Nova Scotia

Dogs in restaurants pose safety risks to guide dog users, advocate says

As the debate about allowing dogs in Nova Scotia eating establishments gains momentum, guide dog users want their perspectives considered. One advocate and guide dog user says allowing regular dogs into these spaces creates a hazard for people like herself.

Renee Savoie says she and her guide dog, Freedom, have encountered unruly dogs on patios

Renee Savoie said safety is a top concern of hers when it comes to pet owners bringing their dogs to patios when she is out with her guide dog, Freedom. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

As a petition to allow regular dogs into Nova Scotia eating and drinking establishments gains momentum with more than 12,000 signatures, guide dog users want their perspectives to be added to the debate.

Renee Savoie is partly blind and uses her guide dog, Freedom, to get around. She said there are safety risks for guide dog users if regular dogs are allowed on patios.

"There can be loud music, there could be a lot of people, not all dogs can handle that," Savoie told CBC News Nova Scotia. "Service dogs are trained in those situations."

"And if a family dog were in a patio area and were to misbehave, that could create some issues for safety for me and for Freedom. Freedom has been attacked, so it's a scary endeavour sometimes."

Savoie said she was once walking by a downtown Halifax bar's patio when she noticed a couple with a baby carriage.

"And this little dog launches out of the baby carriage barking at us — scared Freedom and I almost on to the road ... it was very dangerous," Savoie said.

The petition was started by Brightwood Brewery in Dartmouth, N.S., after someone filed an anonymous complaint about dogs at the establishment.

Nova Scotia food safety regulations ban live animals in food establishments, with the notable exception of a "guide animal" as long as it "does not pose a risk of contaminating the food," and live, edible seafood kept in an aquarium.

Brightwood Brewery has argued dogs should be allowed in because they don't believe pet dogs pose any greater health risk than guide dogs.

Savoie said she understands that many pet owners view their dogs as members of the family, but said that doesn't mean owners have the right "that we fought so hard for" to have full access to public venues with guide dogs.

She said bringing pet dogs to a food establishment is not a right.

Freedom is Renee Savoie's guide dog. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"When I travel with my dog, she's keeping me safe — she has literally saved me from being hit by a car," said Savoie.

She said she would like to work with businesses to come up with education guidelines for the general public and business owners to distinguish real guide dogs from pets.

Savoie held a meeting with pet owners at the Halifax Public Gardens on Wednesday evening.

"There is a lot of concern around fake service dogs from ... those of us who have service dogs. It creates issues, it creates barriers and it creates a lot of refusal of access," she said.

With files from Elizabeth Chiu