Winston, the Fairmont Empress Hotel, canine concierge enjoys a few moments alone in a room with a personalized bathrobe, a miniature toy Winston and some rom service drinks  Don Denton photo

Has your life gone to the dogs?

Pet-friendly means you can bring Fido

  • Sep. 29, 2021 8:30 a.m.

– Words by Jane Zatylny Photographs by Don Denton

I was one of many British Columbians who adopted a rescue dog during the few first months of the pandemic. I’d lost my 12-year-old Labrador in January 2020 and was longing for the companionship and comfort of a dog. My new Siberian husky, Baylee, delivers—big time.

Part therapy dog, part live-in companion, Baylee never fails to put a smile on my face.

“We know that animals have such a positive impact on our mental and physical wellness, and I think this was needed more than ever during COVID-19,” says Lorie Chortyk, general manager of communications for the BC SPCA. “While our adoptions have remained fairly static because of COVID-19, there has been a greatly increased demand, sometimes up to 200 applications for one animal.”

Sure enough, dogs seem to be everywhere these days—in condo buildings, on city streets, in parks and even in local stores. “Shopping in stores with pet dogs is definitely a trend on the rise,” says Erin Ballinger from BringFido.com, a website that helps dog owners find hotels, restaurants and other places that will welcome their pets.

It’s a trend I definitely appreciate: I can combine a dog walk with a visit to Pharmasave, Vessel Liquor Store or Home Hardware. Even Canadian Tire welcomes dogs, though I’ve noticed they are more likely to congregate in the pet aisle than the tire department.

“We love having a dog-friendly store,” reads a placard at the front of the store, adding a single, reasonable plea: “Please help us by cleaning up after your dog.”

Patios are another great option with a well-behaved dog. At Fernwood Inn and Stage, Baylee curls up under my table and patiently waits for a tasty morsel to drop.

Many hotels have long rolled out the red carpet for their four-legged guests, giving owners peace of mind while they travel. Accent Inns, for example, has had a pet program for more than 30 years, says Mandy Farmer, president and CEO of Accent Inns and Zed Hotels. These hotels try to be as flexible as possible with their pet policy.

“We don’t have size limits and you can bring more than two dogs. We just ask that you call us and let us know,” Mandy says, adding that they even housed a tiger once at their Burnaby location. “He was working at a local movie studio.”

The Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria was also an early adopter of a pet program.

“It’s part of who we are,” says Brooke Harris, director of sales and marketing. During the recent heat wave, many guest rooms were occupied by locals and their pets, she says. “We had tons of animals checking in. Most of us are pet owners and we really enjoy seeing dogs of all sizes in our hallways.”

Over at the Fairmont Empress, Winston, a five-year-old former guide dog trainee, has found his calling as canine concierge. There, in the lobby of the storied hotel, the Labrador/Golden Retriever cross welcomes pets and their owners and even is available for city walks. He also has his own Instagram account, where he offers advice about dog walks and more. The Empress has also had a pet program in place for well over 10 years.

“Victoria is just so walkable,” says Tracey Drake, director of public relations. “When you walk your dog through Victoria’s different neighbourhoods or along Dallas Road, you meet locals you wouldn’t normally meet and discover things you wouldn’t normally discover.”

Here are a few tips for navigating dog-friendly Victoria—as well as some suggestions about how to prepare your dog for the inevitable: your post-pandemic return to the office.

Mind your petiquette

Keep in mind that not all public or private spaces are dog friendly. Even if one local retailer is pet friendly, it does not necessarily mean that other locations of the same chain will be okay with dogs roaming their aisles.

At storefronts, check for “dogs welcome” signs, or poke your head inside and ask for permission before entering. Once inside, be acutely aware of other customers: some may actually be afraid of dogs. Be considerate and alert to their body language.

“Keep your dog close to you at all times and give fellow shoppers a wide berth,” stresses Erin Ballinger. “Move out of their way, not vice versa.”

Watch also for signs at parks and beaches. Some close entry to dogs at certain times of the year.

Be prepared

If you’ve ever taken a dog into a store, you know there are tempting items right at their eye level. That’s why it’s so important to understand your dog’s limitations, says Erin.

“If he is unaccustomed to being around strangers or can’t walk on a leash and follow commands while distracted, he is not ready for places like boutiques or department stores,” she stresses. “Start off at a chain pet store like PetSmart or Petco. Go at a low-traffic time. Work your way up to Home Depot, then aim for more challenging stores.”

It also helps to exercise your pup before you enter stores, to take the edge off your dog’s friskiness, she adds. “And don’t forget to bring poop cleanup bags. If your dog has an accident, be the one to clean it up.”

When planning to travel with a dog, have a plan for what your dog will do during the day if you are working, says Brooke Harris. “Bring a friend, or arrange in advance for a dog walker.”

Plan your visit well in advance

Be sure to always check pet policies before booking your hotel. Rules can vary: some only accept small dogs; others have rules in place about how many dogs you can bring and how long you can leave your dog in your room unattended.

It’s a good idea to call in advance and not just book online, so there are no surprises. Take your time if you’re travelling by car, and plan plenty of breaks for dog walks. While building the Hotel Zed in Tofino, Mandy Farmer travelled to the west coast often with her dog, and scoped out places to stop for a hike en route from Victoria.

“It allowed me to explore some great new areas, and it was much healthier for me to get out and take breaks,” she says.

Ask your hotel for suggestions of great walks or dog parks.

“We recommend the Dallas Road dog park to our guests,” says Tracey Drake.

Beaches along Dallas Road are also great fun for pups and their owners. Most hotels can also supply names of pet sitters and walkers, if necessary, and offer pet packages that include dog bowls, poop bags, treats and often dog beds.

Avoid separation anxiety

Many of us will return to the office one day in the not-so-distant future. Start to prepare for the transition now, before that day comes. The BC SPCA’s Lorie Chortyk offers these tips:

Pets crave routine. Transition to a routine that most closely resembles what the “new normal” will look like. “Set up a schedule for walks, feeding, playing and other activities that will be happening when you return to work, so your pet has a chance to adjust,” she says.

Start by leaving the house for short periods of time—even if it’s just for a few minutes. “This helps your pet realize that even when you leave, you always return, which reduces their anxiety,” says Lorie.

Make sure you have lots of interactive toys, like Kongs, snuffle mats and other items on hand to keep your pet occupied when you are gone. “Create a space for them with a comfy bed and all their favourite toys so they have a calming, safe space while you are out.”

Finally, be patient: “Transitions take time, but your pet will adjust to the ‘new normal’ with your help.”

Resources:

BC SPCA AnimalKind program

This program accredits dog trainers who are committed to positive, humane training methods. If you need help with your pet, you can find an accredited trainer at animalkind.ca.

BringFido.com

This handy website is searchable by location, and provides information about dog-friendly restaurants, attractions,

accommodations and retail stores: bringfido.com

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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