Canines Lapping Up Luxury in Miami Beach

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 5, 2006

MIAMI BEACH -- With pink pearls hanging delicately around her neck and her silken, pearly white locks flowing in the ocean breeze, Teddy luxuriated on a plush lounge chair covered with a white towel emblazoned with the Ritz-Carlton crest on a pool deck overlooking the Atlantic.

A white-uniformed attendant offered champagne, and Teddy's companion, Sandra Seligman of Detroit, reached for a fluted glass as she schmoozed with passersby and soaked in rays from the subtropical sun.

Teddy opted for water, which seemed more fitting, as Teddy is a 2-year-old mix of Shih Tzu, poodle and a bit of terrier who travels with Seligman everywhere and enjoys the finest of treatment -- especially on Miami Beach.

This city has gone to the dogs.

Its posh pastel hotels offer dog beds and menus, peanut butter treats and rawhide bones, and waiters trot up to poolside with food and beverage for man and his best friend. Patrons of outdoor restaurants on famed Lincoln Road Mall sometimes trip over dogs leashed to their owners' chairs, lapping Perrier right along with the humans.

Never mind that it's not legal for the dogs to be there (dogs are not allowed in public areas where food is being served). It's longtime tradition -- and that trumps the law.

"Dogs are part of our culture here," said Nanette Rodriguez, public information officer for the city of Miami Beach. As to why the city hasn't tried to enforce the law: "The public is tolerant, the restaurants are tolerant and we've never had a problem."

Restaurateurs know the score.

"The owners love their dogs as their own children, so if you are hostile to the dog, you get an irate customer," said Jane Choi, a manager at Balans on Lincoln Road, who said she could be identified only if it was made clear that she welcomes dogs at her restaurant.

Meanwhile, dogs go to work with owners (who have sympathetic employers), are feted with birthday parties and are adorned with duds from the Dog Bar, a 24-hour establishment that calls itself "the nation's most unique full service luxury specialty pet supply store."

(Let your dog decide: for lounging, perhaps, a $300 mid-century-design sofa inspired "from vintage Le Corbusier seating for humans!" and for that special occasion, a tux or wedding gown with veil for $100 or more.)

City planners designing renovations to public parks are making sure to include dog runs and space for dog owners and their pets to mingle. Though dogs aren't allowed on the sand -- the same is true at most other beach resorts -- owners have won the right from city officials to take their dogs on the Beachwalk, a paved public trail along the beach. (Tasteful dispensers provide plastic bags for owners to collect their dogs' business.)

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