Alexandria restaurants will be allowed to have customers' dogs eat at their outdoor patios as long as the restaurants apply for a variance and follow restrictions approved by city and state officials.
The recent ruling comes after health officials in April cracked down on restaurants that permitted doggie dining, citing health hazards. After a public outcry in which more than 150 people -- many with their dogs in tow -- protested in front of City Hall, city officials struck a deal with the restaurants and dog lovers.
City Attorney Ignacio B. Pessoa said restaurant owners must apply for a variance from the city's Health Department. If city and state health officials determine that the restaurant has taken "sufficient precautions to protect the public health," they will be allowed to serve pets.
"If they are approved, they can have their dogs there," Pessoa said.
Pat Troy, who as owner of Ireland's Own in Old Town had been serving customers and their pets for years before the crackdown, expressed elation that he could resume the practice.
"There are a lot of rules, but the little doggies can come in and sit under the tables and have their food again," Troy said. "It shows that if you sit down and talk about things, things can get done."
Another Old Town restaurant, Chadwick's, has applied for a variance. The Holiday Inn Select on King Street has continued its Doggie Happy Hour, but pet owners are no longer allowed table service in the courtyard -- they must get carryout food and water.
The issuance of variances will be determined on a case-by-case basis, said Bob Custard, the Health Department's environmental health manager. Custard said there has always been a section of the health code that required strict limitations on pets in outdoor premises of restaurants, and when officials heard that certain restaurants were permitting pets, the Health Department began to crack down.
Custard said restaurants must come up with restrictions, approved by city and state health officials, that will protect public health. For instance, Troy's application for a variance includes restrictions that say dogs must remain on leashes at all times, dogs will only be served using disposable, single-service containers and that dogs are prohibited from being on tables or chairs. In addition, food or water served to the dogs must be served by the owner, and the owner must throw away the container.
The restrictions also say that any employee who touches a pet must immediately wash his or her hands before continuing to work.
"Dogs tend not to have the same sort of hygiene that humans do," Custard said, adding that dogs can transmit the food-borne illness caused by campylobacter bacteria and carry parasites.
Arlington County does not allow dogs in restaurants or sidewalk cafes, according to Charles H. Taylor III, a county spokesman. The only exceptions are guide dogs and service dogs, he said.
Lori Cooper, chairman of the Alexandria Public Health Advisory Commission, said the compromise is a "win-win situation."
"Alexandria has been pet-friendly and has also maintained a strong health status for its citizens," said Cooper, a dog owner herself. "It's worked out -- you have to comply with the regulations, and if you don't, the dogs can't be present."