Opinion: Daily Journal

Hey, Let The Dogs In

This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Daren Bakst, Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation.

RALEIGH — North Carolina could soon prohibit dog owners from bringing their canine friends to restaurants. This would even include outdoor dining areas.

The state’s Commission for Public Health has proposed a rule (pdf link), which as written, would create this ban. The agency, however, has explained that the goal isn’t to ban dogs in outdoor areas. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the rule would do.

This dog debate is a repeat of the smoking ban debate. The only difference is instead of smokers we have dog owners. The state shouldn’t prohibit dog owners from bringing their dogs to indoor or outdoor dining areas.

This issue isn’t about the rights of dog owners (or dogs), just like the smoking ban wasn’t about the rights of smokers. This is a property rights issue.

Restaurant owners should have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to allow dogs in their restaurants. The fact that property is open to the public doesn’t change the fact that a restaurant is someone’s private property.

Smoking ban proponents argued that health “rights” were in conflict with property rights — I imagine this same fallacious argument will be made to defend a dog ban. Just as with smoking, customers are fully capable of deciding for themselves whether they want to dine at a restaurant where dogs are welcomed

Dog ban proponents actually want to create a new right. They want a right to go to any restaurant they want without ever having to deal with dogs. They want their personal preferences, enforced through the power of government, to take precedence over property rights and the preferences of others.

Smoking ban proponents argued that a smoking ban was no different than having a health inspector regulate the conditions of a restaurant. As with a smoking ban, a dog ban isn’t the same thing as a health inspector who is investigating the unknown health and safety conditions of a restaurant. Customers can see for themselves whether dogs are allowed at restaurants. Unlike the case involving hidden risks, customers can make informed and voluntary choices about whether to be around dogs.

There likely are numerous individuals who supported the smoking ban but who oppose a dog ban. However, one can’t have it both ways. Ironically, I wrote the following during the smoking ban debate: “Smoking ban proponents may cheer on passage of H.B. 2 [the smoking ban bill], but under the legislative precedent they wish to set, they could soon find some of their own actions subject to prohibition.”

That is exactly what is happening with a dog ban. Those who oppose a dog ban but wanted a smoking ban are now having the same disrespect for property rights and personal choice used against them when it comes to bringing dogs to restaurants. To be fair, there probably are smoking ban opponents who want a dog ban. This also would be inconsistent.

We’re getting into a situation in which the populace identifies things it doesn’t like and then urges the government to ban them, regardless of rights or individual responsibility. Yesterday, we were talking about a smoking ban. Today, we’re talking about a dog ban. Tomorrow we may be discussing a sugar ban.

A dog ban also reflects a belief that restaurants won’t act in their own best interests. If a restaurant’s patrons don’t want to be around dogs, then the restaurant will prohibit dogs from entering the establishment. It doesn’t require the government to force them to ban dogs.

The Commission for Public Health needs to change its rule to allow restaurants to decide if dogs will be allowed in their indoor or outdoor dining areas. I’d think that dogs would really appreciate it. I know that anyone who respects property rights and freedom will appreciate it.