TRINITY — They call him "Wizzie" for short. Decked out in a Harley-Davidson hat and a denim vest covered in decorative motorcycle pins and buttons, he looked right at home Thursday night at a high-top table in the patio area of Alli Gators Florida Grill and Bar.
Because of the red goggles covering his eyes, no one could tell where this biker was peering. Perhaps he was checking out the scantily clad dancer sitting across from him or maybe the boa-wearing Halloween diva. No matter what his focus, he looked tough, even at 5 ½ pounds.
Wizard, his given name, is a 14-year-old Pomeranian, and he was in good company with dozens of other dogs and their humans socializing in the outdoor patio and bar area of the restaurant on Little Road, just north of State Road 54.
Welcome to Yappy Hour. Here, dogs are the cat's meow, and puppy love is in the air (as is the occasional whiff of something else). The dog-friendly event is held the second Thursday of each month, but this one had the added excitement of being a Halloween-themed event, complete with a canine costume contest.
Wizzie, who posed on his Harley-style miniature trike, took second place out of 38 contestants. His human companion, Trudy Elmore, 64, of Port Richey was tickled by the event. As the owner of nine dogs, she had been to plenty of doggy events, but nothing this big and never at a restaurant.
"I think this is the best turnout I've ever seen," she said, adding that she dared to take only two of her pups out on this night. "The dogs are fabulous. It just goes to show how much people love their dogs."
Alli Gators manager Marty Bernardi, a dog owner himself, said the restaurant was dog-friendly years ago until it switched owners. After it came under new ownership again recently, Bernardi asked whether he could open the outside area once again to pooches. About the same time, the owners of Paw Wash Plus, a grooming and pet supply store in New Port Richey, approached him about co-sponsoring a regular pet event. Yappy Hour was born four months ago.
Most of the events, such as this one, benefit a pet organization, such as the SPCA. Thursday night's gathering was a food drive for Raffle Rescue Inc., a local group that helps families keep their pets during financially difficult times.
"We want to show people that we're not just about making money. We want to be community-friendly," said Bernardi.
They've had a doggone good response.
Bernardi estimates that some 40 dogs and their owners come to each two-hour event held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
"It's literally a dog owners social hour," he said. "They network. Pet store owners come. Groomers come. They exchange business cards."
And they all get treats, too. When a patron orders a drink, a fresh bowl of water comes out automatically for his or her canine companion — along with a doggy biscuit. Depending on the night, humans can order drink specials such as a $2.50 Mut-garita, Pawtini or Doggy Daiquiri. Oh, and if Fido is extra good, owners can buy him a Pooper Scooper — much tastier than it sounds. It's a big mound of vanilla ice cream with a big biscuit plopped in the middle.
"The dogs go nuts for it," Bernardi said.
There are, of course, rules to follow: Only service dogs are allowed inside the restaurant. All dogs must remain in the outdoor patio area on a leash. No aggressive dogs are allowed. Dogs should have up-to-date shots. Owners are responsible for cleaning up doggy business (bags are provided).
Naturally, an occasional bark can be heard on these nights, but the dogs generally play well with others. Bernardi reports no bar(k) brawls so far.
"For the most part, the owners are being cautious," said Anna Iversen, 42, a vet technician from Spring Hill. She and her boyfriend brought their dogs dressed as Yoda and Darth Vader. "This is awesome."