Proposed Bill Would Address the Elephant (and Snakes) in the Dining Room

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Doggie Dining

At first glance, it would appear that Orlando state representative Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, has proposed a law that is already on the books.

His proposed bill, HB243, would prohibit household pets from traveling through a restaurant to get to an outdoor dining area.

Except I thought that is already the law.

Florida was one of the first states to enact legislation on dogs at restaurants when then governor Jeb Bush in 2006 signed the “doggie dining bill.” It had been sponsored by Rep. Sheri McInvale, R-Orlando, and was signed at a ceremony on the patio of Sam Snead’s in downtown Orlando (now 310 Lakeside). Ironically, Sam Snead’s did not have a permit to allow dogs on its patio at the time of the signing because the city of Orlando had not yet enacted its own ordinance. So, that was awkward.

I wrote about the issue in my aptly named Chow Hound column in the Oct. 6 issue of the Orlando Sentinel’s Calendar section, which featured dogs sitting on chairs at a table on a restaurant’s patio, which was also a no-no from the get-go. Here’s an excerpt of that column:

But don't expect your dogs to have the run of the restaurant as if they are children or something. In fact, if the patio is accessible only through the restaurant, a permit will not be issued. According to stipulations in the bill, dogs will not be allowed anywhere inside the restaurant. Despite the cute illustration on Calendar's cover, dogs are not allowed to sit on chairs, furniture or tables. Dogs may not come into contact with any serving dishes or utensils. In other words, don't put your plate on the ground for Lucky to lap up the leftovers. Most restaurants provide a community water bowl -- dogs only, please; you'll still have to beg the waiter to refill your glass. Pooches must be on leashes at all times.

Owners should exercise a little common sense, too. If your dog isn't the friendly sort, maybe dining in public isn't a good idea. If your dog is too friendly, i.e. nosing under napkins and such, keep it on a shorter leash.

And the elephant-in-the-room issue, as worded in the bill: "Accidents involving dog waste shall be cleaned immediately and the area sanitized with an approved product. Establishments are required to keep a kit containing cleaning materials in the designated outdoor area." Haz-mat suits are optional.

And keep in mind the rules apply only to pets -- service dogs that aid the disabled are in a different category.

And speaking of the elephant in the room, the law applies to dogs only. Some might see this as a slippery slope that will lead to kitty cafes and ferreterias. But hey, all-you-can-eat buffets have been allowing pigs in for years.

As you can see from the bolded text, if the restaurant didn’t have outside access to its patio, it couldn’t offer doggie dining.

So, why the new bill?

According to a Pamela Newton in Antone’s Orlando office, the key words in the new bill are 
“household pets.” The existing bill addresses only canines.

Has this been a problem? I asked. “We’ve seen instances of people taking snakes into a restaurant,” she told me.

Well, OK then.

While he’s at it, Antone might endeavor to enforce some of the other stipulations from the original legislation.

Line 2 under subsection c from the 2006 legislation:

Patrons in a designated outdoor area shall be advised that they should wash their hands before eating. Waterless hand sanitizer shall be provided at all tables in the designated outdoor area.

I have not been advised to wash my hands before dining since my dear mother left us, and I can’t remember ever seeing hand sanitizer on any tables anywhere in Central Florida.

And it doesn’t bother me, to be honest. I’ve dined next to dogs sitting at the feet of their owners in fine dining restaurants in Paris and local pubs in England. It seems quite civilized to me and I’ve never been concerned that my health was in jeopardy because of the dogs’ proximity.

But I’m just glad there are restaurants that allow people to take their dogs even if they’re confined to the patio.

I’ll let you know how I feel the first time I’m seated next to someone with his pet boa constrictor around his neck.