Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dog Days

"Dog Days" are traditionally associated with the hot, muggy days of August, but they've come a bit late to Celebration this year. With Hurricane Jeanne relegated to recent history, along with siblings Frances and Charley, discussions among residents and the issues on which they focus are getting back to normal.

One of the most interesting discussions is the debate over dogs on restaurant patios. In Celebration, most of the restaurants have outdoor seating areas on their sidewalks. These areas serve a practical function (all indoor smoking in eating establishments is banned by state law, so smokers have a place to light up while they dine). But they're also one of those quaint aspects of "small town" life, with people coming to socialize as much as to eat. In the past, many diners have brought along their dogs to share the experience. The pooches recline under the table, enjoying a cool drink and maybe a few tasty treats too.

This has been going on for at least as long as I have been visiting downtown Celebration (October of 2002), and I'm sure it's been happening years and years before that. I never thought anything of it; it just seemed to be another aspect of life, like kids riding bikes. As a matter of fact, our town seal features a pig-tailed girl on her bicycle, passing a picket fence and being trailed by a dog.

Of course, I am an "animal person." I current have cats and a bird (not to mention a couple of fish and horses), and I would happily have a dog, too. Unfortunately, my gypsy lifestyle isn't compatible with the responsibility of caring for a canine. I don't eat outside because I don't like being around cigarette smoke, but if I did, it wouldn't bother me to have dogs at the tables around me. Of course, I wouldn't like seeing animals indoors, but to me, outside is no biggie.

Turns out that it is a big issue for at least one person in Celebration, and it's also against the law. You can read more about this saga at www.34747.org, but basically Max's (i.e. Market Street Cafe) got reported for allowing canine "patrons" on the patio. Note: When you follow the link, don't be thrown off by the deceptive title, "Goodings in Celebration." It started out as a discussion of the grocery store on Market Street that is slated for closing and morphed into something entirely different. Some of the "doggy" posts have been edited, but you'll be able to pick up the gist of things.

The official announcement that appeared on the Front Porch intranet was as follows:

Notice to Pet Owners
Due to circumstances beyond the control of Celebration area restaurants, Lexin Capital and Celebration Town Hall, pets are not allowed in restaurant patio areas due to a complaint response from the Florida State Department of Health.

Many people are up in arms because, due to one person's complaint, they can no longer enjoy a meal with their canines in their own home town. Many others disagree, saying that a law is a law and that no one is above it. There are at least two threads on the intranet discussing this issue, with some rather nasty words being exchanged.

Myself, I don't have any strong feelings either way. As a dog lover, I sympathize with the pet owners because canines have never been a bother to me. The barn where I keep my horses used to have four large, bouncy, mega-sized dogs that pretty much permanently desensitized me to being jumped on, drooled on, shed on, etc. As long as the dog was not leaping into my lap and stealing the food off my plate, it wouldn't bother me. But I can see the point about the law, too; no matter what, it's never a good thing when people start picking which ones to obey.

Last year, there was a debate that was very similar in principle, if not in subject matter. When I first moved in, Celebration was rife with youngsters on electric and gas powered scooters. They zipped around town, some of them very quickly (many had souped up the motors to attain speeds that probably could beat any NEV). Many of the scooters had been purchased locally at NEVrland/Relay (which, ironically, is closing; I'm sorry to see them go, as they were a fixture downtown and I always wanted to try one of their Segway tours...that would have made an interesting blog entry).

People starting complaining because many of the kids were reckless, as children will often be. Problem is, when they're moving that quickly and riding in the street, carelessness can lead to an encouter with a car...and that's an encounter that the scooter and its rider won't win. There were one or two minor accidents, and then suddenly it came out that riding unregistered scooters is against Florida law. Ironically, there is no legal mechanism for registering them. Hence, they are illegal.

The sheriff started enforcing the law, and there was a big hue and cry. On one side, people were glad that the "scooter menace" was gone and that kids were saved from impending death and destruction. On the other, parents who spent big bucks were not at all pleased that their kids' pricey "toys" were now useless. Still others pointed out that the law is the law, no matter how you ultimately feel. Hmmmm, sounds familiar...

The scooters are still gone, and most of the controversy has died out, although it rears up every now and again. Meanwhile, goodness only knows how long the lastest "doggone" issue will go on.

Actually, dogs have been at the heart of several Celebration controversies. The most common is the discourteous owners who don't pick up after their pooping puppies. I can't see how people can be that rude. If your dog craps, pick it up. What's the big deal? How hard is it, really? A few years ago, I used to walk a neighbor's dog for exercise (both mine and the dog's), and I never would have dreamed of leaving home without a poop bag. It wasa simple matter to stoop down, scoop it up, and drop it in the dumpster when I returned home. Not being couteous with your dog's leavings is just plain rude and lazy.

Fortunately, this hasn't been too much of an issue in my little corner of East Village. One evening I found some poop near my garage. I tossed it into the alley, loudly voicing my opinion; if it had been left by anyone living nearby, there's no way they could have missed it. Happily, I've never had a problem again.

It might not even have been someone living nearby. I often see people walking their dogs through the alley. It amazes me that the dogs are usually off their leash, and often far ahead of their owners. On more than one occasion, I've had a dog run up to me in my back yard, making me think I had a stray on my hands. Then, usually several minutes later, the owner will show up on foot or on a bike. The poor critter could easily have been flattened by a car or construction truck in the meantime.

The only other East Village issue was the people I dubbed the Quaid family (think Randy and crew in the "Vacation" movies) who were letting their dog and naked baby swim in the public pool. Eating on a patio is one thing, but I don't feel like swimming in hair and dog drool, not to mention potential baby-ruths. I never witnessed that personally, and hopefully the Quaids have gotten a clue and discontinued their rudeness.

The other doggy controversy surrounds the potential building of a dog park. Actually there would be two, so big dogs wouldn't have to mingle with their smaller counterparts. Remember, according to the song "Celebration, FL," we pamper our dogs so much that they even have face lifts, so a dog park is actually small potatoes.

A feasability study was conducted, and surprise surprise! The results were totally NIMBY...people said, "it's a great idea, as long as it's not in my back yard." The issue is not dead, but the trick is finding an appropriate chunk of land that doesn't border on anyone's home.

That issue has another counterpart, too: the perennial discussion of building a skate park. The skateboarders can frequently be seen in North Village, near the Pavillion, and downtown in the Lakeside Park area. They're in plenty of other areas throughout Celebration, too. Personally, I've never had any problem with them, but there have been reports of dangerous and disrespectful behavior. That was another topic that burning up the intranet forums for a while, although now that we've been through three hurricanes, it's gotten pushed to the back burner.

But the dog issue is going hot and heavy, and it will be interesting to see how it all turns out. Will people take to acts of blatant civil disobedience? With dogs disappear from Celebration's downtown area just as the scooters have faded into oblivion? Are we powerful enough to change the law? It's anybody's guess.

Oh well, as silly as it all may seem, I'm glad to see that things are getting back to normal. Soon I can resume my own "silly" cause: the triplex/duplex/townhome lawn crusade...but that's another story.

You can email me with questions and comments at celebration@mailblocks.com

My Celebration FL information website can be found at www.celebrationinfo.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Well written as usual.

Being dog owners and soon-to-be new residents, my wife and I have followed this discussion with interest.

To us the recent dog ban from restaurant patios seems a real loss. Seeing the people out with their pets was just one of the many small things that all together made Celebration special.

What you've touched on before but didn't dwell on with this article was how people talk with each other about issues. The amount of rancor we've seen in the postings on this subject and others is disheartening. You've explained before that Celebration is not paradise but that doesn't mean it needs to be hell, does it?