After the D.C. Department of Health began enforcing a long-fogotten regulation that bans dogs from outdoor patios of restaurants and bars, mascot Andypants Sherwood had to be removed from his doghouse on the patio of the Midlands beer garden in the District. (Essdras M Suarez/For the Washington Post)

The pleasures of Andypants Sherwood, like those of other dogs, are intense but few. The D.C. Department of Health put a stop to one of them two weeks ago.

Andypants, unofficial mascot of the Midlands, enjoys lounging in his doghouse on the patio at the trendy Parkview watering hole. At least he did until Sept. 19, when a city health inspector showed up to tell his owner, Midlands proprietor Peyton Sherwood, that regulators were enforcing a forgotten section of the health code that prohibits dogs from restaurant and bar patios.

Since then Sherwood has reluctantly been following the rules and serving an exclusively human clientele. "We became a really dog-centric place, and it was really great," he said wistfully. "It's just not as cute anymore."

The health department's visit to the Midlands, which came on the heels of a similar admonition to the dog-friendly Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights, would turn out to be the opening salvo in a fight that is now echoing through the corridors of D.C. city hall.

As news of the crackdown has spread, dog owners have inundated D.C. Council members with complaints, leading to emergency legislation to repeal the ban that will be introduced Tuesday.

The clash recalls a similar episode this year, when the Department of Health sought unsuccessfully to ban backyard chickens, require licenses for cats and mandate how quickly dog feces must be removed from private property.


The Midlands beer garden co- owners Trent Allen, left, Robin Webb and Peyton Sherwood at their establishment with Andypants, Sherwood’s dog. (Essdras M Suarez/For the Washington Post)

In a city transformed by an influx of the young and affluent, the debate over dogs' patio rights has a distinctly new-school flavor. A Twitter account, @PupsOnPatios, quickly sprang up to advocate on behalf of the evicted canines. Some of the affected establishments are in neighborhoods where a middle-class family would struggle to afford a mortgage on Andypants's doghouse.

Yet it also has the makings of an old-fashioned political street fight, with council members taking up arms against an agency under the control of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). Leading the charge is Health Committee Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who says that the department's effort to kick dogs off bar patios shows badly misordered priorities in a city struggling with public-health problems that include widespread opioid addiction and a deeply troubled public hospital.

Gray, a former one-term mayor widely viewed as a potential challenger to Bowser in 2018, also blocked the health department's efforts to step up regulation of cats and chickens.

In a letter introducing a "Dining with Dogs Emergency Declaration," he referred to those earlier skirmishes, complaining that the health department's "limited time and resources are being marshaled to wage Round 2 of the War on Pets" and asserting that the agency "seems unable to properly prioritize life or death health care challenges over matters of far less concern."

His legislation would leave the decision of whether to allow dogs on patios to individual proprietors.

Health department spokeswoman Jasmine Gossett declined to address specific questions about what led to the renewed focus on dogs outdoors at restaurants and bars.

"We are aware of the concerns about the enforcement of the current health code and will review best practices and evaluate the agency's posture on the matter," she said in a written statement.

Bowser spokeswoman LaToya Foster said the mayor's office would "leave it to the experts at the Department of Health to align our regulations with best practices."

Mike Amato, a former Obama administration employee who lives in Parkview and until recently enjoyed frequenting neighborhood places such as the Midlands with his wife and poodle-boxer mix, Sammie, said the argument about misdirected resources made sense to him.

"Somewhere along the line, inside the health department, they made a strategic decision to direct their resources to kicking dogs out of restaurants," Amato said. "That's what really bothered me."

Amato, who has also worked in Congress, said he was taken aback by the speed with which his council member, Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Gray got back to him when he wrote to protest the dog ban. "I was shocked," he said. "They were all very responsive."

Nadeau, a co-sponsor of the Dining with Dogs legislation, estimated that she had heard from about 50 constituents over the past two weeks on the issue.

"This one just really seems like a no-brainer to us," she said. "These spaces are really special gathering spaces for our community, and that includes our canine friends."

Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), also a sponsor of the bill, said he didn't blame the health department. "Their job is to enforce the law, and that's what they're doing," Todd said. "I think the law that's on the books is not reflective of 2017."

At the Midlands, Sherwood said he'll be watching the upcoming legislative debate closely. So will Andypants.

"He's not getting nearly the scratches and love that he got from all of the customers," Sherwood said.