Dog Lovers Unite

Coffee Labs seeks to bring a crowd to petition the County Board of Health for a canine variance.

It's been six months since the Westchester County Department of Health brought an end to Coffee Labs Roasters' policy of serving people and pets.

A complaint submitted to the department was acted on by the Board of Health which issued a warning to the Tarrytown-based roaster and cafe, effectively ending seven years of dog-friendly service.

Since then, owners of the business, Alicia Kelligrew and Mike Love, have been rallying support to try and get the county to change their minds and issue a dog variance.

A petition has gathered over 2,000 signatures since the story first broke across the county (Patch and News 12 both gave the issue coverage). A Facebook page supporting Coffee Labs Roasters also has over 600 fans showing their backing.

"It's not just a flash in the pan," Kelligrew said. "People came from all over the county to sign it (the petition), so there seems to be support."

Now the owners think it's time for citizens to stand up behind those signatures – they will be taking their fight to the department's Board of Health meeting next Thursday, June 17.

"We're trying to get people to come to the meeting or at least write a letter," Kelligrew said.

While Love and Kelligrew hope to bring the issue to a head next week, it will be the culmination of months of behind-the-scenes work. Kelligrew said they have been in close contact with officials from the health department and have jumped through hoops to get dogs back into the shop. Coffee Labs Roasters' unique situation meant the issue was brought to the New York State Department of Health (the county largely follows the policies laid out by the state).

Caren Halbfinger, Director of  Public Health Information and Communication for the county department, said the New York State Department of Health is now allowing the county to make the final decision regarding whether or not to grant the variance. She also said the decision would be in the hands of the Westchester County Board of Health. The Board of Health is an independent body of 12 people that reviews all complaints and would have to approve or deny any waiver to Department of Health rulings.

Kelligrew said the county health officials have been extremely helpful in navigating the bureaucratic chain of command, but ultimately the people they have to convince sit on the 12-member board.

"We know they are just doing their job, but I don't want them to say no. If they do, I know a lot of people will be upset," she said.

Kelligrew said she could see where their concerns could come from – there could be dog bites, dog poop, and perceived problems with kids and dogs. But in the seven years of business, it has never been an issue at Labs.

"Dogs have actually been a positive experience here," she said.

Although an agenda for next week's Board of Health meeting has not been finalized, Halbfinger said that the issue would likely come before the board at that time.

"I think it is going to come up at the next meeting, and maybe in the future," she said. "There will be some discussion and maybe a public meeting. I know they won't make a decision without some sort of public discussion."

The board meeting will be held at 9 a.m. this coming Thursday at 145 Huguenot Street in New Rochelle. Kelligrew hopes a crowd chock-full of personal stories and pleas will finally end the dog-free days at Coffee Labs.

"I don't know if it is going to work, I was hoping this would be simple," Kelligrew said."But we're more than halfway there."


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