CLEARWATER — In a shopping center on Mandalay Avenue, at the Brown Boxer Pub & Grille, patrons eating on the outdoor deck often bring their best friends: their dogs.
Named for the owner's late boxer, Hoot, the beach eatery has become a gathering place for diners and dogs alike. One couple eat lunch there every day with their pooch. Servers carry bowls of water and dog treats.
There's only one problem: Bringing dogs to the restaurant is against the law. But a proposed amendment could soon change that, allowing dogs in restaurants' outdoor seating areas and setting rules for hygiene and control.
Proposed by City Council member John Doran, who has a Labradoodle named Chloe, the amendment was supported by the council this month. If members give final approval to the amendment early next month, Clearwater will become the last of Tampa Bay's biggest cities to permit doggie dining.
In Clearwater, it would work like this: Restaurateurs who paid the city $75 a year for a permit could seat patrons with dogs outside. Staff members would be required to wash their hands regularly, tables would have to be stocked with hand sanitizer, and dogs would have to be kept off tables and chairs.
Mayor Frank Hibbard — the owner of two boxers, Sullivan and Daisy, and a Great Dane, Henry — said the change would regulate a practice that is quickly growing in acceptance while helping local restaurants attract business and stay competitive.
"If there are a lot of places around us that have doggie dining, and we don't," Hibbard said, "that could be a detriment to our businesses."
Take, for instance, Dunedin, Clearwater's northern neighbor, which passed its own amendment last January. Commissioners of the city known for its downtown "Dogedin" mural called the amendment, at the time, a "giant step for dogkind."
Now, a year later, they say it remains a big success. At the Living Room, a popular Main Street tapas spot, City Commissioner Julie Scales said she talked to a server who "likes waitressing outside because she likes to meet the animals."
However, in Dunedin, the rules on doggie dining have bred some confusion or been overlooked. Only two places, the Dunedin Brewery and Stirling Fine Wines, have received their permits, meaning that places such as the Living Room remain in violation. City planning and development director Greg Rice said code enforcement inspectors will soon be circulating "to make sure we've got the regulations just right."
Clearwater's proposal is modeled after the state's Dixie Cup Clary Local Control Act, which began as a short-term test in 2006 and was made permanent in 2009. The bill was named after former state Sen. Charlie Clary and his Yorkshire terrier, Dixie Cup.
Asked whether the Brown Boxer will file for its own doggie dining permit, owner and founder Jay Thomas didn't hesitate.
"Absolutely," Thomas said. "People love their dogs."
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