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Votes

We're Dog-Friendly Again

Variances give restaurants a "win-win" situation.

As far as Pat Troy is concerned, "The dog issue is now solved for Ireland's Own."

That was his recent pronouncement after receiving a variance from the city to continue with his "doggie service" on the Tavern Square patio portion of his restaurant at 114 N. Pitt Street.

"It took sitting down with the Alexandria Health Department and applying some common sense," Troy explained.

"Everyone got together, used common sense and resolved this thing. I want to thank them, the city manager and health department not only for myself but for all the dog owners here and the tourists who bring their pets. The real winners are the doggies," Troy added.

Robert Custard, director, Environmental Health, Alexandria Health Department, agreed with Troy. "We feel we've reached a win/win solution for all concerned," he said. However, as Custard pointed out, "There will be periodic inspections to make sure all the variance conditions are being adhered to."

Of the three establishments embroiled in the recent controversy of not allowing dogs at outside seating areas of local restaurants, only Troy's Ireland's Own Restaurant and Pub and Chadwicks, 203 S. Strand Street, have applied for, and received a variance from the ruling. Holiday Inn Select, 480 King Street, has not applied.

"We've decided to leave it the way it is. Customers don't seem to mind," said Timothy Ruth, manager, Food and Beverage for the hotel. "Doggie Happy Hour," every Tuesday and Thursday evening in the Courtyard, has become world renowned. It has been featured in international travel publications.

UNTIL THE RECENT crackdown by the city, dog owners would bring their canine companions for a social evening of food and drink with special treats for the animals. Then all human service was barred in the courtyard area on the proposition it represented a health hazard, according to city health officials.

Doggie Happy Hour remains in effect but there can be no service in the courtyard area. Patrons who wish to dine in that area, at any time, must place their order inside and then take their own food, when it is ready, to the table.

Only disposable tableware and utensils will be used in the courtyard area. All beverages must be supplied by the courtyard bar and received in plastic, disposable containers. There is no table service by hotel employees.

"I can still hold banquets, wedding receptions and other private gatherings in the courtyard with full food and beverage service. That's because they are private and not open to the general public," Ruth verified.

"They [Health Department personnel] said they'd grant us a variance but when we looked at all the requirements we decided it was just not worth the added expense. I checked with our management and they agreed," he said. According to Ruth, they only get about 200 requests per year from patrons to dine in the courtyard area.

Chadwicks' manager, Karen Bettius, explained, "We applied for the variance and it has just been granted. But we want to make sure we have met all the criteria before we allow dogs to join patrons at our outside tables."

Those tables are right next to the sidewalk to the side of the front door on Strand Street. "We want the dogs to be in the area of the tables not on the sidewalk because people would just be tripping over them," Bettius said.

AS FOR THE requirements imposed by the health department in granting the variances they are detailed and lengthy. In a letter dated June 8, to Troy signed by Charles Konigsberg, Jr., MD, director, Alexandria Health Department, they included:

*The Dog-Friendly Area will consist of eight tables and 24 chairs located on an outside patio. This area will be prominently marked with a sign notifying patrons "dogs may accompany other patrons dining in this area."

*All furniture, fixtures and walking surfaces in this area shall be "made of hard surfaces that can be washed with soap and water, hosed down, and sanitized with products approved by the Alexandria Health Department." It shall be cleaned and sanitized "at the end of each day's operation."

*Appropriate mats to prevent dog hair, dander, etc., from being tracked from the area into other restaurant areas shall be installed at locations specified by the department.

*Patrons will be advised of all dog-friendly rules by a table tent on each table.

*All restaurant employees shall limit contact with the dogs. While performing any of their duties, employees shall not touch or handle the dogs. If an employee does touch a dog or "a surface a dog has touched or contaminated, they shall immediately wash their hands" before continuing service.

*Only disposable utensils and tableware will be used in the dog friendly area. Once used they shall be transported through the restaurant only in a sealed trash bag or other sealed container.

*A training log for all employees working in this area must be maintained and available for departmental inspection.

*Dogs "in poor health, infested with parasites, aggressive to people or other dogs, ill behaved or disruptive, or which otherwise present an unnecessary risk ... shall be excluded from or requested to immediately" leave the premises.

*A sign or signs reminding employees of the requirements of this variance will be posted on the restaurant premises as determined by the department.

KONIGSBERG ALERTED Troy, "This variance is valid only if you also have a valid variance ... from the Commonwealth of Virginia's State Health Commissioner." That was acquired by Troy four days ahead of the city variance. It was dated June 4, 2004, and signed by Robert B. Stroube, MD, State Health Commissioner.

Alexandria's department letter also noted, "This variance is not self-renewing. It is valid for one year and will expire June 7, 2005. If you wish to renew please submit a letter atleast 30 days prior to expiration ..."

The main body of the letter concluded with, "Failure to comply with the above variance conditions may result in regulatory enforcement action including ... suspension or revocation of your permit to operate a restaurant."

Konigsberg also expressed his fears relating to dog aggressiveness when eating or being approached by children. He advised Troy, "These are liability issues that I suggest you discuss with your attorney and insurance company."

No such incidents have ever been reported at either Troy's restaurant or the Holiday Inn since dogs have been joining their owners at the establishments. In the case of "Doggie Happy Hour," a wide variety of dogs and owners mix regularly within the confined space of the courtyard.

When the issue came before City Council following the health department's unannounced enforcement, Councilman Andrew Macdonald summarized the situation as, "Pets are extremely important to people in Alexandria. We need to be a lot more sensible with things like this."