Food for Thought
The lost dog that's driving change in the restaurant pet ordinance: Lucy is onthe job, all paws in
You could be hearing the pitter-patter of paws on patios pretty soon.
“We’re in the final stages of writing up the exceptions to allow restaurants that want to apply for a variance to allow dogs on their patios,” says Kathy Barton, spokesperson for the city’s Health and Human Services Department.
I’ve written about this doggy dilemma before — actually last year about this same time when Mayor Annise Parker was looking for someone to step up and spearhead the issue.
And someone did.
Pat Walsh, a civil engineer, found Lucy, the now 6-year-old French spaniel, wandering around an indoor mall. And they’ve been together ever since.
“She’s been my constant companion,” Walsh says. “We run at Memorial Park and we go to whatever bars and restaurants will let us in.”
Some patios do allow dogs, either because they aren’t aware of the city ordinance banning “live animals on the premises of a food establishment” or, in some cases, because they would rather accommodate their pet-loving patrons than bow (wow?) to city hall. As one restaurant manager told me, “Sure we let our customers bring them but they know to sit by the patio gate and if anyone looks disapproving they make a quick getaway.”
Allowing well-behaved pets on patios could be a boost to some restaurant businesses and even put Houston on the map for people who travel with their pets. There are more than one million Americans who travel with their pets.
Anyway, one day Walsh and Lucy had joined some friends on the side patio of Empire Café when a waiter politely told him Lucy had to go.
“He was very nice about it,” Walsh recalls. “He said he liked dogs but the restaurant could get fined if Lucy stayed. That’s when we started talking about how we could get the ordinance changed.”
And that was the beginning of Paws on Patios.
Walsh put together a Facebook community page, compiled data from other Texas cities — like Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Boerne — that have ordinances allowing dogs, talked to restaurants, city officials and got 1,631 signatures on a petition to change the ordinance.
“I’ve been talking to the mayor for several years about getting this changed,” says Ryan Rice of Life + Dog magazine and HoustonDogBlog.com. “But with everything I have going on, I didn’t have time to rally the troops. Pat’s done a great job of leading this grass roots effort and engaging all the stakeholders. He’s very diplomatic."
And, although Rice is looking forward to taking his Cavalier King Charles spaniel Isabella to a restaurant patio, he has some words of advice.
“It’s important to understand we need to be responsible pet parents.”
Because, just like an unruly two-legged patron, a misbehaving pooch can also get the boot.
But allowing well-behaved pets on patios could be a boost to some restaurant businesses and even put Houston on the map for people who travel with their pets. There are more than one million Americans who travel with their pets. According to the U.S Travel Association more than 49 percent of United States adult leisure travelers consider their pet to be part of the family and 18 percent of U.S. adult leisure travelers usually take their pets with them when they travel.
Some reports say that pet tourism is the next big thing in the travel industry.
“And we have so many dog parks here,” Walsh says, “It would be great for people who go to them not have to take their dogs home before they go get something to eat. And it would be good for our city to show that we’re on a par with Dallas and Austin.”
A key component to the proposed change would be the choice to get a variance. Walsh says it’s important that it be market-driven, that only restaurants that want to allow dogs do so. Ones that don’t can still ban them, just like smoking on restaurant patios. The restaurant chooses whether they want dogs on their patios and the patrons choose whether they want to eat there.
Which means you naysayers (yes, I’m talking to you, Ken Hoffman, and whoever it was that sicced the health department on Barnaby’s — it’s a restaurant named for a dog for crying out loud) will have the option to not dine at a dog friendly eatery.
By the way, Walsh already has 18 restaurants that support the Paws on Patio movement, including Barnaby’s, T’afia, Beaver’s and even Kata Robata. And I’m sure there are a lot more out there who will sign on if their patrons ask them to, like Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in River Oaks.
“Absolutely we would be onboard with that,” managing partner Sam Governale says. “I have no problem with dogs on our patio.”
Paws freedom just months away?
The way it stands right now, the draft will be ready next week, then Paws on Patios, the Greater Houston Restaurant Association and other stakeholders will review the language, which is expected to include things like no pets on chairs and tables, pets must be licensed and vaccinated, patio must have an outside entrance and so on. Then it goes to city council for a vote.
Then, according to the health department, there would be a variance posted online that a restaurant could download and mail in with a fee to get their patios pet approved.
Gee, a fee. So that’s, like, more money for the city, which really, really could use some right about now.
Anyway, Barton says we could start taking our pups to sup in a few months. If everything falls into place.
So, are you in favor of paws on patios? And being on par with other cities' restaurant scenes? If so, then you really need to join the movement and let your favorite restaurants and councilmembers know.
Obviously, I’m OK with this. More like two-paws up about it. Four, if I had four, but, well, I’m just a human.