Your retriever was once relegated to your backyard–and very occasionally, the back seat. But now, dogs are welcome at hotels and restaurants, hospitals and airports, even college campuses during finals. It’s a dog’s world–and we may all be better off as a result.
By Paula Riley
America has gone to the dogs. Roughly 77 million of them and counting. They’re everywhere, from accompanying the neighborhood “walking bus” of school kids to riding in the sidecar of a Harley. They even rate a prime-time television broadcast each February that showcases hundreds of purebreds—the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. And no offense to Rumor the German shepherd, this year’s Westminster winner, but America’s love affair with dogs also includes mixed-breed, Heinz 57, garden-variety types that are widely valued for their everyday smarts and adaptability.
Ever notice that dogs are equal opportunity creatures? Work is play, and play is work, with joy to be found in each. A popular children’s story claims that if you give a mouse a cookie, it will want a glass of milk. Well, if you give a dog a job, it will ask for more hours. You won’t find a canine holding out for espresso privileges or free dry cleaning. No technology upgrades required or double pay for holidays. Just a bowl of fresh water in the corner and maybe a couple of those liver-flavored training treats.
So how did dogs become such sociable workaholics? Early tribe-friendly dogs are thought by some researchers (archaeozoologist Susan Crockford, for one) to have evolved from the smallest, most-curious, least-aggressive wolves. They may have “domesticated themselves,” Crockford says, and somewhere in the process were assigned a magical, spiritual role (there go humans again, adding magic to the mix). And these smart wolves, of course, aligned themselves with the upright creatures who shared scraps and were handy with fire and tools.
We are still sharing scraps—plus homes, yards, automobiles, and sometimes sofas and beds, ample evidence that many of us think dogs are people too. Even if they’re not, canis lupus familiaris have long worked with humans in roles suited to their considerable canine skills—herding, hunting and standing sentry over livestock and property. That is still true today, although modern dogs are performing ever more complex jobs, and as a result, are increasingly told to stay—right by our side, of course.
AT YOUR SERVICE
Service dogs are trained for specific tasks that improve human lives through direct assistance. Think wounded warriors, disabled citizens and people with cognitive or sensory impairment. There are military, police, search and rescue, and cadaver dogs too, each assuming the same or greater risks as their handlers. These dogs are laser-focused on duty and loyal to the core. They can sniff out drugs, explosives and contraband foods carried by air passengers. Some even outperform medical technology by detecting air molecules related to blood sugar spikes in at-risk people.
Then there’s the brand of comfort provided by therapy dogs. Calm and uber-friendly by nature, they accompany their human partners to many public places: hospitals, libraries, airports, senior and adult care residences, schools and universities, courthouses, and mental health facilities. For example, Paws 4 Love, founded in 1996, provides therapy dogs via 118 members in Nevada’s Washoe, Churchill and Storey counties. Their dogs range from Chihuahua to Leonberger, and everything in between, providing reassurance at more than 50 locations, as well as Washoe County schools. They are also crisis responders.
Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, has been shown to provide a calming effect, reduce the need for pain medication, and reduce stress and anxiety for hospitalized patients. As a result, many hospitals and senior living centers open their doors—and their arms—to these teams on a regular basis. Therapy dogs are the ones wearing invisible signs that read “Pet me!”
Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, says, “A pet is a medication without side effects…I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.” Officials at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, which has welcomed therapy dogs since 1997, agree. “Therapy dogs have a huge impact,” says Meghan Meagher, director of volunteer services. “Not just on our patients but visitors and staff as well—(and) all ages benefit.”
When dogs aren’t hunting or herding or fetching, some participate in the “Take Your Dog to Work” movement, launched in 1996 by Pet Sitters International to promote dogs as companions and incite pet adoptions. (Friday, June 23, is this year’s designated day to take Buddy, Fido, Fifi, Bella or Gordo with you to the office, the warehouse or the shop.)
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 7 percent of U.S. employers allow pets at work on a regular basis. Benefits reportedly include stress reduction, a better workplace environment, increased productivity and increased employee retention. Perhaps best of all: Your four-legged friend will not post your third coffee break of the day on Instagram.
Guidelines for shaping dog-friendly workplaces are easy to come by. For example, CIO.com recommends that businesses set policies to ensure the happy and peaceful co-existence of staff and pets. Rules might include:
- Specific pet days and/or pet-free work zones, as well as careful consideration of allergic or fearful employees.
- Dogs should be flea-free and house-trained, well-behaved, familiar with indoor environments, and kept leashed or in an enclosed work area/cubicle.
- Pet-proofing a work area might include putting tops on trash bins and securing electrical cords.
- Some companies exempt pets from conference rooms, restrooms and cafeterias, or areas where clients meet.
LAKE TAHOE AREA
- Brockway Bakery, Kings Beach, CA
- Auld Dubliner, The Village at Squaw Valley, Olympic Valley, CA
- PlumpJack Cafe, Olympic Valley, CA
- The Squeeze In, Truckee, CA
- Moody’s, Truckee, CA
- Blue Angel Café, South Lake Tahoe, CA
- Café at Adele’s, Carson City, NV
- Comma Coffee, Carson City, NV
- Wild River Grille, Reno, NV
- Stone House Cafe, Reno, NV
- Great Full Gardens, Reno, NV
- Laughing Planet, Reno, NV
- 4th Street Bistro, Reno, NV
- Summer Thyme’s Bakery & Deli, Grass Valley, CA
- Matteo’s Public, Nevada City, CA
- Awful Annie’s, Lincoln, CA
- Katrina’s Café, Auburn, CA
- Blue Cow Deli, Penn Valley, CA
- Sweetie Pie’s, Placerville, CA
- Campo Mammoth, Mammoth Lakes, CA
- Side Door Café, Mammoth Lakes, CA
- Stellar Brew, Mammoth Lakes, CA
- Mountain Rambler Brewery, Bishop, CA
- Yosemite Wine Tails, Oakhurst, CA
When was the last time you chose a restaurant based on whether Lucy could go along—your golden retriever, Lucy? Was it last week? Yesterday? If so, you’re not alone. It seems like there’s almost no place you can’t take your best friend.
Warm days and evenings are perfect for patronizing cafes with outdoor seating, and many restaurants with patios welcome customers with pets in tow. When dining out with Buddy, ask in advance whether dogs are allowed. Use a leash and keep your dog close (tethered to a table leg is best) and bring a doggie bowl for water.
And of course there are oodles of plein-air places to walk, hike, boat, ride and stay overnight (whether local or on the road, always carry clean-up bags). Pointing the way to these locations are online sites such as dogfriendly.com, bringfido.com and gopetfriendly.com.
Vacation travel sites like Expedia provide filters for choosing pet-friendly accommodations and will note extra fees, if any. Sierra-Nevada-specific sites include petslovetahoe.com, redwoodsinyosemite.com and allmammothlodging.com. There are also certain locales—such as Nevada City—where nearly all lodging welcomes you and your dog (Broad Street Inn, Outside Inn and Nevada City Inn, to name a few).
Traveling with Benjy also means being prepared to locate the nearest pet hospital or employ a bit of your own first aid knowledge. Peggy Rew, a Reno-based American Red Cross pet first aid instructor, says dogs shouldn’t be fed people food other than carrots, string beans or strawberries. Lingering in settings with shade is in; left unattended in hot autos is out. ARC Pet First Aid classes teach owners to troubleshoot simple difficulties and how to remedy bigger challenges for their canines—the better to work, play, dine, travel, sightsee, sunbathe, comfort, compete, strike a pose and find the joy with each of them.
Up Close and Personal: Paws 4 Love
Donna Porria is more than a dog owner or a dog boss. She’s a “teammate” to two Cavalier King Charles spaniels who, courtesy of Paws 4 Love, deliver comfort to Reno-Sparks area residents in need. A 10-year veteran of the dog therapy program, Porria also assesses the fitness of such teams for the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization dedicated to assuring quality services delivered by dog therapy teams.
Paws 4 Love dogs, about half of which are rescue animals, are volunteers, paid in hugs, belly rubs and radiant smiles. Porria claims her motivation is simple: “The reason we do it is to serve the community.” That rings true, of course, but additional rationale eventually comes to light. “I acquired a young dog and it just struck me how friendly he was—he just loved everyone,” she says. “It’s almost a crime not to do something (with) that trait.”
Arriving at a therapy assignment, Porria explains why she’s come and what she’s doing. If that’s a hospital setting, she says, “no matter how sick they are, the first thing they see is the dog, and that puts a smile on their face.”
Heartwarming stories from Porria abound. In a local locked psychiatric unit, for example, one patient got out of his chair, fell to his knees, and cried when he saw her arrive with her dog. When her dog licked the man’s cheek, his response was, “Oh, I feel so much better.”
Another therapy case involved a comatose child. When the volunteer dog, a Great Dane, licked the boy’s face, the boy opened his eyes. Then he spoke to the dog and his parents. Big dogs or little dogs, wherever they go, peace and comfort follow, according to Porria.
Porria reports there are never enough teams to satisfy all the therapy needs of the communities that Paws 4 Love serves, so more are needed. And her voice turns warm when she says, “This is the best thing that’s happened to me.” But she issues a warning wrapped in a promise: “Be careful—once you get started you’ll be addicted.”