Brookland Pint’s general manager about a dog on its patio biting a six-year-old boy on the leg. The little guy’s injury was apparently so bad (“bleeding,” “necessary first aid”) that Brookland Pint isn’t allowing pets anymore. If you have recently adopted a dog, this cautionary tale may give you pause before dining with it on a patio. Or taking it anywhere in public, for that matter.

A little more than a year ago, I was in that exact position. A new dog can be as affirming, and as daunting, as a new child: Will it be all right when it’s left alone? Will it behave when it’s out in public? Will it have an allergic reaction to peanut butter? Gradual exposure can be an effective way of gauging your furball’s social demeanor and assuaging your countless concerns. Instead of plunging right into a busy outdoor space, follow the proverbial tortoise’s sage advice of slow and steady wins the race. (h/t Aesop.)

In other words, try having a friend over for dinner in your tiny (likely overpriced) apartment first. Then—when you’re confident Fido won’t chew up any furniture—ask to bring your dog to said friend’s place. Your personal liability will be less, you can see how the pooch does in a new environment, and you can train it not to jump on people’s laps.

If that advice sounds too rosy for you, take that of Drew Swift, the self-same general manager of Brookland Pint, who grew up with dogs and has worked in District restaurants for 18 years. Swift says that, generally speaking, most of his customers with dogs have been “solid pet owners,” who “don’t just bring them along as an accessory, attend to them, and pet to comfort them.” The woman who’d brought her 30-pound rescue dog to the establishment’s patio, though, appeared not to be in control of the situation, Swift adds: She told him she’d just gotten it the day before.

Swift says the June incident was the first time a customer’s dog had hurt another person. So why institute an outright ban on pets?

“It’s not so much a legal issue as people deserve a safe space to eat and drink without having to worry about a pet biting them,” Swift argues. “That extends to my employees as well. So for me, [territorial animals] hadn’t been a problem before, but it’s reared its head now, and I have to act.”

Michael Kraus, director of operations at Commune Hotels + Resorts, which oversees the pet-friendly Liaison Capitol Hill hotel and attached Art and Soul restaurant, has a different take. Kraus has two hound mixes, both rescues, one a few years older than the other. The Alexandria resident says he would never take the younger one to a restaurant patio because of the canine’s skittish temperament. While he believes that what happened at Brookland Pint is an “unfortunate situation,” Art and Soul’s policy is that dogs be “leashed and under control.” 

On average, the restaurant sees one to five dogs on its patio at a time, Kraus says—except for special occasions like the first-ever dog-birthday party it held last summer. (“She booked the patio for her, and her friends, and their dogs. We had a dog masseuse. It was like a birthday party for a kid in every other way.”)    

When it comes to the rare, disruptive dog, Art and Soul’s guiding factor is discretion, he notes. The same goes for his employees: “On the off-chance that you have a non-dog-friendly person on staff, they should not be in a situation they don’t want. We’ll make alternative arrangements.”

Officially, the D.C. Department of Health does not allow non-service and non-patrol dogs “on the premises of a food establishment.” But both Kraus and Swift say there’s little regular enforcement of the relevant statutes, making it a “gray area” in Swift’s thinking. “I personally have never been cited for pets and I do not know anyone who has been,” he says.

D.C. is already a rather pet-friendly city, and as more pet-loving yuppies and DINKs move to the District, more pet-friendly patios and beer gardens (think Dacha) will likely open.

Will dog bites happen every once in awhile? Of course. Here, common sense is your real best friend.

“I would say on both the hospitality-manager and dog-owner side, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and of the situation you’re in,” Kraus posits. “I feel like if everyone does that, then we don’t have any problems.”

Or, as Swift explains: “If you have a new pet, know your pet and its tendencies well enough that it will behave.”