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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
Lifestyle Stories

Tampa area pet owners taking dogs more places than ever

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In a New Yorker magazine cartoon, a man smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper sits in an easy chair. His wife stands in the kitchen doorway. Between them, their dog stands on hind legs, dressed smartly with a top hat, bow tie, tuxedo, boutonniere and cane.

“Howard,” the wife says, “I think the dog wants to go out.”

Lately, it seems there isn’t any place in public you won’t see dogs tagging along with their human companions. So much so, you almost expect to see them in formal attire.

Once, a dog’s place was in the home. Today, its place is almost everywhere. Outdoor festivals. Bar patios. Ice cream stands. The workplace. The National Pet Owners Survey claims more than 1 million dogs are brought to work daily, including this Friday on Take Your Dog to Work Day.

It’s past the time to concede that the world has become one big dog park.

“Now more than ever, people are traveling with their pets,” says Jenn Fadal, owner of Wag Natural Pet Market on Davis Islands, which promotes itself as a place for “Tampa’s pet parents.” In addition to natural pet food, Fadal sells leashes and collars and accessories that help dog owners take their pups along with them wherever they go.

“They’re treating their pets like a child, like a member of the family,” Fadal says. “They’re taking vacations with their dogs. And when the dogs can’t go, sometimes they don’t take the vacation.”

Dog encounters happen almost everywhere now. Fadal remembers a day recently when she was shopping at the DSW shoe store on Dale Mabry Highway. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a French bulldog came along for a nuzzle. The owner was roaming the aisles, casually shoe shopping with le petit chien francais on a leash.

“Of course, the bulldog was loving me,” the pet store owner says. “[To them] I smell like 500 dogs all the time.”

Fadal writes about dogs-in-public issues for a blog called The Pack Mom (thepackmom.com). Along with operating the store, it’s a topic she knows well. Most mornings, she and her husband, Cristan, and their 3-year-old son Sebastian go for a 2.5-mile power-walk with their dogs Abe and Chico, a Labrador mix and a Chihuahua. They do the same almost every evening as well.

“My family and I try to be a good example for how to handle the dogs in public,” she says.

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Lucy Miller’s decision on where to shop and eat on Longboat Key frequently depends on whether or not a business is pet-friendly. Gnarles, a 3-year-old, 93-pound goldendoodle, goes with her and husband David as often as possible.

“It’s rare that Gnarly spends more than a few hours alone at home,” she says.

To the Millers, the dog is more of a family member than a companion or lifestyle accessory.Gnarles accompanies David at the family’s Cannons Marina in Longboat for most of the day. After Lucy finishes working from home, she picks the dog up for a breezy ride in the Millers’ top-down Volkswagen Thing. At 3 p.m. each workday, Lucy and Gnarles visit Starbucks, where she orders what she calls a “puppy latte” — a container of whipped cream. The staff gives visiting dogs bone-shaped treats. Miller perches Gnarles’ bone on the top of the cream and lets him crunch and lick his way to the bottom.

During a recent weekend, Gnarles was Miller’s plus-one for lunch at Poppo’s Taqueria on Anna Maria Island while she sat on the porch eating a bowl of carnitas, cabbage and guacamole. The dog sat patiently next to her, alternately staring at her lunch and then slurping at an aluminum bowl of ice water provided by Poppo’s. As they finished lunch, two little girls who asked permission from their mom took turns hugging the dog, whose fluffy, white fur makes him resemble an oversize lamb. Miller almost always says yes.

The couple spent a year with a professional dog trainer to get Gnarles to where he wouldn’t overreact to attention or jump on an admirer. His demeanor in public is somewhere between disinterested and benignly peaceful. Miller says seeing how people excitedly react to him gives her great joy.

“There’s something magical that happens when you have a close relationship with the pets in your lives,” she says.

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Being a pet-friendly business such as Poppo’s and Starbucks can be profitable, says Jason Jerald, owner of Dairy Joy ice cream on Manhattan Avenue in South Tampa. Ice cream shops with outdoor patios are popular with pup owners, including Bo’s Ice Cream in Seminole Heights and Campbell’s Dairyland in Brandon.

Every hour is Yappy Hour at Dairy Joy, Jerald says. Each dog that comes in gets a 4-ounce vanilla ice cream cone for free. Manager Shirley McGovern suggested the idea about a year ago. Jerald, who has owned the stand with his wife, Rebecca, for 17 years, said it seemed silly to make people pay for dog treats.

With more owners being more comfortable taking their dogs out for fun, it made good business sense. Attitudes about pets have changed drastically since Rebecca’s grandparents opened Dairy Joy in 1959.

“We’ll have groups of friends get together and bring their dogs,” Jerald says. “Sometimes there are 10 or 12 dogs here. We’re a family-oriented business to begin with. This just follows suit.”

Sean Larsen, a TV producer living in Lakeland, says he regularly goes out of his way to frequent businesses that are dog-friendly. Fionighan, his docile, 6-year-old Irish wolfhound, tags along for meals on the patios at Grillsmith and Burger 21 restaurants. He also patronizes businesses that cater to dog people such as the Doggie Bag in Lakeland.

“I make sure the management knows how appreciative I am for offering a place for my dogs,” Larsen says.

Dog owners should understand, he says, that not all places are dog-worthy — even those designed for dogs. It was at a dog park that Fionighan was attacked by a territorial pit bull and needed 200 stitches.

“He likes people a lot more now than he likes other dogs,” Larsen says.

Before Isis, his Great Dane, died a few years ago from cancer, Larsen used to take her to Gaspar’s Grotto in Ybor City once a month for a gathering of Great Dane owners.

“There would be 30 or 40 Great Danes out there,” he said. “Their owners would be eating and drinking while the dogs ran around and played. It was great.”

jhouck@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7324

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