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Thursday, August 3, 2006 - Page updated at 03:26 PM

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Should Seattle be a dog-eat-anywhere city?

Seattle Times staff reporter

Who lets the dogs in?

(Woof. Woof, woof. Woof-woof.)

Just about everybody, it seems — especially in Seattle, where from Belltown to Fremont, from West Seattle to Queen Anne to Madison Park, dogs accompany us where we go. They ride shotgun. They go clothes shopping. They rent videos, queue up at banks.

We've got dog parks and dog sitters, dog walkers and dog washers. Seriously, we've got more dogs than children — fewer than 90,000 kids by 2000 census counts, compared to 125,000 canines. "I went into one of these downtown apartment buildings, and it was like 'Best In Show' had thrown up in the lobby," says Seattle's Evan Pham, a public-relations account manager.

The places we eat and drink, though, are supposed to be another thing entirely, except that ... they're not. No, we're the kind of city where fashionable ladies clutch small dogs like babies as they order their lattes, where pooches and their owners dare to dine together — never mind what the health codes say.

As state and local governments in Florida and Illinois relax, or think about relaxing, the rules about animals in dining establishments — rules reportedly flouted anyway — it's worth noting that our city is no slouch when it comes to going to the dogs.

Maybe this pleases you: "I was so thrilled that we could take the dog out for my birthday," says Seattle's Leanne Mink, who attended a recent Dine With Your Dog event downtown with her shepherd mix, Sammamish. "We've never been able to do that."

Or perhaps not: "Dogs ... are treated more as if they're family members," says Whidbey Island's Molly Cook, who's allergic to dog dander. "For us, dogs stayed out in the yard. The thought of taking a dog shopping, or eating, never entered our minds. For that, we had friends."

Call it the urban-suburban divide. But both city and county officials see it this way: Excepting service animals for the impaired, animals are forbidden in food establishments' serving areas. Ice cream shops and coffeehouses, fugeddaboutit. Outdoor patio areas, no. Grocery stores, canis non grata. Taverns without food that let patrons order from nearby restaurants, ditto.

But this is Seattle, where dense neighborhoods are home to a largely young, childless, pupwardly mobile population whose drive to include dogs in its out-and-about lifestyle is nothing if not dogged. We are people who know our breeds, who make friends over beagles, who boldly pamper our canines and take them where only humans have gone before.

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Tales of horror abound, of Cujos enjoying unfinished salads on restaurant floors or licking through supermarket meat bins. Public-relations exec Joy Radford recalls a downtown seafood restaurant lounge where a man and his cocker spaniel were seated inside the dining area. "Toward the end of the meal, the guy was turning and feeding [the dog] off his plate."

But neither Radford nor her friends complained, because, well, Seattleites don't. "This is the Pacific Northwest," says Magnolia's Karen Macdonald, who took her greyhound, Skye, to the doggy dinner event. "They just make it clear that they're very unhappy."

Says Radford: "It's like saying, 'Get your kids out of here.' "

But this whole sense of entitlement is starting to get under people's skin. You, awaiting your grande nonfat vanilla with the little white terrier peeking out of your fancypants handbag — you're getting on people's nerves.

"People seem to feel there shouldn't be any question about it," Whidbey Island's Cook says. "It's just this expectation that, 'If I love my dog, then everyone else will love my dog.' "

Business owner Janet Faunce was forced to speak up when she saw one guy's German shepherd tongue-swooshing the meat packages at an Eastside grocery store. When she said something, he told her that dogs' mouths were cleaner than humans'.

"So I went to find the manager, and he said, 'I'd lose so many customers if I didn't let them bring their dogs in.' You give them an inch, they're going to take a mile."

Bone of contention

Here's the thing about dogs: They can — and often do — lick themselves clean, in places that would be hard to reach for you and me.

"What difference is there between my well-trained service dog walking the food aisle and anyone else's well-trained nonservice dog walking the food aisle?" asks Tamara Stanley via e-mail, noting Europeans' tolerance of such things. "Maybe we should ban small children [from restaurants], who don't know enough to wash their hands and not pick their noses."

Local food codes mirror the state's code and those posted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, restricting what they can while recognizing public levels of tolerance. Snot-nosed kids are bad, yes; so are slobbery dogs.

By allowing only service animals into food and drink establishments, says Hilary Karasz of Seattle & King County Public Health, "it's not eliminating risk, but we're also recognizing there is risk associated with it."

"We would get so busted if the health inspector were to come in and see a dog in here," says barista Jonathan Gorsky of University Zoka. "One lady had a dog under her arm, and it wasn't a small dog. She said, 'Oh, I don't want to leave him in the car.' I said, 'Sorry.' Oh — she was not happy with me."

Judi Anderson-Wright of Seattle's Great Dog, which offers dog obedience classes, says she's gotten requests for service-dog-ready training from people who simply want the ability to take their dogs anywhere.

She has strong words for such scofflaws, mostly convincing them that it's not worth putting the privilege of service dogs at risk for the truly needy by stretching the rules.

A wink and a paw-shake

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush recently OK'd a three-year pilot program allowing dogs onto outdoor patios of restaurants, many of which reportedly flouted previous restrictions anyway. In Chicago, which Dog Fancy magazine named its most dog-friendly city last year, officials pondered a similar measure last month.

Seattle's health code is clear, but in dog-friendly areas it sometimes translates to: Don't ask, don't tell. Good dog.

City Dog magazine, which recently marked its one-year anniversary, cites local dog-friendly eateries such as Norm's in Fremont or Belltown's Boulangerie Nantaise. "We've incorporated [dogs] into our lives as part of our family," says founder and editor Brandie Ahlgren, who takes her dogs even on short trips to the store.

Witness: A man sits tapping his laptop inside Fremont's Icon Coffee with a Pomeranian proudly leashed beside him; at Top Pot Doughnuts on Capitol Hill, hair salon manager Charles Whitside marches in one day with Tokyo, a tiny Chihuahua/Yorkshire terrier mix, scuttling alongside. At the counter, Whitside holds Tokyo like a nervous little Nerf ball as he orders his coffee to go. The whole thing takes just minutes.

Whitside knows it's not really right. But he's well-known in the neighborhood, and Tokyo is small and quiet, so "I get away with it," he says. Even the building he lives in — which prohibits dogs — makes an exception for Tokyo.

At the Islander, a Polynesian restaurant near Pike Place Market, Three Dog Bakery's fourth annual Dine With Your Dog series — benefiting abused, neglected and homeless dogs — has been under way since June. Even on a cloudy, cool Monday night, 15 leashed dogs and their owners dotted the Islander's outdoor deck for a four-course doggie menu featuring, for example, desserts such as Canine Cannoli and Begging for S'mores.

Here were people excited to have a place to take their dogs and feed them off their forks for a night, taking photos to recall the occasion. Karen Kuster of Edmonds had brought Vienna, a dachshund in a fetching pink dress who nearly toppled her plastic plate with a curious paw.

When people tell her, "I don't think dogs should be here," Kuster responds: "I don't think cranky people should be here."

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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