ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. -- The closest Ozzie had ever come to a body of water like this was three summers ago, when he splashed around in the cool, clear waters of 650-acre Hulbert Lake in Michigan's Upper penisula.
But now, our 10-year-old Australian shepherd is curiously wading through the warm salt water of the Gulf of Mexico -- with no "No Dogs Allowed on the Beach" sign in sight.
This is St. George Island, where man's best friend is not only allowed on the beaches, in rental units and on restaurant decks, but also encouraged to go to those places. It is part of Franklin County's marketing ploy to attract more tourists. Seventy miles east of packed-out Panama City, this part of the Florida Panhandle -- known as "The Forgotten Coast" -- is often overlooked. ...
St. George Island and neighboring Carrabelle Beach and the secluded and aptly named Dog Island are among the few districts left in Florida where dogs are allowed on the beaches -- provided that they are on a leash and well-behaved, and that the owners clean up after them. If they respond well to commands, dogs can be released for an untethered romp through the surf. Doggie bags, water spigots and showers are spread along the shoreline.
A recent Florida state law allows outdoor dining establishments to welcome thier customers' dogs, although not all of the restaurants with decks on St. George do so. Dogs are welcome in the outdoor courtyard at Harry A's Porch Club, where they have their own menu and a photo-filled Doggie Wall of Fame, and the Blue Parrot Ocean Front Cafe.
Half of the more than 650 rental homes and condos offered by two of the barrier island's primary rental companies, Collins Vacation Rentals and Resort Vacation Properites, boast pet-friendly lodging options, included in the rental price.
The Journeys of St. George outfitting store accommodates dogs on boat cruises and fishing excursions.
In nearby Apalachicola, dogs are welcome on the patios at Chef Eddie's Magnolia Grill and Steamer's Raw Bar and Petunia for Pets and their People, which sell pet gifts, apparel and treats.
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St. George Island State Park
Pets are allowed on paved areas, campsites, and nature trails but not in the bathrooms or other buildings, or on the beach. Call 850-927-2111 for more details.
Franklin County is the only county in Florida which allows dogs to go free on the the beach, but they must be under voice command and cleaned up after. If your dog is near people, it should be on a leash.
Keeping Fido looking good and healthy ...
APALACHICOLA BAY ANIMAL CLINIC, Veternarian Hobson Fulmer. 187 Hwy 98 in Eastpoint. Clinic: 850-670-8306, Emergency: 850-927-2510. http://abac.vetstreet.com
PENELOPE'S PET STOP - 25 S. Franklin St. in Eastpoint. 850-670-2257. Pet grooming, kennels, daycare.
OYSTERBONES® - 58 Market Street in Apalachicola. 850-653-9144. Unique gifts, apparel & accessories for pet and their people. Featuring a doggie toy testing area with pools to cool off your best friend and room to run around a little, all in a secure enclosure. www.oysterbones.com
PRO GROOM, Styles by Selina - 45 Market St. in Apalachicola. Salon: 850-653-2025, Cell: 850-370-6593. Since 1992. Satisfaction guaranteed.