By Jennifer Lima
Six months after the Pasco County Commission approved a new dog-dining ordinance, only one restaurant had applied for a permit allowing patrons to partake with their pooches — Harold Seltzer’s Steakhouse in Port Richey.
Commissioners unanimously passed the ordinance in February, allowing restaurants with outdoor facilities to let patrons dine with their dogs. The ordinance was proposed last summer by Commissioner Jack Mariano after several Port Richey restaurants expressed interest.
“The new dog dining ordinance is a win-win for neighbors, visitors and businesses in Pasco County,” said county spokeswoman Tambrey Laine. “Dog-lovers will have more options when it comes to spending time with and socializing their four-legged family members, and local businesses will have the opportunity to attract and cater to that clientele.”
For a $50 application fee, the permit allows participating restaurants to establish dog dining hours and requires them to designate an area set off by fences or barriers.
With the permit, the county also mandates that restaurants follow state regulations, which require servers who touch or pet a dog to wash their hands. Dogs must stay at ground level and be on a leash. The restaurant must have a sanitizer station and a cleanup kit for dog waste. Dogs must stay off chairs and tables, and they cannot eat off plates.
While the ordinance applies only to restaurants in the unincorporated areas of Pasco County, news of the ordinance came as a surprise to restaurant owners who already offer dog dining on their outdoor patios. Offering these “Yappy Hours” without a county permit can put restaurants at risk for possible fines and even liens against their property.
According to the county's assistant tax collector Greg Giordano, owners applying for a new restaurant business license aren't asked whether they plan to offer dog dining. As a result, many don't know they need the county’s dog dining permit.
Caposey’s Whole Works Restaurant in Gulf Harbors offers dog-friendly dining in its outdoor areas. While it doesn’t have a county permit, according to staff members, the restaurant follows state regulations by designating water bowls and dishes to be used only for pets.
“It’s my understanding that enforcement of the dog dining ordinance is complaint-based,” Laine said. “As you know, we just recently started offering the permits, so there will be an adjustment period and educational opportunities, as well.”
Dave Martin, general manager of Seltzer’s Steakhouse, was one of the first to petition the county for the ordinance. He worked with Mariano to finalize the permitting process.
The steakhouse chain has offered “doggie dining” in St. Pete for the past few years, but the Port Richey location was unable to offer it until now.
This summer brought few doggie diners, Martin said, “but I do expect it to pick up in October and November.”