Who let the dogs in? Kansas breweries and health officials clash over indoors pet ban

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Brewery owner said allowing dogs inside helped improve business and create a welcoming environment

TOPEKA — From 2019 to 2022, Transport Brewery was a dog lover’s paradise, with dogs allowed in the taprooms and patios, pet adoption events and even a dog picture calendar.

Then came the Kansas Department of Agriculture inspector, who informed the Shawnee brewery that the state no longer allowed dogs inside the taproom. Gone were the days of dogs dressed in holiday sweaters, or miniature sports gear. Signs had to be put up telling customers that dogs were no longer allowed.

Brewery owner Mike McVey said the dog ban damaged his business, testifying in support of legislation that would allow dogs in microbreweries during a House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development hearing.

“The economic impact on the business of the brewery is both noticeable and difficult to calculate,” McVey said. “We no longer have families or groups of friends who visit the brewery together to visit one another’s pets. The pets no longer attend holiday parties in their Chiefs or Christmas sweaters.”

McVey, along with other microbrewery owners and patrons, supports House Bill 2291, which would allow microbreweries to welcome dogs inside and outside, as long as the dogs stay out of food or drink preparation areas.

The bill also would allow all food establishments to have dogs in outside areas, as long as sanitation conditions are met, such as having the dog remained leashed and having employees wash their hands after dog interactions.

Under the current version of the Kansas food code, nonservice dogs aren’t allowed in any food establishment, though licensed places can apply to have dogs allowed in outdoor patio spaces.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture is working on updating this code to allow dogs in outdoor patios without going through the application process, but deputy agriculture secretary Kelsey Olson said the department drew the line at allowing dogs inside.

In testimony opposing the bill, Olson said dogs were unsanitary and could transmit germs to patrons. One concern raised by Olson was dog hair, as dogs, unlike humans, can’t control their shedding.

“There are not caps or nets which will mitigate the shedding of dog hair,” Olson said. “Allowing dogs in dining areas increases the risk that food may become contaminated with dog hair.”

Last week, the House passed the legislation on a 108-14 vote. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat, described the bill during Feb. 22 debate on the House floor as a way to help out microbreweries in the state.

“This, I think, moves us more in line with what we see in other states, where it’s pretty common that you’ll have people bringing their pets to the brewery, bringing their dogs to the brewery,” Probst said. “The environment is pretty welcoming to that.”

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Probst also introduced a bill amendment that would change beverage definitions to benefit breweries like one in Hutchinson that nearly lost its license last year.

Under the amendment, any beer containing 6% or less alcohol by volume and sold individually by a microbrewery would be considered a cereal malt beverage instead of beer, to get around Kansas law regarding the balance between liquor and food sales.

Some Kansas counties require a drinking establishment to get at least 30% of annual profits from food sales. Sixty-three counties in the state operate with the 30% food sales rule, according to Kansas Department of Revenue 2021 data.

For bigger drinking establishments, the 30% rule isn’t an issue, as most have full kitchens and dedicated kitchen staff. Small microbreweries, however, often struggle to meet the requirement.

“If you have a cereal malt beverage license instead of a drinking establishment license, you can sell up to 6% alcohol, beer, and it’s not counted as an intoxicating liquor,” Probst said.

Probst mentioned Sandhills Brewing, the Hutchinson microbrewery that almost lost its liquor license because of the food sales requirement. He said he knew of several microbreweries that have had to get creative to stay in business.

“One that I know of reduced the price of their beer to $1 and sold every beer with a bag of chips for $5,” Probst said. “So the total package was $6. Whether you wanted a bag of chips with your beer or not, you were getting it, but they had to do these sorts of creative things in order to comply with the law. And this I think would help.”

The House accepted Probst’s amendment before passing the bill.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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