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Dining dogs

Is it illegal to dine out with dogs in your city? DC is cracking down on dogs at restaurants.

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A dog house for Andy Pants on the patio of the Midlands Bar and Grill in Washington, D.C., will now sit empty during business hours after Andy was evicted last week.

The Midlands Bar and Grill
Andy Pant's dog house on the patio of the Midland's Bar and Grill.

Peyton Sherwood, co-owner of the Midlands, and said a health inspector from the district's Health Department recently stopped by the restaurant to tell him dogs are no longer allowed on the patio.

"She was like, 'Just so you know, the city is now getting too many complaints about dogs and we have to stop letting dogs on patios now. We are going to start enforcing the law,'" Sherwood said.

D.C.'s food code prohibits live animals at restaurants, with the exception of service animals, dogs used by law enforcement, and edible or decorative fish, but Sherwood said he has been in the restaurant business in D.C. for more than 20 years and had never seen the law enforced.

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"We broke the law and no one cared," Sherwood said.

After he was told dogs are no longer allowed at the restaurant, Sherwood took action on social media. He started a petition and hosted a "Doggy Sit-In" to show support for changing the law.

And his efforts might have paid off. Former D.C. mayor and current Ward 7 council member Vincent Gray said in the last week he has received well over 100 calls and emails from people who are upset about the new enforcement.

"There are no more passionate people in my opinion than people who are animal lovers," Gray said.

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Gray has now drafted, along with several other council members, emergency and temporary legislation that will give restaurant owners the option to have dogs on their patios if they choose. He is also planning on introducing permanent legislation that will fix the issue for good.

“It’s a real oddity to me that we would see the need to enforce some kind of relatively obscure law in the District of Columbia when there are so many other health challenges in this city that deserve our attention,” Gray said.

Gray said issues like heart disease, asthma, and HIV and AIDS are what the health department and district should be focused on.

“I don’t see how this contributes anything to the people of the District of Columbia, and it only makes it irritating and it creates a problem for people where a problem doesn’t exist in my opinion,” Gray said.

Gray said he was unaware of what complaints may have prompted the new enforcement. In an email to Circa, the Health Department said it was aware of the concerns and would "review best practices and evaluate the agency's posture on the matter." It would not elaborate on how many -- or what -- complaints prompted the crackdown.

The issue got a lot of attention on social media over the weekend, and dog owners voiced their concerns about not being able to dine with their dogs in D.C. anymore.

Even some D.C. residents who are not dog owners got involved.

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“There is an opportunity here for us to be involved, to represent the community and find a path forward for businesses that want to be dog-friendly, and businesses that don’t want to pursue that option, that’s fine too,” Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A chairperson Kent Boese said.

Boese said the land where the Midlands now stands used to be an empty lot, and he supports changing the law in order to show support for small businesses and give them the opportunity to grow and compete.

Some, on the other hand, showed concern on Twitter about allowing dogs on restaurant patios.

Gray said he will introduce the "Dining with Dogs" bill on Oct. 3. If it passes, D.C. will be following in the footsteps of New York City, which has passed similar legislation.

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