Eateries go to the dogs


WASHINGTON -- Dog lovers can note with satisfaction several recent successes against the anti-dog rabble. But there's no room for complacency.

In a long-overdue enhancement of urban graciousness, some restaurants in New York City have opened their outdoor sections to diners with canine companions. The restaurants are thus emulating a practice commonplace in France and elsewhere in Europe. As visitors to these places, they are notable for their peaceful manners. Generally, they snooze under the table, while their human companions dine, and look up only now and then for a nibble or two.

The New York Times reports that restaurants in the city are happily experiencing a robust expansion of business from customers who previously were limited to dining at home with their dogs. With some 300,000 licensed dogs resident in New York, meals with dogs could be big business. Restaurateurs have responded to the potential with dog menus and ground-level water bowls.

None of the egregious problems forecast by dog haters have been reported, though it's possible, of course, that some have occurred. On the other hand, disruptive children and unruly adults routinely inflict discomfort on nearby, hapless restaurant customers without incurring banishment of the species. Dogs merit the same consideration. Keep out the bad ones, and let in the rest.

In God's house

There are also welcome reports about the admission of dogs to church services in New York City. According to the Washington Post, dogs have been attending services at an Episcopal church in the Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan, west of Broadway, and at another Episcopal church on Manhattan's upper East Side. A lovely appreciation of dogs and religious experience was offered by the Rev. Paul Williams, the assistant rector of one of the churches, who attends services with his Yellow Labrador, Bear.

"In the Episcopal idea of the Christian faith," he told the Post, "we like to come to church as a whole person. We bring all of ourselves to God. And for some of us, our pets are part of the definition of who we are. Bringing them to church is a reflection of the idea that creation is good."

The social progress of dogs naturally inspires cynics to ask where will this end -- if dogs in restaurants and churches, why not cats, horses and so on? The proper answer is perhaps on some occasions, but not as a general rule.

Man's best friend

In revising our social arrangements, dogs deserve consideration because of their unique relationship with humans. They long ago came into the camp of primitive humans, and since have happily lived with people. A dog whining at the door to be let in provides solid evidence of their kinship with humans.

The question at this point is where do we go from here? The New York developments are inspiring, but they are only a beginning of reform that has yet to spread to the rest of the country. The next step might be in air travel, where your everyday dog would be a model passenger compared with those specimens of the human variety who go whacko at cruising altitude, sometimes requiring hurried landings met by police. As an alternative to the risks and discomforts of caged travel in baggage, why not set aside a few seats for dogs and see how it goes?

As evidenced by intensified sniffing during walks past restaurants, Ben, our resident Labrador, is eager to expand the reform movement in that direction. A spiritual dog who likes to travel, he might also welcome admission to houses of worship and airplanes. The future looks bright, but as noted earlier, there's no room for complacency. The anti-doggers never rest.

Daniel S. Greenberg usually writes about science politics, but now and then writes about developments of interest to his Labrador retriever, Ben.

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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