With more retailers welcoming pets, our reporter ventures out with her puppy Calisto to see if we really are a nation of animal lovers.
It’s a Saturday morning and I’m crammed into a small changing room, attempting to try on a new pair of trousers. It’s always a struggle with the multiple layers of autumnal clothing, and I’m even more flustered than usual. Because also crammed into the tiny space is a large dog, giving me a quizzical look and clearly wondering if this is the start of a new game. She quickly decides, yes, yes it is.
Dog ownership is booming. According to Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, there are 12.5m dogs in the UK this year, with 33% of households having a canine companion, while the Kennel Club is among the charities and organisations that have reported a surge in puppy ownership during the Covid pandemic.
It seems that the high street is taking note. While assistance dogs have the right to enter most premises, some businesses have welcomed regular canines for years, including various independent shops, cafes and pubs as well as big names from Hobbycraft to – where possible – Apple stores, Oliver Bonas and Cath Kidston.
Others are newer recruits. John Lewis began allowing non-assistance dogs into its stores in 2019 while Wilko has been trialling the approach in four branches since July, as a “direct result of customer comments and feedback”, a spokesperson tells me.
And the new director of Eastbourne’s Beacon shopping centre has just announced that dogs on leads are welcome, describing its previous ban as “unnecessary and antiquated”.
According to dogfriendly.co.uk, by this summer there were around 2,300 British retailers listed on its database that allow dogs into their shops – a 10% rise on the previous year. But just how dog friendly are shops really, and what happens if something goes wrong?
Cambridge is one city with an apparent plethora of dog-friendly shops, so my canine companion – Calisto, a flat-coated retriever – and I have decided to pay a visit.
Still a puppy, she’s always up for a new experience, while for me it is more about practicalities. With dog theft on the rise, it would be unwise to leave her outside stores, while being able to pop into a shop on the way home from a walk is nothing if not handy. Besides, a dog is part of the family, not an optional extra.
Our first stop is Seasalt Cornwall – a chain of clothing stores across the UK, all of which welcome dogs. Slurping at a bowl of water outside the shop, Calisto is already impressed.
Inside, the staff seem genuinely pleased to see a puppy, while Calisto – clearly excited by the racks of garments – is fascinated. She sits quietly while I browse through patterned tops, before playing peek-a-boo behind a tunic. But the sock display is just too tempting, and as I hold up a pair, she starts tugging at the toe. Fortunately, we have been practising “drop it”, but I had not imagined needing it for a tussle over hosiery.
A pair of trousers catches my eye – can we, should we, attempt it? Going for broke, I take Calisto into the changing room. Her feathery tail pokes out under the curtain. As I am halfway dressed, she decides she’d like to help, then pounces on a receipt left by another shopper.
A small scuffle later, in which nose, paws and tail make sporadic escapes from the cubicle, and we are back on the street – minus the trousers, which escaped unscathed, but plus a £6.50 pair of socks that, covered in puppy saliva, were too revolting to tuck back on the stand.
Also on Trinity Street is Heffers – a Cambridge institution that has been selling books since 1876 and is now part of the Blackwell’s group.
Sarah Whyley, department manager of the literature section, says the number of customers bringing dogs into the store has risen but there hasn’t been one memorable canine disaster in all her years there, not even a shredded book.
What about puddles? “There would probably be more of those in the children’s department,” she says. The store, she adds, has its own canine – a guide dog that comes to work with a member of staff. “He quietly sits with his toys under her desk,” Whyley says.
Given that Calisto is surrounded by bookshelves at home, this one, I think, will be a doddle. And it is – to start with. She calmly walks past shelf upon shelf. But just as I go to pick up a tome, Calisto finds one too. Lying on the floor, presumably dropped by another browser, is a tiny book of war poetry. Before I realise it Calisto does battle, and the tiny book is left for dead.
Mortified, I head for the counter and sheepishly explain the skirmish, reaching for my wallet. But rather than a telling-off and bill for £3.99, I’m given an enormous smile. “When we let dogs into the shop it is a risk we take with having them in, and we like to have them in, so it’s absolutely fine,” says the sales assistant behind the till.
Our final stop – and possibly the greatest challenge yet – is Modish, an independent shoe shop on Green Street. I have left it until last because, quite frankly, Calisto loves shoes. More specifically, she loves trying out her new teeth on the laces of my partner’s trainers. But, perhaps because the shoes are all new, Calisto is an angel. Apart from attempting to snaffle a used pop-sock she patiently sits and sniffs while I try on a pair of trainers.
Sarah Decent, owner of the shop, tells me she, too, has yet to have a doggy nightmare in store.
Should chaos occur, Decent is philosophical. “If a dog chewed a shoe up, I think I just have to probably take that on the chin,” she says. It’s a sentiment I find, perhaps surprisingly, echoed in several other stores.
After a morning of shopping, it seems that many stores not only welcome pooches, they positively love them, willing to both overlook unfortunate incidents and embrace an unexpected smackeroo.
Looking down at a wagging tail, it seems Calisto and I are of one mind: dog-friendly shops are a howling success.
(Article source: The Guardian)