ST. LOUIS — Dogs are in. Gerbils, hamsters and turtles are out.
Such is the fate of critters under a new state law that lets cities and counties decide whether household pets may join their people at outdoor restaurants.
On Friday, St. Louis became the first city in Missouri to take advantage of the new state law that allows a local option for doggie dining.
“The whole idea is to leave it to local control,” said Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, who sponsored the legislation.
The law, signed Friday by Gov. Matt Blunt, was prompted by a St. Louis restaurateur’s plea for help.
Mark Erker’s Boathouse restaurant in Forest Park, a popular spot for pet owners, was being threatened with action earlier this year by the local health department. Laws prohibited animals from entering or even resting on the patio of an eatery.
Erker found an advocate in Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, who sponsored a city ordinance making St. Louis the first city in Missouri to allow dogs to join their people at outdoor restaurants.
But the city first needed enabling legislation from the state. Erker put out an e-mail plea for help, and Loudon — both a cat and a dog person — responded. “I thought it was heavy handed” of the state, “and that locals should decide,” he said.
Lawmakers passed the provision, part of Senate Bill 22, on the last day of the session, and Blunt signed it.
The state law applies to dogs, cats and any other domestic animal not normally kept in a cage. Excluded are pet gerbils, hamsters, birds, fish, and turtles.
“Gerbils need a better lobbyist. They’re getting left out of the thing,” said Gary Markenson, executive director of the Missouri Municipal League.
With the exception of guide dogs, live animals aren’t allowed on the premises of restaurants in Columbia, inside or out. Deidre Wood, a public information specialist at the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, said she was aware of the new state law but hasn’t heard any discussion in the community about changing the city ordinance.
”While we love our pets, having them at a restaurant where people could be allergic to them could be problematic, and having pets in close proximity to food could cause some misbehavior,” Wood said.
St. Louis’ ordinance applies to well-behaved dogs on outdoor patios and sidewalk cafes of willing restaurants in most parts of the city. One of its biggest supporters, Mayor Francis Slay, who has three dogs, promoted and lobbied for passage of the state bill.
Slay, who said he will sign the city ordinance into law this month, called it a matter of convenience for pet owners.
“What’s the harm of having a well-behaved dog sit with you outside?” he asked.
The state measure had the backing of the Missouri Restaurant Association.
“It gives members more freedom to run their business without being hassled,” said the group’s secretary, David Maxwell, a Columbia restaurateur.
He predicted it would be popular with casual restaurants in suburbs and central cities.
“It simply gives a restaurant owner discretion to offer doggie dining,” he said.
Kelli White of the Missourian’s staff contributed to this report.