No Dogs Allowed.
So said the city health department last week when pets and their owners were turned away from a planned "Yappy Hour" at Beaver's on Decatur.
The bar and restaurant had done a considerable amount of promoting for the new event, even sending out packets of dog biscuits to the media. There would be "Poodle Coladas" and "Terrier-tinis". Members of the local pet aristocracy were in attendance.
But it wasn't to be.
Beaver's manager Thaddeus Turany, who was on hand last Tuesday evening to break in the festivities, found himself scrambling to put them down instead after health inspectors arrived with threats of fines and even shutting the doors if any pets stepped on the premises.
A city ordinance forbids pets from all bars and restaurants. It's usually only enforced, though, when someone files a complaint.
"Somebody has a bit of a bone to pick with us," Turany tells Hair Balls.
Turany added that he has never seen such vigorous enforcement from health inspectors. He says a second official eventually followed the first, and Beaver's staff scurried out to the parking lot to head off anyone who arrived with a pet.
Dusty Gilbert, who handled promotion for the event and was there Tuesday night, says a number of people dropped off their dogs and returned just to show support. This included giants of the local pet scene such as Ryan Rice, who runs the Houston Dog Blog, and Michelle Mantor of Houston PetTalk magazine.
An inspector parked her city-issued electric car near the door for a good chunk of the night and was seen busily taking notes. Gilbert says some guests worried that she "might be writing down names."
Kathy Barton of the city Department of Health and Human services assures Hair Balls that the inspector was almost certainly just putting together her report (health inspectors don't have offices; they work from a laptop).
The ordinance itself, in addition to its sporadic enforcement, is a sensitive issue for local pet-lovers. Pets aren't allowed inside or on patios under any circumstances. It's even illegal to rope off a portion of a parking lot for them, as Beaver's tried to do Tuesday night.
Rice of the Houston Dog Blog remembers taking his dog into the drug store when he lived in Los Angeles. He says Houston has a long way to go. The dog-friendly establishments that do exist here are likely just getting by without getting caught.
"Dogs [don't have] the same kind of standing as they do in California," Rice tells Hair Balls. "For most people, dogs are an extension of their families."
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Barton fielded the Yappy Hour complaint herself and says the department is unlikely to act unless someone makes the call -- though she adds that blatant advertising can't help. Bars that don't serve food might also receive a little more leeway.
But, Barton cautions, "Contaminated ice is just as bad as contaminated hamburger."
Does this mean Houstonians should count Beaver's out as a place to bring their pets?
"Unfortunately, yes," Turany laments. "At one point we had a dog-friendly patio."