Washington - With a beer in his hand and his two pugs by his side, Rick Schapira looked as happy as a dog with a bone.
"It's the highlight of their week," said Schapira, referring to the doggy happy hour held on the Hotel Monaco's patio and gesturing to his miniature pooches, Teddy and Jingles. "When I say, 'Let's go to the doggy happy hour,' they get all excited and run to the door."
Almost all US restaurants have a no-pets policy, so the happy hours that have sprung up over the past few years have become a big hit - not only because they give people a chance to socialise with their canines, but also because they give them a chance to meet other dog lovers.
At the Hotel Monaco, Alexandria, outside Washington - one of the first in the area to set up a doggy happy hour - nearly 80 people and several dozen dogs gathered in the interior courtyard on a recent Friday.
Poodles, chow-chows, a Saint-Bernard and various mutts milled about - sniffing each other, sharing a bowl of water and sampling organic delicacies listed for two dollars on the menu - while their owners drank wine and complimented each other on their dogs.
The get-togethers have become so popular that some people even show up sans four-legged companion. "We don't even have a dog," confessed Judy Curtis, who has been bringing her 13-year-old daughter to doggy happy hour here since she was 10. "My daughter loves dogs, and here she can see all kinds of breeds."
"People love this," agreed Richard Hannigan, the hotel's assistant general manager, who is planning a canine costume party with prizes for October.
The dogs get plenty of benefits, too. "My dog trainer told me I should bring him for socialisation purposes," said Judy Bennett, referring to her American boxer, Salvador.
Her trainer, John Landry, who accompanied her and Salvador to the happy hour, explained: "These social outings help the dogs not be aggressive. As for the owners, it makes them feel they're not the only crazy person who loves dogs."
That's an understatement. About 75-million dogs live in 45-million homes in the US, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
This year pet industry sales are expected to top $43-million, almost as much as Americans spend on toys for their children and twice as much as they spend on cosmetics.
People also benefit in unexpected ways from the happy hours, say devotees. When dogs make friends, so do their owners.
"Dogs are a good social lubricant," said John Carpenter, a regular at the Frisky Business Happy Hour at the Helix Hotel in downtown Washington. "It's easier to meet someone."
"Meet a future boyfriend?" asked Kara MacWilliams, flanked by her two Bernese mountain dogs. "We hope!"
In fact, for some, the dog is just an excuse. "Some people really go there to mingle," said Annie Gillette, a spokesperson for Hotel Monaco. "The other day, four young men showed up...with one dog."
Every Wednesday the Hotel Helix, which donates a dollar per happy-hour sale to a dog shelter, draws between 15 and 30 people and almost as many dogs.
"It's just a nice opportunity for people to be able to sit down and relax and bring their dogs with them so they don't stay at home with their dog," said spokesperson Sarah Crocker.
"People with pets generally get along very well with other people with pets."
But even when the last glass is empty and the last canine treat devoured, the fun isn't over. "We go to this restaurant across the street," Schapira said.
"They've got a dog menu - it's awesome!" His pugs love the lamb stew, he said, and as a treat the froth off the top of a pint of Guinness Stout.