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A renewed crackdown on Pensacola restaurants allowing dogs in outdoor seating areas was prompted by a complaint from a former city councilwoman, officials said Thursday.

The city council in 2013 adopted a so-called “doggy dining” ordinance, which among other things required businesses allowing dogs outside to obtain a permit, erect a physical barrier around the outside dining area, and to provide hand sanitizer at every table. That ordinance has been rarely enforced, however.

But a complaint last week from former city councilwoman Diane Mack prompted city code enforcement officers to visit downtown businesses with a copy of the ordinance in hand, officials said Thursday.

“I walk to the downtown post office from Wright Street along Palafox just about every day now so I’ve had the opportunity to observe regularly what goes on at the eateries along the way,” Mack wrote in an email to city code enforcement administrator Steve Wineki. “In the last several weeks I have seen dogs at outside tables at: Polanza, Hopjacks, Wine Bar, Dog House, Beef O’Brady’s. I am betting that not a single one has gone through the city’s permitting process to do so.”

Former Pensacola city councilwoman Diane Mack speaking to the Women’s Civic Forum in 2013. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

Mack served on the city council from 2009-2011 and was not on the council when the doggy dining ordinance was approved. The owner of a local advertising agency, Mack ran unsuccessfully to become Pensacola’s first “strong mayor” in 2010.

“Finally, yesterday I took the attached photo of two dogs at a table outside of Hopjacks,” Mack added. “They had been provided water bowls by the establishment. Without having gone through the process, the management of these places has not been required to train servers about what is allowable behavior. I have not been back to Hub Stacey’s since I watched a server pet a dog and then go right back to delivering plates of food.”

The 2013 ordinance specifically prohibits restaurant employees from touching or petting dogs while serving food, and requires them to wash their hands immediately if they do.

Wineki responded to Mack this week to inform her that code enforcement officers had visited Palafox Street restaurants with a copy of the ordinance, records show. Officers didn’t observe any dogs during those visits, Wineki said.

Many Palafox Street businesses hold licenses to use portions of the city sidewalk for outdoor dining areas, and for many of those businesses, fencing off the dining area from the sidewalk simply wouldn’t be an option.

Downtown restauranteur Joe Abston, who owns both Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom and The Tin Cow on Palafox Street, called the crackdown a “kneejerk reaction.”

Abston says he’s talked to city code enforcement about coming into compliance with the ordinance and has gotten confusing answers as to what constitutes a physical barrier.

A dog hangs out in front of Carmen’s Lunch Bar on Palafox Street during the annual Paws on Palafox event. (Downtown Improvement Board/Special to The Pulse)

“Code enforcement is telling me that almost anything could be a barrier, including a table or a chair,” Abston said Thursday. “It seems like this is a haphazard ordinance and it’s unfortunate that the city leaves things on the books that don’t make any sense.”

City officials said Thursday that only three Pensacola businesses had applied for and received a “doggy dining” permit: Tijuana Flats, located near Cordova Mall; The Oar House, located on Bayou Chico; and Gulf Coast Brewery, located on Heinberg Street east of the downtown core. Business owners who are found to have violated the ordinance could be subject to a fine of up to $500 or up to 60 days in jail, according to the ordinance.

The latest crackdown on dogs isn’t the first time pups have been targeted downtown. After dogs became a regular sight at the popular Saturday morning Palafox Market, organizers in 2013 began posting signs prohibiting dogs, citing a decades-old city ordinance which bars dogs in a variety of public places, including in public parks and at festivals and other public gatherings. That ordinance remains on the books.

City councilwoman Sherri Myers said Thursday that she plans to review the ordinances to ensure that any city laws regulating where dogs can be do not apply to service animals.

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