Nova Scotia

Disability advocates raise concerns about N.S. allowing patio dogs

Mixing non-working pooches with service dogs on patios at restaurants, bars and cafés could unintentionally lead to dangerous situations, disability advocates in Nova Scotia said Wednesday.

Some say interactions between pets and service dogs could be dangerous

A dog rests on the floor of Garrison Brewing's waterfront taproom in Halifax on March 31, 2021. (CBC)

Mixing non-working pooches with service dogs on patios at restaurants, bars and cafés could unintentionally lead to dangerous situations, disability advocates in Nova Scotia said Wednesday.

Premier Iain Rankin announced Tuesday that all dogs would be welcome on outdoor patios, although it remains at the discretion of individual businesses.

For Milena Khazanavicius, who is blind, the change means her "safety zone" of unwinding on a patio with friends and her service dog has been taken away.

"It's absurd, it's stupid, and I'm very angry and very frustrated," the Halifax woman told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Wednesday.

"I don't think Mr. Rankin completely understands, or has any inclination, how much danger he has placed all of us in by permitting this."

Dogs that are not service animals were previously banned from most establishments under Nova Scotia's food safety regulations, and restaurants could face steep fines if they were charged. Until now, only certain patios or taprooms in the province allowed all dogs.

Not all dogs under control, says Halifax woman

Khazanavicius said she's had scary encounters with other dogs in the past whose owners were not in control of their pets.

She recounted an incident last summer on a sidewalk patio near her home when two small dogs snapped at her guide dog, Louis, from underneath a table. When Khazanavicius backed up to create more space, she accidentally hit the table behind her, shattering glass.

In another incident, Khazanavicius said a man, who appeared to be drunk, refused to pull his large dogs away from Louis, saying his pets just wanted to "talk" to the service animal. Eventually, staff asked the man to leave.

"I have been bit by dogs on streets. So has my guide dogs, my three guide dogs I have had," she said.

Rankin has said the change is a way to encourage more Nova Scotians to support eateries that have been struggling during the pandemic, which came about after conversations with the restaurant industry. 

Gerry Post, a community advocate for people with disabilities, says he'd like to see an awareness campaign around how guide dogs on patios should be left alone. (CBC)

Gerry Post, a Halifax advocate for people with disabilities, said he's heard community concerns that need to be addressed.

He's calling for a public awareness campaign so that patrons know how to be respectful around service animals, including not interacting with guide dogs at all when they're working. 

Post said there's room for municipalities and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to work together. 

There have also been online comments from Nova Scotians upset that the province appears to be prioritizing dogs instead of accessibility, which remains an issue though progress is being made, said Post.

Owners have to be responsible, says brewery owner

Brian Titus, owner of Garrison Brewing, said they've had success bringing dogs into their locations for years under their taproom licences. 

However, the new regulations bring an extra responsibility, he said, and certain businesses will likely still decide dogs aren't a good fit for them.

Brian Titus, owner of Garrison Brewing, is seen here on the outdoor patio of the Oxford Taproom on Nov. 20, 2020. (CBC)

Staff will have to be on the lookout for possible interactions between pets and service dogs, Titus said, and noted this change does not automatically give dog owners the right to visit any patio they please.

"I hope that people don't look at this as a way to say, 'Oh, you know, I'll bring my dog regardless of how good it is with other dogs,'" Titus said.

Khazanavicius said she plans to write Rankin with her concerns, and is asking pet owners to think clearly about whether their dog can be controlled on a patio in tight quarters before bringing them along.

For those who do bring their pups, Khazanavicius said they should make sure their dogs are lying in a down position with the leash tied tightly to their owner's ankle. That way, the dogs can't snap or jump up on anyone, she said.

As part of the regulations, dogs can only be on patios that can be accessed from the street, and restaurants with dog-friendly patios must post a sign to let people know that's the case. Businesses can ask a customer to remove their pet if it's misbehaving.

With files from Maritime Noon and Preston Mulligan