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Tampa and Orlando dog bars win a court fight to allow pets

 Exterior of Pups Pub Tampa
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An administrative law judge has sided with Pups Pub Tampa (pictured) and Pups Pub Orlando after the Florida Department of Health last year tried to block dogs from being in the establishments.

The ruling against the Department of Health means Pups Pub Tampa and Pups Pub Orlando can continue to allow customers to bring pets to the dog-friendly bars.

An administrative law judge has sided with bars in Tampa and Orlando after the Florida Department of Health last year tried to block dogs from being in the establishments.

Judge Lynne Quimby-Pennock on Thursday issued a 29-page order that said the Department of Health had not properly revised a rule to prevent Pups Pub Tampa and Pups Pub Orlando from continuing to allow customers to bring pets to the dog-friendly bars.

The case centered on sanitation certificates that county health departments, which are overseen by the state Department of Health, issue to establishments.

Pups Pub Tampa, for example, was issued a sanitation certificate in December 2020, with an agreement that it would not serve food. Also, the pub took steps such as installing a gate to keep dogs out of the drink-service area.

But in June 2022, the Tampa bar was cited for a violation related to having dogs in the business. The Orlando bar, meanwhile, received a sanitation certificate and opened in July 2022 but was cited for a violation less than a month later, according to Thursday’s order.

Quimby-Pennock, who said county health departments also had allowed dog bars to operate in Duval and Palm Beach counties, wrote that the Department of Health did not properly go through a process to adopt a rule that would keep dogs out of the bars.

“Petitioners opened each dog bar relying on their CHD-approved (county health department-approved) sanitation inspections and certificates,” the order said. “Petitioners complied with the CHD directions to install appropriate gates to keep the dogs out of and away from the bar beverage preparation or service areas, and were licensed to fully operate their business model.”

Quimby-Pennock wrote that the Department of Health “must immediately discontinue all reliance” on the revised interpretation of the rule.

“The question here is simple — did DOH change its interpretation of the rule?” the order said. “In this case, the preponderance of the competent and substantial evidence adduced at the final hearing clearly shows that DOH, through its CHDs, interpreted the rule for over four years to allow dogs in bars with certain restrictions in place. The evidence clearly established that in mid-2022, DOH changed its interpretation to prohibit dogs in bars.”

But in a May 22 document, the Department of Health disputed that it had changed course, saying the department’s “actions in prohibiting non-service animals from entering Pups Pub TPA (Tampa) and Pups Pub Orlando were based on the plain language of an already existing rule, not an unpromulgated rule.”

“Despite the department’s efforts to standardize inspections and ensure rules are applied in a consistent and uniform manner by the hundreds of employees working within each of the 67 county health departments throughout the state of Florida, it is still possible for mistakes to happen,” the document, which was a proposed order, said.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.