LARGO — This city hasn't really made a practice of cracking down on cafes that let dogs hang out with their masters in outdoor dining areas, even though the city doesn't have a doggy dining ordinance.
"We haven't had the Largo Police Department knocking on people's doors, as long as they follow health department rules," said Vice Mayor Woody Brown.
At Brown's suggestion, Largo will soon consider making doggy dining legal. He brought up the idea at the request of the owner of the Village Inn at Walsingham and Vonn roads in southwestern Largo. The restaurant wants to allow dogs on its new patio.
"Some restaurants in the area already kind of have patios where dogs are allowed," Brown said. "A private, individual restaurateur would probably just do it. I'm willing to bet that the Village Inn corporation said, 'You're allowed to have dogs in your dining area if you have a local ordinance that allows it.' "
The City Commission will likely take up the issue in July after a couple of city advisory boards review a proposed ordinance.
This comes as more and more places around Pinellas County are allowing restaurants with outdoor dining to serve Fido and Rover along with their two-legged human companions. But some of the cities that allow doggy dining are having some minor issues with it.
This past week, Pinellas County decided to let diners take their dogs to outdoor patios at restaurants in unincorporated areas. Interested restaurants can get a $215 permit, subjecting them to a series of rules in exchange for potentially bringing in more business.
St. Petersburg, Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, Clearwater, Dunedin, Tampa and Bradenton already have similar rules.
Clearwater, which implemented doggy dining last year, is discovering a problem: A number of restaurants have gone ahead and welcomed dogs without bothering to get a permit.
"I think there are only two or three that have gotten the permits and are following the regulations, and yet we have them all over the place," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos.
He recently asked for an update on how many Clearwater restaurants have the permits. It turns out there are three, and two of them are in Clearwater Beach's tourist district alongside BeachWalk:
• Pickles Plus Deli, 2530 McMullen-Booth Road. "I think we were the first to get a permit. I'm pretty sure I've seen plenty of other places with dogs, but who knows?" said co-owner Joe Benedettini.
• Crabby's Bar & Grill, 333 S Gulfview Blvd. "I know that Clearwater Beach is very strict with all the rules, so I researched it," said manager Erin Kellough. "We probably get at least 15 dogs a day."
• Post Corner Pizza, 431 S Gulfview Blvd. "We extended the patio. Customers seem happy with it," said owner Jimmy Sofranos.
Restaurants that get permits are informed about the rules. Leashes are required, and dogs aren't allowed on tables or even on chairs. Hand sanitizer must be stationed at each table in designated dog-friendly areas. If restaurant employees pet a dog, they have to wash their hands afterward.
"Keep them on a leash, keep them on the ground," Benedettini said.
In Clearwater, an annual doggy dining permit is $75. A restaurant admitting dogs without getting a permit could be fined $130.
Before the city starts enforcing the law, Cretekos asked for the list of permitted restaurants to be sent to the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce to educate the chambers about the process.
Dunedin passed its own ordinance in 2011. It was no stretch for the town that has been dubbed "Dogedin" for its dog-friendly activities.
Dunedin Commissioner Julie Scales, relaying a message she said she received from her miniature schnauzer, Herman, called the ordinance "a giant step for dogkind."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151.