Food for Thought

A doggy dilemma for Houston: Restaurant pet ordinances create confusion, Annise Parker wonders if there's a better way

A doggy dilemma for Houston: Restaurant pet ordinances create confusion, Annise Parker wonders if there's a better way

A lamb lollipop is, and isn’t, what you think. At Hotel ZaZa’s Monarch it is simply a perfectly cooked little lamp chop on a frenched bone. They come four to a plate with spicy horseradish for dipping and sweet and spicy jalapeños for topping.

Light and yummy, they are my new favorite app, and they go down swell with Monarch’s Bubbles and Berries, a cocktail of champagne, rum and fresh blackberries and raspberries served in a sugar-rimmed flute.

As lunch progressed at this swanky eatery through tomato soup and delicate grilled cheese, a spicy chicken sandwich and a wonderfully meaty sea bass swimming in a Bordelaise sauce that stood up well to a pinot noir, I gazed out at the elegant veranda and thought, not of food, but dogs.

OK, follow me here.

It was another in a line of great meals but I’d been thinking a lot about Houston’s ordinance that states: No live animals, birds, or fowl shall be kept or allowed within 20 feet of any area where food is stored, displayed, or held, excluding patrol dogs or support animals.

Now, here I sat in this gorgeous luxury hotel that prides itself on being pet-friendly, offering “petilicious” (their word, not mine) treats at their pet turn down service. So what do they do if some rock star, Hollywood royalty, or real royalty for that matter, brings Fido down for a bite?

If they are on a leash on the patio, there’s no problem, I was told.

Um, except that it’s illegal, something Monarch and lot of other places either don’t know or don’t care.

See, your neighborhood burger joint might get fined for letting you bring your four-legged pal on the patio but a lot of other places fly under the radar.

Like, let’s say the Rodeo, where animals and fried foods mingle freely, or galas where pets are featured. And, even sports venues. Take the upcoming Dog Day at Minute Maid Park for example. For a price you can bring your pooch to watch the Houston Astros play ball (apparently something some dogs like to do) and you can get snacks.

Oh yes you can. It clearly says so on the website: Limited pre-packaged food and beverages (i.e. hot dogs, Cracker Jacks, bottled Cokes, a variety of bottled drinks, etc.) will be available in the Reserved Seating Area and Dog Zone.

Yet at Urban Harvest Farmers Market on Eastside they not only have a sign with a sad faced dog proclaiming no pets, they also have a security guard whose sole purpose seems to be turning away people with dogs. And, while they used to have baby goats and chicks for the children to play with, those are now gone, too.

“I think it’s ludicrous,” says goat gal Lisa Seeger who now sells her Blue Heron cheeses at Highland Village Farmers Market. “About a third of the food here comes from animals. It makes sense to see the animals that your food comes from at a farmers market. You’d see them at the farm if you went there. I mean, I tried to milk my goats from 20 feet away but it just didn’t work.”

Some farmers markets even have pet adoption sites. Although set up 20 feet from the food, you’ll frequently see folks test driving potential pets around the food.

Having well-behaved animals close to food is not a health issue. There are no state or federal health regulations and if a dog on a restaurant patio is a dire threat to my health how is having a K-9 officer or service animal less dangerous to me?

So will Houston ever join the likes of Dallas, Austin, West and East Coast cities and states?

“I spent a lot of time growing up in Europe and have visited American cities that are dog friendly,” says the five-cat-owning Mayor Annise Parker. “I talked about this on the campaign trail and as we have the time to do it we’ll look at other ordinances. I’m looking at Dallas’ right now.”

Dallas, like Austin, many California cities and the entire state of Florida have changed outdated health ordinances and laws in recent years to cash in on the country’s booming pet tourism industry. There are pet hotels, doggie day care centers, dog parks (like the one at the newly revamped Market Square Park that also features a Niko Niko’s but by God you better keep that growler 20 feet from the gyros), designer dog duds and kitty jewelry stores. There are websites that describe all types of pet friendly business, including some that list Houston restaurants) and places that offer pet marriages.

According to the American Pet Products Association 71.4 million United States households include a pet and we’re going to spend an estimated $47.7 million on our furry, feathered and scaly friends.

And yet Houston doesn’t want us to dine with them.

But maybe there’s hope.

“I really need a council member to take up the slack on this,” says Mayor Parker,who obviously has some other pressing issues on her plate. “And if there is a strong group of supporters I would like to hear from that group.”

In the meantime, I’ll leave the chihuahua at home when I dine at Monarch. I’ll just ask for a doggie bag of those lamb lollipops. No reason he should be completely deprived.

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How can you turn this face away?
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The terrace at Monarch is supposed to be dog free by ordinance, but leashed pets are allowed in reality. Courtesy of Hotel ZaZa
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Farmers markets have made into dog-free zones in Houston. Photo by Marene Gustin
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The lamb lollipops that started this whole thought. Photo by Marene Gustin