For years, many restaurants have welcomed pets with their owners on outdoor patios.

We published a long list of pet-friendly restaurants July 31.

A few days later, the Delaware Division of Public Health, part of the Department of Health and Social Services, posted this on Facebook:

“We know you love Fido. So do we, but leave your pets at home when you go out to eat. Live animals, including emotional support animals are strictly prohibited from Delaware restaurants. This includes outdoor service areas. Only service animals are allowed in Delaware restaurants. Exceptions are made for edible or decorative fish in aquariums, shellfish or crustacea on ice or under refrigeration, and patrol dogs.”

They later added that the Delaware Food Code prohibits pets in restaurants: “To date, inspectors have not strictly enforced the outdoor portion of the food code. In an effort to protect the health and safety of dining patrons, we are revisiting the Code and associated policies related to this issue.”

The public reaction sparked more news stories. Restaurants responded swiftly. Irish Eyes, a popular spot for diners with pets, shared the DHSS Facebook post on signs at their Lewes and Milton locations.

“Although we DON’T agree with this – WE MUST FOLLOW THE RULES,” they wrote. “Contact your local representatives, call the Delaware Division of Public Health – LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD! We want our dogs back!”

Patrons with pets are taking Irish Eyes’ advice and reaching out to the powers that be. Change may be on the horizon.

According to DPH media relations representative Jennifer Brestel, “Animals can transmit pathogens to humans through direct and/or indirect contamination of food and food-contact surfaces. Animals shed hair continuously and may deposit liquid or fecal waste, creating the need for vigilance and more frequent and rigorous cleaning efforts. … Unsocialized animals may present a bite risk to other patrons.”

“If during an inspection, the inspector witnesses a dog on the premises of the food establishment, a violation may be issued. This particular violation is considered a priority foundation violation, which allows the food establishment 10 days to address and remedy the issue before further action is taken. If subsequent violations occur, DPH may assess a reinspection fee to the food establishment,” she said.

According to Pew Research Center, in nine states it is legal for dogs to dine with their owners outdoors: Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Maryland, California, Rhode Island and New York.

Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf (D – Rehoboth Beach) said he was shocked to hear that the agency was enforcing the dog rule. He frequented Sharky’s in Dewey Beach with his dog Maddy for years.

“I know how residents and visitors thoroughly enjoy bringing their dogs with them to grab a coffee, bagel or sandwich and sit outside their favorite establishment,” he said.

Schwartzkopf has asked the agency to address the issue and said if necessary, he will sponsor legislation to allow pets in outdoor areas of restaurants.

However, legislation isn’t necessarily needed. The department has the ability to change regulations in the food code.

Brestel said they are not planning any specific enforcement, but will respond to complaints.

“Inspectors have not strictly been enforcing the outdoor portion of the food code,” Brestel said, “And will continue that practice until discussions around the policies associated with this issue have taken place.”