DUNEDIN — Dog lovers, grab your leashes — local restaurants will soon cater to man's best friend.
To residents and regulars of the town dubbed "Dogedin," that may sound like nothing new. More than a dozen city bars and eateries allow customers to bring their dogs. Some even serve treats.
One problem — it's technically illegal. The city had yet to opt into the state's "Doggie Dining" law, and inspectors could have issued fines or revoked licenses from business owners caught welcoming the prohibited pooches.
The City Commission on Thursday night pushed to change that, voting unanimously in support of a local ordinance extending dogs' legal domain into restaurants' outdoor seating.
"Folks have been doing it anyway, so we're just keeping up with the trend," Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said. "For me, it's just housekeeping now. In some places, this is already a way of life."
Originally sponsored as the Dixie Cup Clary Local Control Act, named for former state Sen. Charlie Clary and his Yorkshire terrier, Dixie Cup, the bill began as a short-term pilot project signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006 and was made permanent in 2009.
It seemed like a perfect fit for the city, with its annual Mardi Parti for Pups parade, quarterly bar-hopping "pup crawls" and weekly Suds on Sunday dog washes at the Dunedin Brewery. St. Petersburg, Tampa, St. Pete Beach and Gulfport passed their own ordinances. Dunedin never did.
With the city's new ordinance, restaurants receiving their $75 permit can allow dogs into outdoor seating, as long as they're kept on the ground and away from dishes and silverware. Employees must wash frequently, and each table must have hand sanitizer. Dogs that bark, yap or fight are to be "immediately removed."
One note: Drinking holes aren't included in the ordinance, as they've been open to dogs for years. Bars like the Dunedin House of Beer, the Dunedin Brewery and Skip's Bar & Grill are dotted with dog-walkers each weekend.
If the ordinance is adopted on its second reading later this month — and it almost certainly will, lest the commissioners show a sudden change of heart — businesses will be able to immediately apply for dog-friendly permits.
Commissioner Julie Scales, relaying a message she said she received from her miniature schnauzer, Herman, called it a "giant step for dogkind."
"We're a very dog-friendly community," Commissioner Ron Barnette said. "There are a lot of puppies out there that are very happy right now."
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.