What's a dog-loving, single, thirty-something guy to do when he has free time on his hands? Start an advocacy group to push the city's health department into changing regulations allowing dogs on restaurant patios, of course.
Embodying the idea that it only takes one person to start a movement, Pat Walsh, founder of Paws on Patios has channeled his youthful energy, love of canines, enjoyment of restaurant patios and combined them into a very popular organization. Paws on Patios has over 1,800 "likes" on Facebook and has captured the support of everyone from Mayor Annise Parker to a network of restaurants rallying alongside them for change. Walsh spoke to Eater about his project and the regulations he hopes will be changing before the end of this year.
What made you start Paws on Patios in the first place?
I started it last September when I was at Empire Cafe on Westheimer and I was there with my dog Lucy and a couple of friends of mine. Lucy was behaving herself as she usually does, and we were having a nice time when one of the employees came out and was very polite, but let us know that they could get fined for allowing a dog on their patio by the Health Department, and that the dog had to go. So I was disappointed (and this wasn't actually the first time this happened).
So I went back and chatted with my friends and we were talking about it and I said, "you know what, why not try to change it?" I also am kind of politically curious as a career and I thought it would be a really cool experiment and try to learn more about the political process and figure out what it would take to make change in a town like Houston. And it has turned out to be an awesome experiment.
Sounds like you are getting close to enacting change that will at least give the restaurant owners the ability to pick and choose whether or not they want to allow dogs on premise. What happens to Paws on Patios when you feel like your goals are met?
You are right. We are seeing a lot of progress and a lot of potential success. Mayor Parker's office has communicated to us that Mayor Parker met with the health department and she's already sent a letter [in support] for changing the rules to allow dogs on patios. So we're really pleased to have her support.
We've met with three city council members and all three of them have offered that they support the change. Some of them have caveated it with wanting to hear more from the business community, but basically they're in support.
If and when we get Houston's rules changed so that restaurants do have the options to allow dogs on patios then we'll go away. We will have accomplished our mission and that literally Paws on Patios will sadly, cease to exist. But we have a specific mission with a specific objective and if that objective is obtained unless there is some other compelling reason that I can't envision right now, that would be an awesome thumbs up and Paws on Patios could go away.
Do you have any estimates on if and when?
I think that the progress has been steady, but a little slow, because Houston's had a lot of issues to deal with. Issues that are more important. But now that a lot of those things are done, we're starting to see more momentum and more interest in getting these things addressed. I think that we can have the ordinance changed this year. I would be surprised if it dragged on into the winter.
Tell us about your supporters.
Our biggest supporters tend to be unique restaurants that are mostly in the 610 Loop, some of them are outside the Loop, but they tend to be in denser, more walkable communities like the Heights or Montrose.
We want a market driven approach where restaurants decide for themselves whats best and if they decide that they don't want dogs, they can continue prohibiting them.
Where does Houston stand in relation to the other major cities in Texas?
Houston is behind the times. All three other major cities in Texas have already approved ordinances that allow dogs on patios, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. We are not blazing a new trail here, we are trying to catch up to what is already going on around the state, the nation and the world.
It's part of being a dynamic and livable city. This is proven to work. This is proven to be safe, this is proven to be sanitary. The health department of all three major cities are reporting to us that their dogs on patios programs works very well and has no significant problems.