Dog fight at pet-friendly cafe stirs debate about leashing dogs at such places

Dog fight at pet-friendly cafe stirs debate about leashing dogs at such places
Published: 10:40 PM, May 19, 2017
Updated: 12:20 AM, May 20, 2017

SINGAPORE — The pet-friendly eatery had gone against the licensing rules, allowing customers to let their pets roam freely. Then, after two dogs got into a scuffle and the owner of the injured dog complained to the authorities, Sun Ray Cafe in Serangoon Gardens told customers that they would have to leash their pets or be asked to leave.

The incident happened last month at the cafe, when a mongrel bit a pug. The pug’s owner, who was there celebrating his pet’s one-year-old birthday, threatened to sue the cafe and insisted that the patrons who had the mongrel should leave, the cafe said in a Facebook post. He also lodged a complaint with the National Environment Agency (NEA).

For that, Sun Ray Cafe received four demerit points on Monday for failing to ensure that all dogs taken into its premises are leashed. The cafe’s licence would be suspended for two weeks if it accumulates a minimum of 12 points in a year, the NEA said in a letter.

The authority also told the cafe that it is required to inform patrons and ensure that all dogs are leashed and kept under control when they are there.

Licensing conditions for pet-friendly food shops dictate that all pets have to be “properly restrained” and dogs have to be leashed at all times.

NEA told TODAY that Sun Ray Cafe has a Foodshop (Pet Cafe) licence, which is required to operate its business where food is prepared and served to both patrons and pets. It has to abide by the licensing conditions, or else enforcement action would be taken.

In an update on its Facebook page on Thursday morning, the cafe said that it would file an appeal “to protect (its) own interest and that of the entire pet-friendly industry”.

It said that has seen just three such incidents in its six years of operation, including the latest one. Earlier cases were settled privately with medical reimbursements.

It posted NEA’s letter on Facebook Wednesday afternoon, and hours later, the cafe remarked that it had “only one customer on the pet-friendly side of the cafe” that night. There is a pet-friendly section and a no-pet zone for customers dining there.

When TODAY visited the cafe on Thursday, signs with “All pets must be leashed” and “No resident pets are allowed” were put up to remind its customers of NEA’s rules.

In the aftermath of the incident, more than 10 people have cancelled their reservations for this weekend, a service crew member — who did not want to be identified — told TODAY.

Across the island, practices at pet-friendly cafes vary, with some requiring pets to be leashed, and others allowing them to roam freely.

At Canopy Garden Dining & Bar in Bishan Park, its spokesperson said that customers are aware that their dogs have to be leashed, and they are allowed to sit only at the al-fresco dining area.

“While the animals fight with each other at times, they are usually leashed and the owners will be able to control them,” she added.

Another such cafe along Turf Club Road, Ah B Cafe, has received phone enquiries from customers on whether their dogs have to be leashed, following the incident at Sun Ray Cafe. On Friday, its owner, who did not want to be named, put up a sign stating that dogs would have to be leashed at the cafe.

While there have been fights among dogs in the past at Ah B Cafe, she said that customers usually resolve issues privately. In some instances, she has asked customers who have aggressive dogs to leave. “Their idea of coming to a pet cafe is to let the dog roam around. They don’t know the rules,” she said.

Mr Randy See, the manager of Happenstance Cafe, located off Serangoon Road, agreed that some customers are not aware of regulations and they go to such cafes because they “want their pets to interact with other pets”.

Most pet owners who spoke to TODAY confirmed what Mr See said. They are of the view that leashing their pets defeats the purpose of “a dog’s day out”, a time when the dogs can get to mingle with other dogs rather than being cooped up at home.

They also said that the issue is not about whether the pets are restrained, but whether pet owners “practise social responsibility” in ensuring their dogs behave themselves.

Consultant Ling Low, 26, who has a toy poodle, said that pet owners do not want to have their dogs leashed to a chair when they are meant to have a fun day out. “The owner has to keep an eye on their pets so that they do not harass other dogs or people. Honestly, most pet owners are very responsible and do step in when necessary to intervene.”

Ms Felicia Liew, 43, who has been patronising Sun Ray Cafe for five years, said: “We come because (my dogs, a maltese and a poodle) feel like it’s a second home here... We will have to follow them to whichever corner they go (in the confined place).”

Ms Jan Ng, 47, who frequents pet-friendly cafes with her Yorkshire Terrier, said that dog fights in such places are common, and this is the way pet owners learn how to socialise their dogs. A cafe should not “take the blame” when inexperienced pet owners “jump at the slightest things”, she added.

However, there are other animal lovers who supported the need to leash dogs in certain circumstances. Ms Aileen Chua, 26, who works in the private sector, said: “I will leash Toby (a golden retriever) if the cafe is too crowded for me to watch him, or if I see him displaying undesirable behaviour, or when there are dogs disturbing him.”