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Phoebe Fairbairn is heartbroken.

A co-owner of MVP, a pub on Clanbrassil Street, she was told last week that the premises would no longer be allowed to permit dogs.

Opened in 2014, the pub has become well-known amongst locals as a haven for pets. As one of the few pubs in Dublin that openly welcomed dogs, this was a large part of its pull.

But they’ve now been given a blanket “no”, through a HSE order, to dogs being in the bar. There are at least a dozen other pubs in the city that permit dogs, but the crackdown on MVP may indicate this will soon have to change.

In Dublin, pubs that permit dogs are an open secret. However, most pet friendly publicans, apart from Fairbairn, didn’t want to talk about it for fear that the HSE would come visit.

Many major European cities, including London, Paris and Edinburgh, embrace dogs as boozing buddies. So why don’t we look to other parts of Europe for our pedigree protocol?

What Are The Rules?

Under EU regulations, there should be adequate procedures “put in place to prevent domestic animals from having access to places where food is prepared, handled or stored”. This applies to restaurants, cafés and bars.

It doesn’t say that domestic animals aren’t allowed on the premises. If it did, no pub or restaurant in Europe would be allowed permit them.

What it does say, is that “where the competent authority so permits in special cases, [they should] prevent such access from resulting in contamination”.

Enter the local environmental-health officer.

Here in Ireland, the Food Safety Authority Ireland’s website says that “under national food hygiene legislation pet dogs and cats are generally not permitted in any food premises”. The exceptions are animals like guide and assistance dogs.

The food hygiene legislation, first implemented in 1950 and still in place today, states that “dogs shall not be kept on the food premises save with the consent of the local chief medical officer”.

So, it’s the local environmental-health officer, as it would be known today, who has the power to allow dogs, but chooses not to permit them.

“The legislation is completely open to interpretation,” says Fairbairn of MVP. “I really want the local authorities and I to work together to sort this out. These policies just aren’t relevant to modern culture.”

In London and Edinburgh, you often see dogs in the city’s bars. Publicans hoping for Dublin’s watering holes to move with the UK on this issue have their work cut out for them though.

A spokesperson for the HSE said that even “pubs which do not serve meals are considered food businesses for the purpose of food safety legislation.”

That means that a pint and packet of peanuts are, in the eyes of the HSE, contaminable by dogs.

Rise Up With Fleas

It’s not like dogs and cats don’t carry their share of cooties.

The diseases transmittable from dogs to humans vary in hazard from ringworm to rabies. But they can can be caught in loads of places, not just in a privately owned business where children aren’t allowed after 9pm.

Transmitted from dogs to humans through direct contact or food contamination, “these hazards would include bacteria such as campylobacter and salmonella and parasites such as Toxocara canis,” says James Gibbons, lecturer in Veterinary Public Health at UCD. “There is also the hazard posed by dog bites.”

The chance of someone getting one of these from a dog in a pub depends on “the population of dogs entering pubs” and “how likely the hazard is to be transmitted in that environment”, Gibbons says.

And if we’re considering how risky it is to allow dogs into pubs, we also have to think about “the severity of the associated disease in humans”.  Rabies is really bad, ringworm, less bad.

So is there any real risk to sipping a pint with your dog in tow? If your dog is healthy, Gibbons says, the risk is low.

“It is unlikely that direct faecal contamination of drinks would occur in a pub setting,” he says. “Direct contact with agents on the dog’s coat, or indirect contact through environmental contamination, is probably of greater concern as it may lead to contamination of a person’s hands with subsequent transfer to the mouth.”

It’s tough to work out what the government’s thinking is on this issue.

The FSA redirected questions to the HSE, which, in turn, noted that they “cannot comment on its food safety activities in respect of individual food businesses”, but said that they do “not have any concerted action underway locally or nationally in relation to dogs in food premises”.

The local Dublin South City East Environmental Health Officer’s office redirected questions straight back to the HSE helpline.

Dublin publicans can’t guarantee that every dog will be microchipped, vaccinated, well trained and quiet. Yet they also can’t guarantee that every punter won’t be a spluttering, brazen soap-dodger.

But if they – the dog or the person – are not being a good guest, they can be asked to leave.

Dogs in Pubs, Cats in Cafés

While the HSE’s attitude might be an inconvenience for pubs that want to be dog friendly, they can still sell beer. But what would a cat café be without cats?

Georgina O’Neill is running a Kickstarter campaign to create the first cat café in Dublin, Crazy Cats Café. As she puts it, she is trying to raise the funds needed to establish “the purrfect setting for people to come in and enjoy a cup of their favorite hot stuff and cuddle with one of the resident cats”.

It’s inspired by the cat cafés in Japan and New York, and O’Neill is looking to gather donations of  €35,000 to get her started.

But even if she gets the money, how will she get around the HSE rules?

“It is unfortunate that those rules are so strict, “she says. “If we do open, the cat area will be completely separate from our café, and will be classed as retail unit; as a result, the café will be on two separate premises.”

It’s not quite what one has in mind when thinking “cat café” but, given the current rules, it might be the best she could hope for.

Cónal Thomas

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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