Friday, April 8, 2011

If Law Passes Pooches Would Be Allowed On Restaurant Patios

TOM RISEN ¦ Staff Writer
Some people spend a lot of money on their pets and the Dining Out Growth Bill is waiting for Maryland Senate approval on whether to open restaurant patios to dogs and more tourist dollars. If passed, it would take effect on July 1.

After clearing the House of Delegates with a vote of 124 to 8, House Bill 941 has until the legislative session ends Monday to carry its offer of more customer service options onto the Senate floor and to the governor’s desk.

Delegates Mike McDermott (R-38) and Norm Conway (D-38B) differed on budget proposals, but both voted in favor of the pet-friendly measure because of its potential to boost consumer spending.

“This is a bill that will cost taxpayers nothing and has only the potential to increase disposable income from out-ofstaters,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-11), who introduced the legislation.

“Businesses in North Carolina, California, Florida, Michigan and many cities around the country are reaping benefits from having introduced this.”

Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel said there is a growing trend of people traveling with their pets.

“People who treat their pets like their children are sometimes the ones with disposable income,” Pursel said. “I personally think this could be a good idea for businesses to offer something more to travelers. But it’s a fine line, like with the leash law on the beach.

Business owners would have one more thing to keep track of if they allow dogs in their patios.”

The bill would leave it up to bar owners on whether to allow dogs and what kind of dogs would be allowed on patios. The pet owners would be held responsible for managing Fido, Rover and Spot.

Along with displaying a sign for patrons and keeping the dog outside, the restaurant would have notify local health departments.

“Other states doing this only had isolated incidents in our judgment, so it’s something we decided to work on with Delegate Morhaim,” said Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, assistant director for Health and Food Protection at the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.

Ocean City already has a handful of pet-friendly hotels that claim to have harnessed extra tourism dollars from pet travel. Barefoot Mailman Motel’s owner Adam Showell said his hotel profits by working out a balance with pet owners and housekeeping working in concert. Housekeeping cannot enter a room if the pet is there without the owner, Showell said.

“It’s fun running a pet-friendly business and we have a high rate of returning guests,” Showell said. “There is a high rate of camaraderie among the customers since they all bring their dogs or cats as part of the family. They love coming to Ocean City, even during cooler weather when the Boardwalk and beaches are still open to pets.”

One provision of the bill prohibits dogs from entering the restaurant at any point, even to get to the outdoor seating and could apply to the Ocean City Boardwalk. Ocean City’s beaches and its Boardwalk are not open to dog walking between May 1 and Sept. 30 because of the crowds. Monitoring pets in a crowded bar could be a concern for some businessmen, such as Shenanigans Manager Nick Feickert, who said his Boardwalk side patio would not allow dogs if the bill passed.

“In our experience some people have phobias of dogs and might not want to have them around while drinking or eating,” Feickert said.

“There‘s also the risk for an accident with servers walking around carrying food and drinks.”

Donna Abbott, communications manager for the Town of Ocean City, said if the bill passed, business owners would likely have to approach the City Council about Boardwalk access for pets.

One tourist to Ocean City, Rhonda Gresham of Chesapeake, Va., said she and her husband sometimes take their Yorkshire terrier, Lacy Lou, to Rehoboth since she finds it more pet-friendly.

“Ocean City has lost my travel money in the past,” Treuth said. “I plan my vacation around Lacy Lou and I would love to see more pet-friendly.



Anonymous said...

Alot of business' in Miami and South Beach welcome pets. Instead of Happy Hour they have Yappy Hour where dogs are welcome. It's alot of fun even for us dogless people.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I stopped in Salisbury Pet Smart. As many are aware they allow dogs on leases to shop along with their owners. All the dogs were well behaved. Then I headed over to Wal Mart and the place was loaded with human children. They were running wild and not nearly as behaved as the dogs in Pet Smart. I had to leave! The place was a zoo. I got tired of the mothers yelling at the kids and seeing snot running down their faces. After thinking it over I decided I would rather dine with dogs then most children!