First off, I don't have a 'pet', nor do I 'own' a dog. We have a Sheltie who is as much a part of our family as any other member. To be honest, she's quite near the top of the family pecking order.
Now I know that there's plenty of people who think statements like that make me sound a little crazy, like I prefer animals to humans, or some other lazy 'bunny-hugging' stereotype. In fact, as more and more people of all ages invite animals into their lives, that stereotype is unraveling, but not fast enough for me. Especially when it comes to looking for dog friendly restaurants - one of my many niggling peeves in life.
Lets think about the absurdity of the following scenario for a moment. I want to go out for dinner, so I call a restaurant to make a reservation - now by virtue of the fact that I have to call to book a table tells you something about the price of the restaurant. I'm not necessarily saying that its the Four Seasons, but nor are we talking about a bucket of chicken wings. I want to spend some money here, and more than that, I've made the effort to locate a telephone number, I've dialled it, I've held my breath in hopeful anticipation that they'll have a table when I need it, and all this because I want to enjoy a nice meal without having to do the washing up afterwards. To now, I've done all the leg work in this transaction. So when I ask, 'you're dog-friendly, right?' I'm always amazed to hear a reply in the negative. (By the way, I always phrase the question in just that way, 'you're dog-friendly, right?' I never ask, 'are dogs allowed in your restaurant?' The reason for choosing this particular turn of phrase is that if for some inexplicable reason, they are not, I want to force them to admit it, to admit that they are, in some part, an 'unfriendly' establishment.)
You might ask, why is this absurd? After all, it's not hygienic to bring animals into a place where food is served, right? What if other diners are afraid of dogs? What if your dogs cause a nuisance? Isn't it reasonable for a restaurant to side step all that hassle? Well let's take a closer look at each of these concerns one by one, and then let's re-evaluate the pros and cons.
Until recently, you could smoke in every restaurant, bar and grill on earth - so let's get a little perspective here. In terms of health and hygiene, a Shetland Sheepdog under my table is not going to give you cancer, and as far as I'm aware there is no bacterial umbilical link between the floor around my feet and the work surfaces used to prepare food. So let's just stop that argument now.
What if other customers are afraid of dogs? Ok, that seems fair, because I don't want to intimidate anyone, ever. But let's stop and think for a moment: who do you know who is actually afraid of dogs? How many normal functioning adults (who like to go to restaurants where you need to make a reservation) are chronic dogophobes? One in a hundred? One in thousand? One in ten thousand? I'd say there are more people with deadly food allergies than there are people scared of dogs. But we're missing a more basic point here, why would I book a table at a restaurant and bring a dog who is not well socialised and obedient? If I have a Bull Mastiff, Great Dane, Rottweiler or German Shepherd of course they're not invited, that's bleeding obvious. I'd say, the odds of anyone bringing a badly behaved or intimidating dog to a restaurant are lower than choking to death on a fish bone, something we should all be afraid of.
Personally there are only three things that can ruin a restaurant experience for me: 1) Hen parties and Stag groups or that sort of rowdy gathering. We've all been there. It's awful. I'll say no more. I'm struggling to remember if I've ever seen a rowdy gang of drunk dogs abusing waiting staff and machine-gunning offensive expletives for all to endure. When I next reserve a table, maybe I should ask, 'are you drunk and rowdy friendly?'. 2) Loud live music. This is a personal thing, I love music and I love live music, it's just sometimes they get the volume a little wrong. I'm hard of hearing, so it's a real buzz kill for me. Finally, and please don't judge me: 3) Children. Not all children. And I don't even mind crying babies (I love babies). I'm talking about those kids who are hyped up on God knows what additive and attack the restaurant as if it's a military obstacle course. Perhaps, next time, I should ask, 'what's your policy on parent-child discipline?'
Let me digress for a moment to make my point anthropologically clear. Humans domesticated dogs some 20,000 years ago. Since then they've never left our side. For millennia they've been bred to become ever more loyal and increasingly keen to please their masters. Every single year more and more of us are adopting dogs, and right now, the rise of pet parenting is one of the most significant global consumer trends.
Perhaps I'm biased, but I'd say that someone who calls up to ask, 'are you dog-friendly?', is almost certainly going to be your ideal customer: mature, considerate, cash in pocket and loyal to places with good service - no trouble, but a pleasure.
So, when I next ask if you're dog friendly why not reply with, 'Of course! As long as your dog is well socialised and calm in a busy restaurant'. To which I'll say, 'Of course! And please can I be seated away from any rowdy, drunk parents with unmanageable kids'.