For people, years spent in Santa Fe are a mark of authority—and oft-cited when it comes to the issue of where dogs are allowed.
Take City of Santa Fe Animal Services Manager Pat Alano: "I've been here 18 years and, in 18 years, I know dogs have never been allowed in restaurants," he says. (That's 126 years in dog years, for the record.)
"It's a health hazard," Alano notes. Technically, he's right. Section 126.96.36.199.K(5) of the New Mexico Administrative Code states, "Animals shall not be permitted in food processing, preparation, storage, display and serving areas." (Exceptions include "edible fish, crustacea, or shellfish," guide dogs for handicapped people and police dogs.) But as most Santa Feans know, a dog on a restaurant patio isn't an uncommon sight—or wasn't, until recently—and there are plenty of authoritative years on the other side, too.
"There have been wonderful restaurants, in my 15 years here, that have allowed dogs," actress Ali MacGraw says. "In the boiling heat of summer, it's absolutely impossible to leave an animal in the car—and in the icy cold winter, too."
Dog lovers like longtime Santa Fe resident Catherine Joyce Coll love nothing better than a relaxing summer afternoon at a patio restaurant—with their dogs alongside them. But Coll says she's noticed many Santa Fe restaurants have grown increasingly canine-averse.
Two years ago, Coll says, "I walked into Santacafé with my wolfhound to meet a friend for lunch. We used to have parties with 14 dogs at Zia Diner, and they'd give us dog cookies." But one day last fall at Santacafé, she says, "three waiters and a manager came running out and said, 'No, no, no! We're getting fines!'" They told her they could no longer allow dogs, so Coll left. (Santacafé did not respond to a request for comment by press time.) Coll says she's noticed the same scenario at Zia Diner: Once welcome, dogs are now banned even from the patio.
"It's considered a dining room," Zia Diner manager Eva Nickell says of the restaurant's patio. "We've had customers complain that other patrons' dogs stare at them while they're eating, and it makes them uncomfortable. There's lots of barking, and it's disruptive. We've had dogs jump into our flower beds and completely wreck our flowers."
Nickell recognizes not all dogs are creepy-eyed or badly behaved. "We've just tried to honor what we've been told by the city…that [dogs] are not allowed unless they're service dogs," she says.
But dogs in restaurants aren't really the city's business. The regulation governing dogs in food establishments falls under the purview of the New Mexico Environment Department. Santa Fe Animal Services, Alano says, has "no ordinance on our books that can enforce that." Nonetheless, Nickell says Zia Diner got a directive from the city a few years ago to be stricter about dogs on the patio.
In 2007, after she and her dog were asked to leave Santacafé, Coll took her grievance to the NMED. Mary Lou LaCasse, the department's food program manager, replied in a one-page memo that, while the New Mexico Administrative Code prohibits dogs in restaurants, food establishments can seek variances from any part of the regulations. According to NMED Communications Director Marissa Stone Bardino, the burden of proof is on the individual submitting the request to provide evidence that allowing the variance would protect the public to the same extent—if not more—than the variance itself.
Sounds like a lot of work. Zia Diner hasn't applied for such a variance—"I didn't even know about it," Nickell says. Instead, Zia appeases local dog lovers by letting them tie their dogs on the other side of the fence around the diner's patio, an arrangement Nickell says "seems to work really well."
In MacGraw's view, all Santa Fe needs is some clarity.
"The restaurants offering to invite our dogs to stay on the patio need to put that application in and perhaps make note on their doors that this is a dog-friendly restaurant," MacGraw says. "Then people can make their choice. My fantasy is that there's a dog at every table in a restaurant—but it's not everybody's fantasy."
Coll, for her part, laments that Santa Fe got to this point.
"It's so wrong, in a town where everyone has dogs, [that] they're so unwelcome," she says. "This is grossly unfair."
Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect a correction. The original version incorrectly stated that the 14-dog parties Catherine Joyce Coll recounts were held at Santacafé.