Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Going to the dogs

More than 300 legislative proposals have already been slotted for consideration during Florida’s 2006 legislative session, which doesn’t begin until March, the Florida Restaurant Association notes. Hopefully 299 are more important than the restaurant-related initiative that was effectively killed on Monday. It’s proof that restaurants aren’t going to the dogs. But, most definitely, the canines are coming to them.

Indeed, anecdotal evidence shows conclusively that more and more patrons want to yank their dogs along when they grab a latte or wolf down a brunch omelet at an open-air café. And why not? It’s not like the kitchen is out there, or that a banquette’s edge might be mistaken for a tree.

Or at least that must have been what Florida lawmakers reasoned when they concocted a plan to seat dogs as well as humans in the outdoor dining areas of Orlando restaurants. A state representative from the theme-park capital wanted to push a bill that would exempt local restaurants from the state health department’s prohibition of dogs from every section of an eating place. After three years, legislators could decide if they wanted to extend the measure statewide, or re-instate the coast-to-coast ban.

Other Orlando legislators, no doubt controlled by the cat lobby, said they couldn’t use the statehouse to pass what was in effect a local bill. Without their support, the measure is doomed. Hungry pomeranians have no doubt been whining since they got the word. Their owners might howl if they defied the health regulations and were caught bringing the pooch along for some al fresco dining. The fine is $5,000.

It may sound like a silly matter. But when does reason come into play when you’re talking about dog owners (this writer included)? In Austin, TX, a restaurant decided to evade similar health regulations by exploiting a loophole. The code notes that patrol dogs accompanying police or security officers can stay with their masters in an open-air dining area. So Freddie’s Place paid leash-toting patrons a penny to wear a badge that reads, “Freddie’s Official Security Officer.” Clearly the officers' llahsa apsos and shitzuhs are guard dogs, and hence exempt from the law.

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