In Md., dogs and dining don't mix

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Nobody knows who it was, but someone definitely ratted out Duke, and he's not happy. You can see it in his eyes. And in his tail.

OK, Duke is a dog, a German shepherd/lab mix to be exact. But he's as much the main attraction at One-Eyed Mike's, a Fells Point restaurant and bar, as the Grand Marnier. At least he was until the city Health Department came calling with an ultimatum: Lose the dog or lose the business.

So the dog went. That was six weeks ago, and some customers and staff still aren't over it, including bartender David Cullen, who colleagues say was crushed by the development.

Maryland law, like in most states, says only guide dogs are allowed in service areas, and no animals can be in food preparation spots. Even outdoor patios are off-limits, as are food-free bars, because ice, according to the Health Department, counts as food.

Still, as people increasingly consider their pets part of the family, toting them along in carriers and even carriages, businesses across the country are following suit, sometimes at their own risk.

According to city health records, several Baltimore restaurants have been cited for allowing pets during the past few years, including Canton's Kiss Cafe, which has since banned dogs inside, according to manager Jerry Parker, and Patterson Perk, a coffee shop right on the park, which was told last summer to stop letting dogs inside.

"It really hurt the business," owner Jen Tydings said yesterday. "All the dog walkers didn't want to, just wouldn't, come in."

Sometimes tradition trumps the law, though. In New York, for example, the Algonquin Hotel has had a resident cat since the 1930s, roaming the lobby adjacent to the restaurant and bar. And some claim it's custom for Key West bars to have a house dog, and the occasional rooster. Florida recently passed legislation legalizing dogs and dining if they're outdoors, as have Alexandria, Va., and Austin, Texas.

Washington state had been considering a proposal to allow dogs in bars and restaurants, but after criticism, lawmakers amended the bill late last month to allow dogs just in outdoor dining areas.

"It's happening anyway," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ken Jacobsen, a Democrat. "What we have right now is no standards. ... Why don't we get realistic and try to get some handle on the situation?"

At least a dozen bars and restaurants around Baltimore have a resident cat or pooch of some sort, or they allow customers to bring in theirs, doling out treats and water bowls with abandon. And many more allow animals in outdoor seating spaces, blatantly touting their pet-friendly personas.

Proprietors claim it fosters good will and draws people in with a warm, home-like atmosphere.

"Absolutely, positively," said Lisa Heckman, who owns Iggie's - a gourmet pizza joint on North Calvert Street. "So many people talk about Europe. You can go into any cafe or restaurant and [your dog is welcomed]. ... I think it's really positive."

Heckman's two Italian greyhounds - Milo and Mico - used to be regulars at the year-old pizzeria in its early days, though they were generally confined to the office space, away from food service and prep areas. But now that customer traffic is getting heavier, the dogs are often left behind.

"People are asking 'Where are they?' They're freaked out by this," said Heckman, who's hoping Baltimore will one day change its pet-prohibition rules.

The state gave it a go in 2004, by introducing a bill that would allow dogs in restaurants under certain conditions to help boost business revenue, but the idea took a public flogging as supreme silliness.

"It can be a serious and important issue, but people aren't ready to take it seriously yet," said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the bill.

That means those who allow pets in pubs and the like are breaking the law.

"If we see it when we're out there, we do have to write it up," said a seemingly sympathetic Olivia Farrow, an assistant commissioner within Baltimore's Health Department, who brought up concerns about pet hair and dander. "If we get a complaint, we're going to have to respond."

That's how it went down at One-Eyed Mike's.

It seems someone called the Health Department and, according to city records, said "there was a dog inside ... amongst the customers."

Of course there was - had been for years.

Duke, who will be 4 on Aug. 1, has been a fixture at Mike's since he was 5 months old. One of the pub's two owners, Michael Maraziti, rescued him from a breeder who didn't want a mixed mutt among her purebreds.

"He really was an integral part when we started this place. People came in here specifically to bring him stuff and treats," Maraziti said. "I just can't believe this. He's the mopiest guy right now, because his whole world got turned upside down."

The health inspector, one of 14 "environmental sanitarians" charged with keeping the city's 5,000 food establishments up to code, had no choice but to give Mike's a violation: The dog greeted her at the door, after all. And the establishment had received a violation two years earlier from another sanitarian, according to city records.

Such violations rarely lead to penalties, though the department, which receives just a handful of animal complaints each year, could revoke a business' food license if it chose to.

So now, instead of hanging out at the bar, Duke hangs out at Maraziti's place, conveniently located in the house behind One-Eyed Mike's. He whimpers each morning when the bartenders come in for work, Maraziti said, and just isn't the same.

"The day I heard Duke got kicked out, I cried," said Amelia Ryerse, of the 98 Rock radio team Mickey & Amelia.

She and her partner held an on-air "Free Duke" session as soon as they heard the news in late January. Since then, the bar's neighbors, staff and patrons have offered to circulate petitions and dished out copious condolences over the banishment of Duke.

"Wal-Mart has its greeters, you go to a hotel and there's a concierge, and One-Eyed Mike's had Duke," Ryerse said, sitting at the bar the other day wearing a restaurant T-shirt and waxing nostalgic about happier times. "I'm moving to France."

While Parisians are known for taking their dogs everywhere - restaurants too - Baltimore is no Paris, and health professionals says there are some good reasons for prohibiting pets.

"There's always the issue of [fleas], feces, urine, shedding hair, that kind of thing and how would you control that," said Laura Hungerford, a professor of epidemiology and doctor of veterinary medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Prohibiting animals is done "not because pets carry disease, but just because it's gross."

Most animal prohibition laws were written years ago with rats and other disease carriers in mind, rather than family pets, which today are part of more than 60 percent of households.

Hungerford said the risk of getting sick from an animal is minimal, much smaller than catching something from another human, and that the main reason for banning dogs and the like has to do with behavioral issues and physical safety concerns.

"If you have a well-trained, well-behaved dog, you should be able to take [the dog] anywhere," said Severna Park resident Jim Beardmore. And he does, bringing his 105-pound golden retriever - Zeus Mustafa Swamp Thing - with him all over, including surfing in Mexico and skiing in Aspen.

But Beardmore's not sure about equal treatment for cats, or at least not the finicky ones.

"If it's a cool cat," he said, "I'm all in."