NEW YORK – At select bars across the country, people are heading to happy hour with their best friends.
Never mind that these friends prefer biscuits to bar pretzels, and bowls of water to mugs of beer.
Pet-friendly happy hours have become popular in places like New York, Chicago, Carmel, Calif., and Alexandria, Va.
"We want to spend time with our companion animals — we lead busier lives than ever," said Steve Dale, host of Animal Planet Radio. "This is a good thing to do. You can come home for your dog and go to the bar with him afterwards."
Chicago has a biannual "Pug Crawl," where pug dogs and their owners bound from bar to bar to socialize and snap up treats. In Carmel, Calif., Doris Day and her partners founded the Cypress Inn, a pet-friendly hotel that accepts animals as guests and allows them to attend breakfast, afternoon tea and happy hour.
In New York, busy dog owners living in cramped quarters with their pooches can take them to places like Von in Greenwich Village, which permits pups to mingle off-leash. And the Holiday Inn Select Old Town in Alexandria has a "Doggie Happy Hour," with a buffet of biscuits and a cooler of ice water.
Dog owner Erica Isaac said the pet-friendly bars offer a way to keep up her lifestyle and get her dog, Detroit, out of their small digs. "I integrate my dog into my life," said the 27-year-old New Yorker.
Some don't like the idea, and say pet owners have gone overboard.
"Some people are overly reliant on their pets," said Scott Stuckmann, 36, of Atlanta, who suffers from bad dog and cat allergies. "It goes too far."
The growth of pet-friendly businesses can make non-animal people feel like their rights aren't as important. "I have a right to be free of pets and not to be subject to that," Stuckmann said.
Some animal owners agree.
Bringing pets to a bar is "a luxury, not necessarily a right," Isaac said. "If anyone [were] uncomfortable, I would probably get up and leave."
That hasn't stopped the fad. Timothy Ruth, food and beverage director of the Holiday Inn Select in Old Town, said the "Doggie Happy Hour" has taken off since it began four years ago.
"We decided to capitalize on happy hours for people walking their dogs," Ruth said. "Dogs are very social animals and so are the people who typically have dogs."
The event, held in the hotel's outdoor courtyard, offers a chuckwagon buffet, Frisbees and tennis balls for the dogs.
And it seems animals are such an effective social lubricant that some non-pet owners have found creative ways to work their way into the scene.
"There've been more single people without dogs showing up, and people borrowing dogs," said Ruth.
A hotel desk manager said some adventurous guests even bring their pet felines along. "Cats don't usually travel well, so most people don't bring their cats, but if they do, they have them either in a cage or in their lap," he said.
The pets don't always get along, of course, and scuffles inevitably break out. But pet-friendly venues usually have rules, like requiring leashes, to minimize those incidents.
"It can be very dangerous," said Stuckmann.
Dale said it's important for pet owners to be responsible with their pets as well as their drinks. "People who have dogs that cannot behave should not be bringing their dogs to these places. If your dog is even slightly questionable, leave him at home."