Although "mutts" is in its name, the newly opened Mutts Cantina, a combination restaurant-dog park in Uptown Dallas, already has upset some pet owners with a restrictive policy that forbids certain breeds of dogs.
The restrictions were discovered on opening night, June 19, when a group came to Mutts with their dogs, and one was turned away because her dog was on the list of breeds not allowed.
Yvonne Ybarra, who runs the DallasDogLife.com rescue resource group, was allowed to stay because her dog was small. "They didn't say anything to me," she said. "But my friends were talking about a girl who went home because her dog wasn't allowed. I looked at her application, and that's when I saw the restriction."
The initial rule said the following:
The dog park does not allow the following breeds to enter: Chow, Presa Canario, Doberman, Malamute, husky, German shepherd, Rottweiler, pit bull or Shar Pei.
After Ybarra posted a photo of the policy on her Facebook page, Mutts' page was deluged with complaints from irate pet owners. Mutts' initial response was that the rules were prescribed by their insurance company.
But by Thursday afternoon, Mutts co-owner Kyle Noonan said they had relaxed the policy and that only pit bulls would be banned. "We've been working with our insurance company today, and we have gotten them to lighten the restrictions," Noonan said. "The only restricted breed in the dog park will be pit bulls."
Noonan would not say who their insurance company is. "I don't like to make that public," he said. "We were asked not to, by the powers that be. The challenge is because it's such a unique concept, in that it's not just a restaurant but also a dog park. But we were able to go back to them and show them the concern in the marketplace."
He said they based their initial decision on what were common banned breeds in apartment complexes. "And we were able to talk them down to pit bulls since that is the breed that is most commonly banned," he said. "We feel like that is a fair approach."
Breed bans can be difficult to enforce since many dogs are mixes. And as dog park veterans know, smaller dogs such as Pomeranians and Spitz are often more likely to bite other dogs and humans than pit bulls.
The breed ban is not the only issue raised about the viability of the park on opening night. It has only one entrance, which some observers called a "madhouse," with people trying to get their dogs in and out. There was also the water issue, Ybarra said.
"The park had no water source," she said. "If a dog gets overheated, there's no way to pour water on them. That's something you want to see. And with the dog bowls, they were coming around with pitchers, but big dogs drink fast, so they were frequently empty."
There were also questions about the park's setup with an attendant on duty, assigned to watch the dogs and pick up after they defecate.
"That's fine if the attendant is doing something," says dog advocate Maeleska Fletes. "But if there is an altercation in the dog park, the staff needs to be trained on how to break up a fight."
Noonan, who is overseeing the dog park, said that their criteria for hiring staffers were simply that they had to "love" dogs.
"We're all passionate about our pets," Noonan said. "When we interviewed staff members, we asked them, and they had to like dogs. We have consulted with numerous dog daycare facilities throughout the Uptown area about their best practices."
By 7:30 pm Thursday, Mutts had posted an update on its page:
The Mutts team listened to our guests and made a change to the dog park rules. As before, no dog breeds are banned from Mutts. All dog breeds are allowed on the patio with a leash. Based on numerous business factors, liability included, we will only restrict pit bulls from being allowed off leash in the dog park. And of course, all service dogs are welcome at Mutts, with or without a leash.
But they apparently still hadn't gotten it right. "This really makes no sense," said one commenter. "If you know anything about dogs, having some dogs loose and some on leash sets them up to have aggression on both sides. Very bad choices again!"