Doggone: Sign at Boathouse tells patrons to keep unfriendly dog breeds out
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2009 - The Forest Park Boathouse is one of the premier St. Louis hangouts for dogs and their owners. But now a new sign tells patrons to leave their socially unfriendly dogs at home.
The new sign says the doggie-friendly outdoor establishment forbids certain breeds -- pit bull, Rottweiler, Akita, Chow and others -- that it feels could threaten guests' comfort and safety. The restaurant now welcomes only "socially friendly" breeds, a policy the management says will foster a comfortable, safe environment for all guests and dogs and reduce the risk of injuries and legal problems.
"There are certain dogs that shouldn't be brought to a very tight, very small, very family-friendly environment," said Mark Erker, owner of Catering St. Louis, which manages the Boathouse through a contract with St. Louis.
Erker said the policy isn't new, though. Before the sign, management often turned away furry customers it deemed potentially problematic. The sign, Erker said, standardizes the policy and makes a list of perceived dangerous dogs easily visible. He said the policy's strictness might vary, however, depending on crowd size and dog age.
But the sign and policy have some patrons upset.
"I've never seen anyone who allows dogs restrict breeds," said Erik Karanik, who owns a Boykin Spaniel named Tatum with his partner, Alexis Cosse. "And it defeats the purpose. It's discriminating against the dog based on their breed, which is silly."
The restaurant made the sign because some patrons complained to Erker that they were uncomfortable sitting close to certain dogs, especially bigger or naturally aggressive types. In the end, Erker said the only manageable way of filtering dogs was by breed.
Also, Erker said he doesn't want patrons to get hurt, especially children, and to go through the messy legal process that can follow dog-related injuries. In fact, he said many other states won't allow homeowners insurance to cover certain dog breeds.
"That's protecting myself as a business, because eventually something could happen," Erker said. "The dog owner is going to get sued, I'm going to get sued, the city of St. Louis is going to get sued, Forest Park is going to get sued."
Still, some patrons, including Phil Efird, who owns a poodle named Sabrina, said they think breeds don't play that big of a role in determining a dog's violence. "It's more individual-dog-temperament specific," Efird said.
Luda Koch, owner of a Cocker Spaniel named Maggie, agreed with Efird. "Any dog can be friendly. It doesn't depend on the breed of the dog. It just depends on how well trained the dog is and the dog's personality."
Some studies have also suggested that breed-specific bans have little if any effect on the number of violent incidents involving dogs. Erker said he didn't doubt those studies, but in the end what matters is the comfort of all guests.
Koch said the restaurant's newly standardized policy "makes sense" and she would feel uncomfortable around a more imposing breed like a Rottweiler. "Before you get a dog, you do some research and you see what kind of breed is going to work for you," she said.
More restrictions, possibly on the number of dogs guests can bring, could come down the line, depending on guest feedback.
GETTING THE LAW CHANGED
Erker is a major reason outdoor restaurants in the city of St. Louis can admit dogs legally. Before mid-2007, it was illegal for restaurants in Missouri to do that, but Erker led a successful fight at the local and state levels to make it legal in St. Louis.
The Boathouse has allowed dogs from the time it opened, but the local health department threatened to shut down the restaurant if it didn't stop allowing dogs. Erker said that's when he had had enough. "I thought it was ridiculous that dogs couldn't dine with their owners at outside dining."
He sought help from St. Louis Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, D-28th Ward, who sponsored a successful ordinance allowing restaurants in most wards to admit dogs, provided the dogs stay outdoors.
The state law had to change, though, for the ordinance to take effect. Erker contacted then-state Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, who sponsored a bill to let cities and counties decide the issue for themselves. Then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, signed the bill into law in mid-July 2007.
HOT SPOTS FOR OWNER AND POOCH
Since then, dozens of spots have popped up in the city for you and Fido to go together, especially in the Central West End and Grand. Just remember that indoor doggie dining isn't covered by the city's ordinance.
The Boathouse remains very popular among owners. Karanik and Cosse usually take Tatum there, but they said they also take her to a variety of places in the Central West End -- Llywelyn's Pub, Rosie's, Wild Flower Restaurant, Bar Italia, Bar Louis and Kopperman's, to name a few. Culpeppers, which allows any well-behaved dogs on its patio, will sometimes set out bowls for its canine "customers" to use.
Efird also takes Sabrina to places in the Central West End and Grand. He said most restaurants and shops in those areas welcome dogs to their outdoor patios.
Seven wards -- 1, 2, 3, 12, 18, 27 and 21--opted out of the ordinance, meaning no dogs are allowed to accompany their owners at any establishment there, indoors or outdoors.
Puneet Kollipara, an intern at the Beacon, is a student at Washington University.