Dining arf fresco

Most dog owners we know would love to be able to grab a bite to eat at a sidewalk cafe table while out on a stroll with their (well-behaved) pet. Those less enamored of canine companionship might find the prospect off-putting.

Both will get a chance to see how it might work as a Talent restaurant embarks on a pilot project in conjunction with the Oregon Health Authority. We predict the idea will be positive for those restaurant owners who choose to allow dogs in outdoor dining areas.

The Avalon Bar and Grill is the only restaurant in the state given official permission to welcome dogs to its patio dining area after owner Susan Schaffer approached the Health Authority about the issue.

While Schaffer was in Portland with her own dog, she saw several dogs sitting with their owners in outdoor dining areas, despite a state law against it. When she asked the Health Authority if the law could be revised, she was told no, but officials asked if she wanted to try a pilot project at her own restaurant.

Dogs in public seem to bring out strong emotions in people, judging by the running debate in Ashland over an ordinance prohibiting canines in city parks and rules against dogs on school grounds. Dog owners, who invariably insist they are of the responsible variety, say their pets should be allowed to accompany them on walks through city parks as long as they clean up any messes the animals deposit along the way.

Opponents say not all owners are responsible, citing health concerns from dog waste left behind and safety issues when dogs are allowed to run loose and potentially attack or frighten children and adults they encounter.

There is room for both of these attitudes.

Diners who enjoy dogs, whether their own or those of others, will appreciate the opportunity to share a dining space with them, providing they are under the control of their owners and well behaved.

The Avalon's pilot project comes with strict rules. No dogs are allowed inside, pet relief and waste disposal sites must be provided, and if a dog becomes unruly, its owner will be asked to leave.

That may not be enough to satisfy those who find canine dining companions less than charming. That's fine; they can choose not to eat at the Avalon — or request a table inside.

If the experiment succeeds and the state decides to change the law, doggy dining areas would be strictly voluntary. No restaurant owner would be required to allow dogs.

The Oregon Health Authority is to be commended for its flexibility in trying out a new idea. Most dog owners are responsible, and we see no reason why the pilot project shouldn't be a howling success.

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