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HAVE HUMAN, WILL TRAVEL

BOOK REVIEW: The Dog Lover's Companion to Florida, Avalon Travel ($20.95).

So the guy I so graciously allow to live with me (picture Jethro Bodine without the mansion) comes home the other day waving this new book titled The Dog Lover's Companion to Florida _ The Inside Scoop On Where To Take Your Dog. And I'm lying under the kitchen table thinking, inside scoop? Who wrote this? Shecky Green? It's not enough that people have to stand there and stare at us when we're, uh . . . making a deposit. Now we've got to endure lame jokes about it.

He claims The Inside Scoop is to dog lovers what Cliffs Notes are to struggling English Lit students. (His analogy, not mine.)

More about the book in a second. First, I need to get something straight.

I'm a dog. With needs.

And no, I wasn't named after the John Travolta character in Grease. That was Danny Zuko. And besides, you want a singing dog, go to Disney World.

Specifically, I'm a golden retriever, named after some old Randy Newman song that nobody's ever heard. The Latin name for my breed is pushoverus submissivorus. Which means we take a lot of abuse at the dog park. Imagine a group of Richard Simmons impersonators prancing about at a construction site.

No, I haven't growled at anything since I saw Katherine Harris on TV. And that was purely instinctive.

Okay, so Jethro gets this book. It's helpful, he says, because it lists not just parks, hotels and restaurants where dogs are allowed, but also how we're allowed. As in leash or off-leash.

Who cares, right?

Well, there are more than 5-million dogs registered in Florida, and that's not counting the dogs who are fugitives, recluses, diplomats, exchange students or living on houseboats in the witness protection program.

And Florida being what it is (when you figure out what that is, let me know) people like to take their dogs outside. So why not come up with a book that tells you the places to go, or avoid?

The Dog Lover's Companion is a courageous account of a German shepherd/husky mix from Miami named Maggie who guided authors Sally Deneen and Robert McClure as they traveled the state and stopped at hundreds of dog-friendly (and not so friendly) locations. They rated the parks, restaurants and hotels they visited from the worst (a fire hydrant symbol, meaning it's only "worth a squat"), to the best (four paw prints, meaning it's "nirvana pooch-wise.")

They list the best doggy diners (Cafe Creole in Tampa makes the cut), the best off-leash areas (Fort De Soto Park in south Pinellas), the best parks (Honeymoon Island and Upper Tampa Bay Park).

They also missed a lot of dog-friendly places, probably because it would've taken a lifetime (about 12 of your years) to find them all. But still, no one else has come up with a guide this good.

What I liked are the reminders: don't leave us in the car on a hot day, give us lots of water, keep us away from alligators, skunks, snakes and those poisonous toads, and my favorite _ pick up our "deposits," then tie the bags to the branches of a tree in your front yard and tell your neighbors you own a rare giant poop bush.

Okay. I made up that part about the bush.

The book lists dog-friendly places in New Port Richey, Plant City, Clearwater and Belleair Beach.

Wait. Belleair Beach? They don't even allow animal crackers out there. Belleair Beach's motto: Don't let the hand-carved mahogany door with the solid brass fixtures hit you on the way out.

But the authors were right. On the causeway leading to town, there is an area for dogs. The causeway got three paw prints.

The only really dicey area here is restaurants. As the book points out, Florida restaurant regulations prohibit dogs other than guide dogs in a public restaurant.

"That gives restaurateurs a fairly loose leash when it comes to patio dining," the book explains. "Generally, dogs may be allowed _ or at least tolerated _ at restaurants with outdoor seating. But just because a place has outdoor seating doesn't necessarily mean your dog is welcome."

Have you been out to eat lately? We'd class up a lot of joints.

But there are havens. Like Moon Under Water facing the bay in St. Petersburg. And Tate Brothers Pizza on Davis Islands in Tampa. And one of my favorites _ the Chattaway in St. Petersburg.

"I don't encourage it, but I'm so glad when people come with their dogs," said Jillian Lund Frers, who has owned the Chattaway since it opened 50 years ago. She worries about being cited by the health department. "So if the dogs are out there already," she said, "I'll go over and ask the owners not to bring them again next time.

"I think it's a stupid rule."

Not as stupid as some of the conversations I've heard in a dog park. I mean, here I am, running around with my friends, checking each other's IDs and playing romantic leap frog, and there's this knot of people just standing there, waiting for us to make a deposit.

Jethro speaks: "Sure are a lot of people here today."

"Dogs, too!" comes the snappy reply.

Now I ask you . . . who's the higher life form?

Dan Zucco lives in St. Petersburg with Times staff writer Tom Zucco.

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