Are dogs dining where you live?

How to get doggie dining on the menu in your area
By Patricia Stephens, Owner, FloridaPets.net

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed the Doggie Dining bill into law June 2, 2006, as a "pilot" or test program. In 2009, the program was made permanent. Plenty of restaurants had been serving pups and their well-behaved guardians on outdoor patios long before the law went into effect and many more have joined them since.

There are still lots of cities where doggie dining is just a topic that gets kicked around once in a while at city council or county commission meetings. Local government must pass an ordinance allowing permits to be issued to restaurants wishing to participate in doggie dining. We hope our step-by-step suggestions will help you convince and motivate your lawmakers to do so. Please let me know if they help or if you have any ideas to add.

Tip: One of the big arguments against doggie dining is that the presence of dogs will put everyone at risk for diseases. Veterinarian K.C. Nayfield, an advocate for the doggie dining idea and a pet health expert, says doggie dining does not pose a health threat like some would think. According to Dr. Nayfield, a restaurant patron is 1,000 times more likely to contract an illness from a human, i.e., food preparer, server or another diner, than from a dog, because, he says, "Most bacteria is unique to a species."

So, where are doggies dining around Florida so far? Check out our doggie dining page here.

There are several places where you and Fido can catch a cold one and a sammy. But while doing our research, we've talked to lots of municipalities and have been told by several they won't even consider doggie dining - unless residents and restaurants start requesting it, so...

It's Time to Request Doggie Dining! But How?

Here are a few general tips to keep in mind when corresponding with local councils and commissions about this matter:

* The law is officially called the "Dixie Cup Clary Local Control Act", named after Sen. Charlie Clary's dog. You can refer to the bill as that, or you can just say, "the doggie dining bill." Either one will specify the purpose for your correspondence.
* For a list of your local city and/or county officials and their contact information, go here There's a link on that page for counties as well. We've tested out this site and the listings seem pretty current.
* Emails or faxes are preferable over snail mail - they'll get read quicker.
* If you're going to fax your letter, it's better to type it than write it out by hand. Do, however, sign your name.
* Phone calls are considered interruptions by many officials. These days, many calls go to electronic mailboxes and messages left are too easily deleted. If you can find a cell number, use it, but be brief and courteous.
* If you are a restaurant, use your business stationary and fax your letter. If you are a restaurant, and either do not have stationary or your name does not indicate the nature of your business, strongly indicate in your letter that you are a restaurant.
* Be courteous in style and factual in content - convince without anger or made up facts.
* Letters should be no more than one page in length.
* Address letter to The Honorable ____ [Title and Last Name]
* Begin letter with: Dear Council Member ____[Last Name]
* End letter with: Sincerely yours, ____[Your Full Name]

What to Say and How to Say It

Officials hate form letters, so don't just copy another letter and send it. Here's a letter we wrote to our own county commissioners. If you'd like, use it as a go-by for your efforts, not forgetting to fill in your own area's specific info, i.e., names and titles (depending on whether you have a council or commission.) Also, write in your own words why you feel your city/county should allow restaurants the choice to offer outdoor doggie dining:

Dear [Council Member/Commissioner] ____,

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law in 2006, a bill that allows local governments to issue permits to restaurants interested in allowing dogs to accompany their guardians in outdoor dining areas. It was considered to be a pilot program until 2009 when it became permanent.

In light of this, I would like to formally and respectfully request that ____ [formal name of governing body, such as the Canine County Commission or the Feline City Council] begin the process necessary to start issuing permits to area restaurants that wish to participate in what is being called "doggie dining."

Although this measure, as any other, has its detractors, I see doggie dining as a win-win proposition for the city of _______ (your city's name), for the following reasons:

1) Customers with dogs will be happy to frequently patronize a business where their best pals are welcomed and accommodated. They know upfront they must be responsible for their dog or risk losing the opportunity presented to them by the participating restaurants. Therefore, they'll do whatever it takes to make their presence (and repeat visits) positive experiences for everyone involved.
2) Customers without dogs can be assured the restaurants will be required to have strict and specific controls for cleanliness. Additionally, the doggie dining bill requires all dogs to be leashed and under control and that's important to both dog people and non-dog people.
3) Participating restaurants will enjoy a cost-effective, revenue-generating opportunity. There is value to providing a spot for dogs to join their guardians. And what's good for restaurants is good for other area shops and businesses. And all of that provides increased revenue passed on through fees, taxes, etc., for the [city of ___ OR county of ____], monies which can then be used for various community projects or capital improvements.
4) Restaurants do not have to participate. They'll only apply for permits if they choose to participate. I would like to see the [city of/county of] ____ be part of what I feel is good public relations for our area and a boost to the balance sheets of many Florida small businesses.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please contact me if you would like additional information or if you have any questions. I will follow up with you in a few days.

Sincerely,
____[Name]
____[Street Address and City]
____[Phone]
____[Email]

If You Want To Get On a City Council or County Commission Agenda

Contact the clerk prior to the council or commission's regular meeting within the time frame designated by the governing body. You can find out this info by calling your local city hall or county administrative offices. Be prepared to give the clerk a brief written description of the subject matter you wish brought before the council/commission, something like:

"I'd like to ask the ___[name of governing body, i.e. the council or the commission] to begin the process necessary for allowing restaurants to apply for permits allowing dogs to join their guardians in the restaurants' outdoor dining areas. This is a requirement of the bill Gov. Jeb Bush signed June 2, 2006."

Once you have the date and time the matter will be considered by your local lawmakers, search for ways to publicize it. Let your area humane societies and animal rescues know about it. Perhaps there are free publications in your area where you could place the info. Post notices in areas where public announcements are permitted and locations where pet people frequent such as dog parks, pet stores, groomers, etc. A good turn out will show lawmakers there is interest in the topic and perhaps propel them toward a positive decision to make doggie dining a reality where you live.

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