Dog owners howling about City of Yarra’s view on pups in pubs

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Key points

  • Pubs in the City of Yarra have been told recent complaint investigations by health officers led to a need to “clarify the law” on the subject of pups in pubs.
  • The letter warned the law still prohibited live animals, including dogs, from being in any food handling area of a food premises. 
  • Dog owners reacted swiftly with a petition calling on City of Yarra to allow dogs in pubs at pub owners discretion accumulating more than 8600 signatures since last Thursday.

Dog owners in Melbourne’s inner north fear their pets will be booted out of pubs after the City of Yarra letter-dropped venues about the laws surrounding dogs in food venues.

In a letter sent by the council to its venues, publicans were told recent complaint investigations by health officers had prompted a need to “clarify the law” on the subject of pups in pubs.

“Despite the growth in ‘dog friendly’ activities, the law still prohibits live animals, including dogs, from being in any food handling area of a food premises,” the letter said. “This includes areas where food is served to customers at cafes, restaurants and take away food businesses, such as dining areas, and customer waiting areas where food is handed to customers.”

Clancy Dobbyn and Chisel love visiting their local watering hole, the Standard Hotel in Fitzroy.Credit: Eddie Jim

The letter from Yarra’s health protection unit said “the reason for this is that animals can carry germs that can contaminate food”.

Dog owners reacted swiftly, and a petition calling on the City of Yarra to allow dogs in pubs at publicans’ discretion has accumulated more than 8600 signatures since last Thursday.

Fitzroy resident Sam Roundtree, who started the petition and who owns an American Staffy-German shepherd mix named Charlie, who is well-known at his local, said dog-friendly pubs in the area were a “cherished tradition”.

He had no intention of “shoving dog culture” down others’ throats, he said, but was concerned the letter was already making businesses less amenable to the owners of four-legged patrons because of the risk of fines.

“It felt like a very vague threat,” Roundtree said. “We just want to meet council in the middle ground and maybe get a non-enforcement agreement in place.”

Under Australian food standards, pet dogs must not be taken into food handling areas, but are allowed in outdoor dining areas that are not substantially enclosed by walls, roofs or cafe blinds.

The outdoor areas have to be accessed without going through an “enclosed area” of the premises, such as a dining room. Assistance animals can be in all areas accessed by the public.

While the Food Act (1984) is state legislation, councils mainly handle the law’s enforcement.

Yarra Mayor Claudia Nguyen told The Age there was no plan to restrict puppy patronage in Melbourne’s watering holes, but said the letter was a reminder to pubs of their health and safety obligations as warmer weather approaches.

“These types of reminders are aimed at assisting businesses in complying with the law and avoiding penalties,” Nguyen said.

Many pubs within the council’s boundaries market themselves as “dog friendly”, such as the Great Northern in Carlton North, the Standard Hotel in Fitzroy and the Prince Alfred in Richmond.

Clancy Dobbyn, a regular at the Standard with his Pekingese Chisel, said it “beggars belief” that restrictions on dogs in venues could be a priority for the council.

“Dog pubs are just friendlier pubs,” he said.

Guy David, the owner of The Empress Hotel in Fitzroy, said his four-legged regulars were all “pub trained” and kept primarily to the beer garden.

“Lots of the ones we have here are generally locals who come and frequent this place five to seven days a week. They add to that sense of community and sense of family,” David said. “From a health point of view, there’s no way dogs are going to get close to the kitchen or food prep areas.”

Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly said he would request a report from compliance officers at Tuesday’s council meeting about what caused the letter to be sent. He believes pub owners are capable of self-managing dogs in venues.

“It’s not people bringing a dog into a live music venue at 10 o’clock on Saturday night … everybody knows what pubs like having the dogs and the pubs where it would be totally inappropriate,” Jolly said.

“There’s no need for the council to get involved. If it’s [due to] one complaint, then it’s [an] overreaction, but if it’s revenue raising, it’s pretty outrageous.”

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