Man's best friend could soon be his dining companion, too, in more of Pinellas County.
The county is set to follow St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin and introduce "doggy-dining" rules, meaning Fido would have more places to eat out with his owners.
If approved, restaurants in unincorporated Pinellas that buy a permit could designate a section of outdoor seating for customers with dogs, a move that would be popular and could boost business, local restaurant owners said. Almost 40 percent of U.S. households have at least one dog, according to The Humane Society of the United States.
Commissioners could vote on the measure as early as March. Under the proposed rules, owners would be required to keep their dogs leashed and under control. Tables designated for dog owners would be required to have hand sanitizer, and servers who pet dogs would be required to immediately wash their hands.
No surprise, the idea got a pat on the head from local dog owners.
Palm Harbor resident Jean Capello sometimes takes her two soft-coated wheaten terriers, Lily and Flyn, to one dog-friendly restaurant. She would like it if there were more.
"If you don't have kids, they're like your family; it's a family outing," Cappello said. "I think it's a wonderful thing. My husband and I can go out and have lunch and then take them to the park."
Commissioner Susan Latvala asked county staff to draft rules after hearing from Steven Jefferis, the owner of Fairway Pizza and Sports Page Pub in Palm Harbor.
For more than four years, the pub hosted a monthly dog wash on its outside deck to benefit Suncoast Animal League, a nonprofit group that saves abandoned animals.
Then Jefferis got a visit from county health inspectors, who told him establishments that serve food cannot have dogs on the premises.
Banning dogs has affected business, Jefferis said.
"It all seems much ado about nothing, but I'd like to get it on the books," he said.
The county has not yet set a fee for the permit. The proposal is scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning Advisory Board on Feb. 14.
Dunedin leaders approved a doggy-dining ordinance about two years ago.
Six restaurants have paid the $75 permit fee, said Greg Rice, the city's planning and development director.
"We're known for being pretty dog-friendly; some people call us 'Dogedin' as a nickname," Rice said. "Plus, we have a lot of outdoor dining on our Main Street, so it was a good fit."
One of those businesses is the Dunedin Brewery on Douglas Avenue.
Admitting dogs has been good for business, general manager Michael Lyn Bryant said.
"Most people would complain if we wouldn't allow dogs," he said. "We hardly ever have any complaints.