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Business Feature

Gone to the dogs

3/3/2021

Sierra Walton couldn’t bear to leave her dog, Keystone, home alone, so he has become a regular at Lenz
Heating & Cooling.

For those of us who grew up with “Lassie,” the beloved Timmy-saving Collie, our pet dogs were wonderful companions, even part of the family. We took them for walks and occasional car rides. They greeted us at the door when we got home. If they were really “spoiled,” they got away with sleeping on the couch or even at the foot of the bed. But loved as they were, Spot and Champ were still “dogs.”

In recent years, however, the pet dog has been elevated to a new, elevated status: “fur baby.” And, like little bundles of joy we bring home from the maternity ward, they are now often affectionately hovered over and catered to. They have comfy beds of their own, gourmet food available in the refrigerated aisle, and stores full of toys, hair-care products and fashions devoted entirely to them. We can’t leave our little ones — human or canine — home alone. We can now take outings designed for the fun of our pet. After a stop at one of a growing number of pet-product stores for Buster to pick out a toy all on his own, we are off to one of many dog parks popping up in the metro or a walk along the trails.

Today, our pets are closer to our hearts — and more often at our sides — than ever.

And businesses have taken notice.

Prep Iowa

Dogs welcome

Business owners know that more of their customers have a dog in tow these days, and, if they want those customers to frequent their establishments, they better not expect Princess to be left in a hot car or tied to a post out front.

“We recognize that a lot of our customers swing through Eden with a coffee in hand while they are out walking their pets,” says Hannah Krause, owner of Eden, 418 E. Sixth St., Des Moines. “Being pet friendly feels like a customer-first policy, and we happen to love animals, so it’s a win-win, in our books.”

Eden is just one of the many companies listed as “pet friendly” on the Animal Rescue League website. Businesses can be added to the list to let customers know they welcome pets. Midwest Wheel Companies, 1436 E. Ovid, Des Moines, is also on the list.

“Our motto is we’re nothing without customers, so we want them to feel comfortable. If they bring pets, we’re glad to pet them,” says Jerry Bender, branch manager. “Especially in the trucking industry, a lot of them have pets.” He adds, it seems more customers are bringing pets with them than in the past.

“We are very old fashioned in the way we treat customers,” says Bender, adding that the company is family owned and in its fifth generation. So having pets tagging along with their owners seems a natural part of business.

Inevitably, restaurants and bars with outdoor seating attract dog-walkers, and with many such establishments located along the trail system, word gets around about which have dog-friendly patios. Some, such as Sully’s Irish Pub, 860 First St., West Des Moines, make a point of emphasizing their “dog-friendly covered patio” on their website.

Confluence Brewing Company, 1235 Thomas Beck Road, Des Moines, also makes a point of informing dog owners that their canine is welcome on the deck and in the beer garden — if they behave.

Lucy, owned by Brian Dresback, manager of Christopher’s Rare Coins, is popular with most customers. But, when customers who don’t like dogs
are present, Lucy stays in the back room.

Gazali’s Gyros and Mediterranean Specialties, 1205 25th St., Des Moines, not only welcomes dogs at its outdoor seating but goes further by offering a “Furry Tails” menu. Owner MJ Gazali is a self-proclaimed animal lover who makes sure birds and squirrels get fed, so naturally he wants to make sure that no dog — or owner — leaves his restaurant hungry.

While many locals and their dogs are regular customers, Gazali also attracts travelers looking for a dog-friendly place to eat. He says pet owners find his business through the Bring Fido app, which shares information on pet-friendly businesses of all kinds.

“Honestly, we have a 5-bone rating. You can read the reviews,” he says. And, indeed, his business has nabbed the highest rating on the app and reviewers express appreciation for being able to enjoy a delicious meal while also providing for their dogs.

Gazali says his restaurant will be moving to a new location next to two dog-related businesses, so the prospect of seeing more dogs is a
definite plus, he says.

Dog on the premises

Customers aren’t the only ones who hate to leave their dogs at home. Business owners and employees do as well. Some have found it possible to have their dogs at work — to not only their benefit, but to the benefit of others as well.

David and Denise Rairdin, owners of University Vacuum and Sewing, 5739 University Ave., Des Moines, have had dogs in their shop for years.

“It started with Missy. She was so tiny, we didn’t want to leave her at home,” says Denise. Missy was joined by Abby, now 9, the pet dog of Eric, an employee. Missy died at age 14 and the Rairdins have recently gotten another dog, Lola, a mini golden doodle, which now comes to the shop. She is 2 months old. Customers love the dogs, Denise says.

“People bring treats and stop by just to see them,” she says. “We love it.”

Staff members also benefit, she says. “If I’m having a stressful day, I can pick them up,” she says. “There are no minuses.”

Keystone, named after a favorite family vacation spot, keeps customers and staff happy at Lenz Heating & Cooling, 7641 Douglas Ave., Urbandale, says Sierra Walton, office manager. Keystone joined Walton at work as soon as she got him. “I couldn’t stay away from him,” she says.

“I asked the boss if it was OK and he said OK, as long as he behaved. He hasn’t been fired yet,” she laughs.

Walton says customers like to pet Keystone, as do co-workers when they stop by the office. Delivery drivers often bring him treats. If he doesn’t come to work, he is missed.

“It’s a nice little de-stressor to play with him and hold him,” she says. “His role is to keep us a little sane in here.”

One place where a little de-stressing never hurts is the dentist’s office, and Dr. James Elliott at Winterset Dental, 301 Wambold Drive, Winterset, says his dog, Shadow, an aussie doodle, provides just that — for patients and staff.

“I saw the immediate impact it has had in my practice. She brings smiles to everyone,” says Elliott. “Kids give her treats and adults scratch behind her ears. It takes the tension out of the office.”

Customers at Christopher’s Rare Coins, 8671 Northpark Court, Johnston, look forward to seeing Lucy, an 11-month-old lab/shepherd/hound/retriever mix, says Brian Dresback, manager.

“Some come in just to see her and end up buying something,” he says.

Not only do customers enjoy seeing the dog, but his co-workers do as well, he says.

“They love her. She’s a real stress reliever. She lightens the mood,” he says. “There’s not really a downside. The kids like to play with her, and a lot of regulars look forward to seeing her.”

Issues to address

Abby and Lola are great de-stressors at University Vacuum and Sewing, owned by David and Denise Rairdin.

Not every employee is happy to have a pet in the office, and Business News Daily suggests that current employees be brought into the discussion before a pet is brought into the office and that their concerns be addressed. Some may have allergies or other concerns that could raise legal issues or that would ultimately “bring tension” into the workplace, which would outweigh any benefits.

The pet must also be a good fit for the work environment.

Many of those who bring their dogs to work agree that the arrangement would not work with every dog. The dog must have the right temperament. If the dog were to injure anyone, the dog’s owner as well as the business owner could be liable. If the dog is too energetic or often seeking attention, it can become a distraction and make staff less productive.

If the dog does have the right temperament, it should still be properly trained not to jump on people, to be content when not getting attention, and not to bark.

Elliott says he would not have Shadow in his dental office if he weren’t sure of her temperament and training.

“She had a great demeanor, and I got her trained early,” he says. “She was trained early to mind her puppy manners. If she wasn’t trained, I wouldn’t bring her into the office.”

Dr. James Elliott made sure his dog, Shadow, had the right temperament and training to be in the office.

“We train them to get used to people and not to jump on people,” says Denise Rairdin of the two dogs at her business. They are also trained not to go out the door when it is opened.

“They have to be well trained to work in a business,” she says.

Customers’ comfort must also be taken into account. Not all people like dogs.

“We do have the occasional person who doesn’t like dogs, but then we put the dogs in the back,” says Rairdin, adding that they train the dogs so they are used to being in the back room when necessary.

Cultural differences also need to be taken into account. Some cultures view dogs as “filthy” or dangerous, says Dresback. Lucy goes into the back room if a customer is not comfortable with her.

Ultimately, a business must consider all the pros and cons of the specific workplace, attitudes of staff members, training and demeanor of the dog, liability issues and customer service before making Fido part of the team. The bottom line is usually the bottom line — the profitability and productivity of the workplace.

Dresback sums it up: “I have to make sure customers come first.” ♦

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