Fido welcome at the table under doggie dining law

Michele Cadwell, 46, brought her daughter Emily's two smalldogs, Calvin and Chloe, to DiPasquale's on Allegheny Avenue in Towson for lunch on July 8.

She asked for permission from restaurant staff and tied the dogs to the umbrella stand beside her table and said that nobody, patron or passerby, took issue with the dogs.

"Everyone's been so sweet," Cadwell said. "Most people look twice, then come over and pet them."

It's not uncommon to see area restaurant patrons enjoying the weather in outdoor seating areas with their dogs tied to their table or chair.

Now, it's not illegal, either.

The Dining Out Growth Act of 2011, which took effect July 1, allows patrons to bring dogs to outdoor dining areas at Maryland restaurants, making legal a common sight in the Towson area that few people knew was not permitted in the first place.

Under the new law, restaurants must first apply to their local Department of Health and wait 30 days before allowing dogs to dine with their owner.

But as of Monday, county officials said no one had bitten — no restaurants had applied with the county Department of Health.

State Del. Dan Morhaim, who represents the 11th District, which includes Owings Mills and Pikesville, sponsored the legislation during the 2011 General Assembly session, and said that similar laws in other places, such as California, Florida, and North Carolina, have boosted their economies and brought in tax revenue, all with no initial cost to taxpayers

"The idea is that this will encourage people and tourists to dine out if they find an appropriate restaurant," Morhaim said. "In other states, it's led to a boom in business."

He believed that Maryland would benefit by giving travelers who do not want to leave their dogs in the car a chance to patronize local businesses.

But the law also affects is on Maryland residents and businesses, many of whom were unaware that they were in violation prior to the law.

DiPasquale's owner Robbie DiPasquale, 49, said he was glad Cadwell was accommodated last week when she brought her dogs to the restaurant.

He said he had no idea that allowing dogs at the outside tables had been illegal before July 1 — nor did he know that he was currently in violation of the law because he hasn't registered yet with the health department.

On Monday, he told the Towson Times that when he returns from vacation, he plans to look into the matter and submit notice to the health department.

"If a permit is needed, we have no problem with that," DiPasquale said. "We have lots of customers who walk their dogs, and we don't want to discourage them from coming back."

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, wondered how many area restaurant owners would be aware of the new law.

"In this tough economy, they're just struggling to make it," Hafford said. "They don't watch legislative bills. They're much more concerned with the ones they have to pay."

Ciro Scotto, 24, manager of Strappazza, said his restaurant has never had a problem with dogs in its sidewalk dining area, and was unaware of the legislation. He did, however, notice a recent uptick in dogs in the area and thought the new law could have been a reason why.

Both Scotto and Gennaro Di Meo, 30, who runs nearby Towson Hot Bagel, said they plan to look into the matter with the health department and obtain permission

"We need to be dog-friendly," Di Meo said. "On the weekends, when it's a nice day out, plenty of people come here with their dogs."

Under the new law, which had bi-partisan support in the legislature, dogs are prohibited from passing through the interior of restaurants, and will only be allowed in designated parts of the outdoor areas. Restaurants can also limit the size and breeds of dogs they will allow, and owners can use their discretion in refusing entry to any patron and their pet.

Once inside the restaurant, a dog must be kept on a leash at the patron's table, the dog must not be left unattended, and patrons are liable for any damages caused by their pets.

Morhaim said he received many letters of support from restaurants during the legislative process, and he expected that once one restaurant in an area applied, all the rest would follow suit.

After that, it's up to the public to decide what restaurants they patronize.

"Every restaurant has features that they use to draw people in," Morhaim said. "Sports bars have lots of televisions. This just another feature they can have. It's up to us as consumers to decide."

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