Commissioners Consider Move To Let Dogs Go Out To Eat

Apr 11, 2016

Credit Jill Chen via Flickr

 Update 4/12/16: The Leon County Commission has approved the new ordinance unanimously.

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Original story: Leon County officials are scheduled to discuss a plan Tuesday that officially approves dog friendly outdoor dining spaces.

There’s a sign on the door of Tallahassee’s Kool Beanz restaurant. “Well behaved, leashed dogs welcome in outdoor seating,” it says. And then in parentheses, “until a bureaucrat tells us otherwise.” The restaurant’s owner, Keith Baxter says he’d always allowed dogs on the porch—even going as far as to provide water bowls for thirsty k-9 patrons. But then he says he got a complaint.

“Someone complained to the health department which is well within their rights to do that. And the health inspector came and told me why and said, ‘you really shouldn’t do that. It’s not really cool and if you guys, restaurants collaborated together you could go to the county and perhaps get it changed,’" Baxter says.

So Baxter stopped letting dogs into his outdoor eating area. But he got complaints about that too. And then he noticed an inconsistency.

“I started noticing there were restaurants with marketing plans ‘bring your dog.’ So I recognized when it became a topic of discussion with, I’m not sure if it’s the city or the county, that I would start letting dogs in again. Because why should I be the only one complying? And I just said I would comply until I got told not to. And that’s where my sign came from,” Baxter says.

The county is scheduled to talk about a plan Tuesday to allow dogs in restaurants’ outdoor eating areas. County documents say the move comes after officials got requests from new businesses in the Fall Chase area. But the confusion stems from a legislative decision. In 2006 lawmakers repealed a state-wide ban on dogs in outdoor eating areas—letting local governments give permission through ordinances instead. But Leon County doesn’t have an ordinance. If one passes Tuesday restaurants wishing to participate would be charged a $100 licensing fee, with a $50 annual renewal charge. But the ordinance would apply only in Leon County’s unincorporated areas.