Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dining With Sam

Well, for once the Florida legislature is considering a bill that I actually think would be a good thing.

Dogs could soon get the chance to legally go out for a bite at your favorite restaurant.

Although the state outlaws patrons dining with their dogs, even on outdoor patios, that could change. Legislators are ready to consider letting individual cities ignore the statewide ban as part of a three-year pilot program.


The debate began two years ago after a downtown Orlando restaurant not only allowed dogs on its patio, but offered doggie menu items as well. The state Department of Business & Professional Regulation, citing the law, told the restaurant to stop or face a fine up to $1,000 a day.

It stopped, but the incident forced all restaurants in the area to quit allowing dogs. That led thousands of pet owners to sniff out friendly legislators.

“I was shocked at the amount of lobbying for it,” said state Rep. Susan Goldstein, R-Weston, who was on the House Business Regulation Committee that heard arguments on the measure last month. The state Legislature will debate the issue at the 60-day session that begins on March 7.

Although doggie dining is common in Europe, the demand for it hasn’t been great in South Florida. However, not all cities actively enforce the state restriction.


Alma Medellin, 36, of Weston, would rather not dine with dogs.

“I like dogs but I don’t like them to be close and begging for food and licking me when I’m eating,” said the mother of three as she ate on a sidewalk patio at Weston Town Center.

But Stuart Blum, an accountant from Parkland who has two Labrador retrievers, says, “Restaurants are probably cleaner with dogs than without them because the dogs get food that’s dropped before rats can get to it.”

From the time he was a puppy, Sam was trained not to beg from the table, and in his life he was never given table scraps. Once in a while he was allowed to go with us to an outdoor restaurant near our place in Michigan and he would sit quietly, ever hopeful that we would accidentally drop something. (Dogs are by nature optimists about things like that.) Given the choice of sitting in a restaurant next to a table with a screaming baby or parents who blithely let their children run loose, pound their silverware on the table, and generally act like they’ve been raised by banshees, or a leashed dog lying quietly at the feet of his master, I’ll take a dog any time. At least dogs listen when you tell them to sit and stay.