SALINAS, Calif. - Monterey County is dog friendly, so friendly that restaurants like First Awakening in Salinas began seeing more people with their companions inside, but the owner wondered if they were all service animals.
"You know, anybody can get a card online and say it's a disability dog," said owner Chris Ulrich.
Ulrich said he called the county health department and a national disability agency about how to identify a service dog, but he got vague answers.
"They just basically said there was, if somebody comes in with a card then it’s acceptable, and they said they should have, like, a uniform on the dog but it doesn't have to have a uniform on the dog," Ulrich said.
Restaurant staff aren't supposed to ask for the dog's identification or documents, making it hard to separate the real service animals and just dogs out with their owners. While service dogs are welcome, having animals inside a restaurant presents some challenges.
"The dander. I mean, when my dog shakes, there's hair flying everywhere, and it can go into any body's food. Maybe they have an accident, we haven't had that. When you feed your dog and you touch the dog's tongue and mouth and then you cross contaminate with our things," Ulrich said.
After getting complaints, pet and service animal regulation became a topic at Monterey County's annual food safety education conference. Here are some of the latest guidelines.
"For dining areas that would allow pet dogs, or dog friendly restaurants can only be in an outdoor dining area, and that outdoor dining area can only be accessed by not going through the facility," said Ric Emcarmacion, assistant director at the Monterey County Environmental Health Bureau. "The pet dog shouldn't be eating or drinking out of the utensil of the restaurants. The restaurant owner is responsible for the action of the animal."
Safety experts also offered tips for customers at the conference: Bathrooms are good indicators of how clean a place is. Also look at utensils at restaurants and farmers markets.
Customers can also request health inspection records at restaurants.
Last but not least, you can download the Food Inspector app to see how restaurants on the Central Coast are doing.