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Dunedin's dog-friendly pubs have to show pooches the door

DUNEDIN

For years this city has had a reputation as one of the Tampa Bay area's most dog-friendly cities.

But there's one place patrons will no longer be able to bring their pooches: inside bars.

Julie Brown, owner of Rosie's Tavern, found that out several days ago, when county health inspectors went to her downtown business and told her it was illegal to have dogs in her place.

Inspectors told Brown that someone had made a complaint after seeing a dog inside.

"We don't know who it was," Brown said. "This has been crazy, because Dunedin is a dog town. It was never a problem, never an issue. We've always kept it clean — probably even more so since dogs could come in."

Local officials told Brown that even though her bar and others have allowed dogs inside for years, the practice is, indeed, a violation of state rules. That was a huge surprise to Brown and other bar owners, who noted that just a year ago, the city passed an ordinance allowing outdoor "doggy dining" at restaurants.

"The state is not consistent," Brown said. "Somewhere there's a disconnect."

At issue are Florida's differing regulations for bars and restaurants.

Restaurants, licensed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, are covered under the city ordinance, which allows dogs in outside dining areas at restaurants that get a permit and abide by specific hygiene and food handling practices.

But bar-only establishments like Rosie's Tavern are licensed by the state Department of Health, which has its own rules. One says live animals can't be in an area that conducts food service.

"The Department of Health considers ice and any type of beverage a food item because a human ingests it," said Amanda Porter, the environmental supervisor at the Pinellas County Health Department. "That's where the confusion came in."

Even city officials weren't clear on the rules.

"We thought if it was a drinking-only establishment, it was okay for dogs to be inside," said Greg Rice, the city's planning and development director.

Rice said that to his knowledge, no one had ever complained to the city about it before. Now that the rules have been clarified, he said, city officials will enforce the outside-only rules for bars.

"We've got to do some canvassing, some research," he said. "We want to make sure we're applying the right rules to the right places."

Like Rosie's, Dunedin House of Beer has also allowed people to bring dogs inside.

"It's been a nice draw for us," said owner Andy Polce. "We'd done it for three years."

Polce has put up signs to notify customers of the change. They can still sit outside on the patio with their dogs, he said.

Still, he said, most customers have reacted the same way.

"They're bummed," he said. "It's unfortunate, because it's such a popular thing."

JoAnn Felden hadn't heard about the inspection at Rosie's — or the new rules — when she stopped by recently.

Felden, who visits the neighborhood bar a couple of times a month, brought along Chicken Wing, her 5-month-old Chihuahua. She noticed a new sign in the window.

"When I walked in today and she couldn't go in, I was pretty upset. She's been coming here since she was a half-pound!" said Felden, sitting at a table outside Rosie's, the tiny dog in her lap.

Felden said that one of the reasons she and her friends go to the bar is because of its dog friendliness.

But she didn't argue with the new rules.

"It was a good run," she said.

Porter, of the Health Department, said the county never had a complaint about dogs in Dunedin bars before the one that prompted the inspection at Rosie's. She said county officials have reached out to bars that have allowed dogs — they know of at least six in Dunedin — to make sure they are aware of the policy.

"We understand it is a huge shock to them and that it may affect their business," she said. "We're not issuing fines to anybody. We told them we would monitor it."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

Dunedin's dog-friendly pubs have to show pooches the door 01/31/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 7:59pm]

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