Dog-friendly business model catching on in SF

November 27, 2009 7:37:34 PM PST
The San Francisco Bay Area is considered one of the most pet-friendly places in the United States and a growing number of businesses are finding they can reach out to customers by reaching out to their dogs.

The "Fido Factor" seems to be paying off.

Sugar is a dog of discerning taste. Even if she cannot take a sip, she knows a good wine when she sees it. She and other canine connoisseurs recently gathered with their owners at, the aptly named, Mutt Lynch Winery in Healdsburg.

The winery does its marketing a little differently.

"We've gotten very involved philanthropically with a lot of dog organizations," explained Brenda Lynch. "Instead of running ads and sending our wines into a lot of competitions that actually cost a lot of money, we are giving that money back to different communities all across the U.S.A."

Mutt Lynch Winery participates in a wide variety of fundraising events for animal shelters and they always welcome dogs to their tasting parties. Their dog-focused attitude attracted a lot of the customers who attended the recent event.

Aaron Agustine took her dog, Lilly.

"Every chance I get, I'll take her wherever I can," she told ABC7.

Gary Worrell was on a road trip with his dog. He only goes places his dog can go too.

"It's really important to me because it's just the two of us traveling together and I don't want to leave her in my motor home all day," he said.

It is not always easy to figure out where it is okay to take your dog, but now there is a website to help. It is called the "Fido Factor" and it is filled with lists of dog-friendly businesses.

There is information about things like leash requirements, water bowls, and whether they give dog treats. Users can also write their own reviews of dog-friendly businesses and every time they do, the website makes a donation to the SPCA. There is also an iPhone app so people can find dog-loving businesses wherever they are.

ABC7 met with Justin O'Neill, one of the founders of Fido Factor, at Spikes, a cafe in San Francisco that welcomes dogs. He says there is a discernible profile to a typical business that makes it "dog friendly."

"It runs the gamut," he explained. "It really is more about the customer service aspect rather than the style of business they provide."

Fido Factor has teamed up with the San Francisco SPCA to offer tips about taking dogs in public. They discourage tying dogs outside businesses because it can make them anxious. O'Neill also cited the possible danger to people walking by saying, "Dogs that are normally friendly can oftentimes become slightly aggressive if they are left outside and they're approached."

O'Neill says a lot of people do not realize how many businesses will actually let dogs in. ABC7 wanted to check out a few dog-friendly businesses around town, so we brought a little test dog named Geronimo who is 10 years old, completely blind, but really sweet and available for adoption. His first stop was Union Square, where he met his buddy, Buddah. Then, it was off to Tiffany's.

Tiffany's Sales Managers George O'Connor explained, "Our clients' canine companions are very much a part of their family, so we welcome them."

It turns out, not everything in the blue boxes at Tiffany's is for people. They actually have several dog products. The manager was so taken with Geronimo he offered a gift to the person who adopts him.

"We would like to provide his new owner or family with a custom engraved Tiffany tag or necklace, so he can have that little bit of Tiffany style," O'Connor said.

The next stop was Sports Basement in San Francisco, South of Market. Geronimo did just fine there and there were plenty of other canine customers. Dogs bring in business.

"Occasionally there will be some barking, but for the most part the dogs get along," said Randy Calderone. "And, every now and then there will be a little mess to clean up somewhere, but I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons."

Finally, during our day on the town, ABC7 visited a gift shop called "Under One Roof" in the Castro. There is a water bowl outside there and that is not the only attraction for the regular four-legged clientele.

"We see a lot of dogs who walk by and drag their people in because they know there's biscuits," said Beth Goldestein.

All the businesses we visited agreed that most dog owners are pretty responsible about only bringing well-behaved animals to shop, and a lot of customers said that whenever possible, they choose a dog-friendly establishment.

"I can sneak him in to some places, but I prefer not to sneak him in," said customer Suzanne Artemoff. "I prefer to take him to places where he is welcome."

ABC7's tester dog Geronimo is available for adoption from Muttville, a rescue group that specializes in older dogs.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

LINK: To adopt Geronimo put his name in the search box on this page


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