John McClung first noticed it at establishments in Europe and more recently in cities such as Seattle and San Francisco: People were eating on restaurant patios with their dogs.
As co-owner of the North Side restaurant Los Patios, McClung knew it was against state law to do so here.
“But the rules also say that individual municipalities can vary those rules,” said McClung, who's also an attorney, “provided basic health, safety and sanitation are met.”
About a month ago, he brought the idea to City Councilman John Clamp, who was a bit taken aback.
“I said, ‘What? What is that? Are dogs going to have menus?'” Clamp joked.
He quickly came around, and now the city could join Austin and Dallas in mixing its canines and culinary delights. Clamp said Tuesday that council members could approve a dog-friendly restaurant ordinance as early as next month to provide variances from state law.
“It's separate and outdoors, exclusively an outdoor dining variance-type thing,” Clamp said. He emphasized that nonservice animals still wouldn't be allowed inside restaurants. Some restaurants in San Antonio, perhaps in violation of state law, have been allowing dogs at their outdoor dining areas.
McClung, whose 20-acre property embraces a stretch of Salado Creek and an unfinished linear park trail, echoed that provision.
“This is purely paws on the patio,” he said.
The law would require a restaurant owner to seek a variance and pass a health inspection before animals could enter the property, Clamp said.
“I'm saying dog. It may include cats,” he said. “I'm not really an animal expert. I'm not really sure how cats and dogs react to each other.”
The state doesn't weigh in on that, but its Department of State Health Services has a position on why dogs don't mix with dining, according to Deborah Marlow, manager of the Food Establishments Group, an arm of the agency.
“Because of all the diseases that animals can carry on their skin, their feces, on their coat,” she said. “The concern is that food handlers handle the pet and continue on with any kind of food-handling activity.”
McClung said food wouldn't be prepared near animals and that pet owners would be able to reach their tables without going inside.
“A veterinarian friend of mine tells me that the number of flora inside the mouth of a dog is about one-third the number of flora that are inside the human mouth,” he said. “We know that animals are kinder to their own species than people are. Name a dog that's started a war.”
He added that he can't wait to become the first restaurant in the city to allow dogs on its premises — although he might be too late. Apparently, Joseph's Storehouse, among other city eateries, has been allowing dogs on its patio for years.
“I thought it's like smoking,” said Patrick McCurdy, owner of the bakery and restaurant on North St. Mary's Street. “It hadn't even dawned on me that you had to have an ordinance.”