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Dining Out… with the Dogs!

By: Rebecca K. O'Connor

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Anyone who has read "Marley and Me" is familiar with the pitfalls of dining out with a dog. Who can forget the scene where Marley, tied to the outdoor table where his family is about to enjoy a meal, decides that it is imperative he meet a standard poodle across the way. Before anyone can even react, Marley is on his way through the dining area, table in tow. The diners are aghast, Marley's family embarrassed and the poodle slightly miffed. Perhaps dining out with the dog is not the perfect situation for everyone, but it is becoming more and more popular to bring along the dog.

In Florida this summer, Governor Jeb Bush signed a "doggie dining" bill that establishes a three-year pilot program allowing dogs to join their owners in designated outdoor areas of restaurants. The bill is officially titled, the "Dixie Cup Clary Local Control Act" and is named for State Senator Charlie Clary's pet Yorkie. Not all diners are pleased though and perhaps they're thinking of Marley's escapades.

Some diners argue that they worry about germs and about the server petting a neighboring diner's dog and then serving your food. Marwa Obid a doctor in Florida feels the idea is ridiculous, noting, "In my opinion they are really pushing the button too much." He points out that dogs can exacerbate allergy problems and pose health hazards. All the same, dining with dogs in outdoor areas has been going on at restaurants around the country, even in Florida for some time. The new doggie dining permits in Florida just make it legal at last.

Restaurants in Florida that provide dog friendly areas are required to keep the areas outdoors. Dogs must be on a leash and are not allowed to roam or clean the plates of their human companions. The restaurant must provide hand sanitizer to patrons and wait-staff are required to wash their hands immediately if they choose to pet a furry customer. The restaurant also has to provide waste bags for dogs and any areas that are exposed to an "accident" must be completely sanitized. Dog-loving customers have no problem with following the rules and are tickled to be able to bring along their canine companions.

With regulations like this, proponents of the bill feel that nay-sayers are just being "sticks in the mud". Pet crazy folks are unlikely to stop dining out with their dogs and as the number of dog owners continue to rise, pet-less patrons are likely to be outnumbered soon. Dining out with the dog has been in vogue in other countries for years. Anyone who has been to a Paris café knows the Americans are simply behind the times.

If you have the opportunity to dine with your furry friend in public, be sure to follow some simple etiquette to ensure that everyone gets to enjoy this privilege. If your dog is not well behaved –don't take him out and spoil the experience for the other diners. Make sure your dog is comfortable too and don't drag him along on super hot or extra cold days. Don't let your dog approach diners who haven't invited his attention. And be sure to leave an extra large tip for your waiter who may not be as pet crazy as you!

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