It used to be that the only businesses where dog parents could be totally certain that their furry family members were welcome were pet stores like PetSmart and Petco.
Back then, walking into a store and seeing a pudgy pug or drooly dalmatian was a novelty. You kept waiting for someone to notice that there was a dog in the store and ruin the fun.
Lately, Wichita businesses are starting to follow the lead of more pet-friendly parts of the country and are relaxing their policies on canine customers. Though nearly all businesses welcome service dogs, regular old pets haven’t always received such a warm welcome.
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But just in the past year, Lowe’s, which has three home improvement stores in the area, officially announced that it was turning into a dog-friendly store and dropping the requirement that dog visitors had to be assistance or therapy dogs. Other national chains also allow dogs in their stores, and some on the list are surprising: Clothing store Old Navy, home goods retailer Bed Bath & Beyond, and home decor store Pottery Barn.
Even at stores where the official policy allows only service animals, employees say they look the other way, which explains why you’re seeing more dogs in stores like Home Depot, Target and Banana Republic.
Local businesses are joining in, too. A year ago, Wichita got its first dog-friendly restaurant — Fetch Bistro at 7718 E. 37th St. North — where dogs are not only invited inside but can order food from a canine-friendly menu. And in the middle of last season, the Starlite Drive-In’s new owner announced that well-behaved dogs were welcome to accompany their families to the movies.
“I just love dogs,” said Starlite owner Chuck Bucinski, who took over the Starlite last year after running the Holiday Twin Drive-In in Fort Collins, Colo. “My old drive-in I used to manage allowed pets, and we never had any incidents.”
Dogs are a part of daily life in many European countries, where no one even notices a dog resting quietly under a cafe table. And on the coasts of the United States, pet-friendly businesses also have become more common.
But the trend has been slow to take hold in this part of the country, something Greg and Pamela Buss — who previously owned Egg Create Cafe at 8606 W. 13th St. — noted when they decided to open their Fetch Bistro.
The couple, who have two standard poodles named Chuck and Soloman, like to travel with their dogs and wondered why the United States wasn’t as open to dogs in businesses as places like Germany, England and Japan. They were always trying to find a restaurant in Wichita where they could take their boys but found that most didn’t allow dogs past the patio.
They envisioned a dog-themed restaurant and were surprised when the health department cleared them to allow pets in their new restaurant.
The only hiccup so far, Buss said, is that some people seem confused about their business, assuming that it’s a pet treat store instead of a restaurant. But those who do get it love it, he said, and the restaurant is frequently home to big doggie birthday parties, complete with cake, canine guests and doggie bone party favors. Dog lovers travel from all over the state to dine at Fetch with their fur babies, he said.
“Being a restaurant owner and having a restaurant without dogs and one with dogs, there’s just something about having dogs around,” he said. “If you get really stressed, to go and pet a dog for just a minute or two, there’s something soothing about having them around. I can just feel my blood pressure go down. It’s saved me a few times.”
Of course, not everyone is thrilled with these pro-pet policies.
Buss and Bucinski both said they’ve heard from customers who didn’t like seeing dogs in their businesses. But most of them weren’t actually in the businesses noticing the dogs. They were calling or messaging from home to register their disapproval.
The same is true at the Lowe’s at 333 S. Ridge Road, where human resources manager Kristen Brown said she’s never had a problem in the store with pets. She couldn’t even think of an instance where her staff has had to clean up an accident.
“There are people that maybe are not as receptive to the idea, but those are few and far between,” she said.
Overall, she said, allowing dogs opens Lowe’s up to a new demographic of customers — people whose dogs are their companions and who want their companions with them at all times.
Most of the canine customers she encounters are not only well-behaved but also downright adorable.
“They’re on leashes or harnesses, or they put them in their shopping carts and just kind of push them around,” she said. “It’s actually kind of cute. When you see a cute dog come in, it’s hard not to kind of smile.”
Earlier this week, Wichitan Ginny Hayes zipped into Lowe’s over the lunch hour to pick up bungee cords, and she had her 2-year-old German shepherd Greta with her, on a leash.
Hayes said she takes Greta everywhere, even to stores where she’s not 100 percent sure about the official policy. No one has ever asked them to leave, she said.
She was frustrated this summer when she took Greta on an RV trip across the country and found that her dog wasn’t welcome in some of the national parks or on their hiking trails.
Dog-friendly stores earn her loyalty.
“People many times have told me they’d rather allow dogs in the store than kids,” she said with a laugh.
Stores that allow dogs inside
Nearly all local and national pet stores allow dogs. Most restaurants and breweries with outdoor patios allow them there. And nearly all businesses that allow pets require that they are well-behaved and leashed.
Here are some dog-friendly stores you might not know about. If you know of others, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add them to the list.
Lowe’s, 333 S. Ridge Road, 11959 E. Kellogg, 2626 N. Maize Road: The national home improvement store clarified its dog policy last year. It now reads, “Well-behaved, leashed, harnessed or carried service animals and pets are welcome in all U.S. Lowe’s stores. Pet owners are responsible for the actions of their pets.”
Pottery Barn, 2040 N. Rock Road: The store, which has a Wichita location in Bradley Fair, 21st and Rock, allows pets.
Old Navy, 2441 N. Maize Road: The clothing store has an “open-door policy” to pets, said a Wichita employee. The Old Navy in Towne East follows the mall’s policy and allows only service animals.
Bed, Bath & Beyond, 2750 N. Greenwich, 2441 N. Maize Road: Lots of customers cart little dogs around in their baskets, a local employee said.
Academy Sports, 2540 N. Greenwich, 2710 N. Maize Road
Fetch Bistro, 7718 E. 37th St. North
Star Lumber, 325 S. West St.
Espresso to Go Go, 102 S. St. Francis, 120 E. First St.
86 Cold Press, 612 E. Douglas
Johnson’s Garden Center, 2707 W. 13th St., 6225 E. Shadybrook
The Workroom, 150 N. Cleveland
Central Standard Brewing, 156 S. Greenwich
Hopping Gnome Brewing, 1710 E. Douglas
Starlite Drive-In, 3900 S. Hydraulic