Dog lovers are raising concerns after the Division of Public Health seemed to suggest it would start enforcing regulations banning dogs from restaurants.

Public Health reminded restaurants recently on Facebook that live animals at restaurants, including emotional support animals, violate state food regulations. The only exception is service animals.

Food inspectors haven’t enforced the regulation in outdoor areas for years, so the post struck some dog owners and restaurants as a change in policy.

Larry Bowersox is president of Grapehound Wine Tour, a charity that holds the Greyhounds Reach the Beach®  event on Rehoboth and Dewey beaches every October.

Bowersox said he’s expecting 500-to-600 people this year. But he’s concerned less people will participate because businesses are now reluctant to let dogs on their patios and decks.

“This affects people who were excited about coming to Rehoboth Beach and being in the convention center with us for the first time and celebrating their greyhound and now they have something to worry about that they didn’t cause,” he said.

A public health spokeswoman said food inspectors won’t enforce violations of dogs in outdoor restaurant areas until discussions around the policy take place.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said he’ll introduce legislation if the issue isn’t settled by January.

Schwartzkopf, whose district includes Rehoboth, Dewey and Lewes, said the decision should rest in the hands of individual businesses.

“The owners, the business owners are saying ‘Nope, we’re not going to let you on,'” he said. “And I can tell you I’ve had several emails from people out of state that are saying ‘We come to Delaware for that very reason – that we can take our dog with us when we go places. And we’re not going to spend money in your state anymore.’”

Some Delawareans posting on social media say they’d prefer dog owners keep their pets at home when eating out because of concerns like hair in food and allergies.

Backing up that view, Public Health argues food establishment owners should be aware of the potential health and safety risks of allowing animals in the outdoor areas of their establishments. Animals can transmit pathogens to humans through direct and/or indirect contamination of food and food-contact surfaces. Animals shed hair continuously and may deposit liquid or fecal waste, creating the need for vigilance and more frequent and rigorous cleaning efforts. Additionally, un-socialized animals may present a bite risk to other patrons.

Bowersox disputes there’s ill health effects of allowing dogs in some restaurant areas, particularly in outside areas.

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