LARGO — On the southwestern edge of Largo, there's a Village Inn that has a spiffy new patio. The restaurant wanted to allow dogs to join their two-legged human companions on the new patio, but it turned out that wasn't allowed.
It is about to be now. City officials are unleashing doggie dining in Largo, allowing canines to hang out with their masters in outdoor dining areas.
"We've got little doggie dishes for them. We're ready for them when they come," said Village Inn manager Eric Basso.
Last week Largo commissioners voted unanimously in favor of doggie dining. After a second vote on the new city ordinance at the Aug. 6 commission meeting, Largo restaurants will be able to get a dog dining permit for a one-time $41 fee.
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 placed at each table in designated dog-friendly areas. If restaurant employees pet a dog, they have to wash their hands afterward.
"It just gives restaurant owners more options," said Vice Mayor Woody Brown, who first brought up the idea at the request of the Village Inn's owner. "I'm in support of any legislation that makes it easier for restaurants to do things that are unique and different — within what we're allowed."
More and more places around Tampa Bay are allowing restaurants with outdoor dining areas to serve Fido and Rover. Similar laws already exist in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin, Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, Tampa, Bradenton and unincorporated Pinellas County.
"It gives our businesses the option," said Largo Commissioner Michael Smith. "It also gives the patrons a choice, because if they don't like it, they don't have to go there."
The city of Largo has never really made a practice of cracking down on cafes that let dogs on their patios. But the Village Inn, being part of a national chain, needed official permission.
In some of the communities that approved doggie dining, a handful of restaurants has sought permits. Some of them, like downtown St. Petersburg's Moon Under Water, later changed their minds when the proliferation of dogs became too much of a hassle.
Some of the cities also are having some minor issues with it. Clearwater, which implemented its new ordinance last year, recently discovered that a number of restaurants had welcomed dogs without bothering to get a permit.
"I think there are only two or three (restaurants allowing dogs) that have gotten the permits and are following the regulations, and yet we have them all over the place," Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said when he asked for an update on how many restaurants in the city had the permits. It turns out there are three.
The new ordinances are made possible by a state law called the Dixie Cup Clary Local Control Act, known to many as the "doggie dining" bill. Passed in 2006, it allows cities to opt out of the state's stricter code that bans dogs from restaurant patios — as long as restaurants follow the rules regarding leashes and dogs staying on the ground.
State restaurant inspectors enforce the rules. Largo's Planning Board recommended that the city set some additional rules, such as requiring dogs to be tethered to the owner's table or chair. However, Largo was told that state inspectors can't enforce any rules beyond those set by the state.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.