TREASURE ISLAND — The city may soon officially go to the dogs.
Allowing dogs at restaurants with outside seating appears to have the approval of the City Commission, the Chamber of Commerce and at least three restaurant owners.
For 15 years, patrons of Foxy's Cafe brought their dogs with them to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner in the restaurant's outside seating area — large enough to accommodate 40 people at a time.
Turns out that was illegal.
The restaurant got a visit last month from the Pinellas County Health Department and was formally cited.
Though Florida state law allows people to bring their dogs to restaurants with outside seating, individual cities and counties must first pass a local law permitting the practice.
That is just what the City Commission is planning to do at its meeting Tuesday.
"We have lost a number of customers who claim Foxy's is discriminating against them," owner Rita Orzechowski told the commission last week.
Resident Harold Wood and his girlfriend used to bring their dog to Foxy's regularly but say they now patronize a different restaurant.
Orzechowski and her partner, Sher Ozzie, urged the commission to help.
"We have never had any trouble," Ozzie said.
Many restaurants in the city also have outside seating, she said, and some continue to allow patrons to bring their dogs.
"We want to make sure all restaurants are in compliance and the health department doesn't cite anyone else," Orzechowski said.
Jody Armstrong, president of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce, thinks that is a great idea.
"We are solidly behind it and it would be a good thing if it happened," Armstrong said. "It will put our businesses on a level playing field with other cities."
Treasure Island has a number of hotels that allow guests to bring their pets, including the Residence Inn by Marriott, the Lorelei Resort, Bayside Inn and Marina, and the Treasure Bay Hotel and Marina.
Among the many restaurants with outside seating are Sloppy Joe's On the Beach, the Floridian, Gator's Cafe & Saloon, The Pearl, Caddy's on the Beach, Ricky T's Bar and Grille, the VIP Lounge, and Dukes Island Bar and Grill.
"We have so many people coming in with boats who have their dogs with them, it would be good for us," said Gator's director of operations Tony Ewonaitis.
St. Pete Beach already allows people to bring their dogs to restaurants with outside seating.
"The city needs to become more pet-friendly," Antony Lineberger told the commission.
Commissioners agreed, but it will take two votes and several weeks before dogs are legal in outside public eating areas.
According to the rules set by the state, only restaurants that have directly accessible outside seating would be allowed to seat patrons with dogs. If patrons must walk through the restaurant's inside area first, their dogs cannot come with them.
Each restaurant, including Foxy's, will have to apply for a permit.
The nearly 20 specific rules regulating restaurants, their workers and their patrons are very strict. Among them:
• Dogs must be kept on a leash and signs posted encouraging patrons to wash their hands before they eat.
• Employees are required to wash their hands every time they touch or pet a dog and are prohibited from touching the pets while serving food or beverages or handling tableware.
• Dogs are not allowed to be fed or come in contact with serving dishes, utensils or paper products.