More and more businesses in the Chippewa Valley are opening their doors to dogs. One writer decided to make the rounds with ‘man’s best friend’ to see what the furry fuss was about.
by Eric Rasmussen, photos by Andrea Paulseth, design by Allison Buchli
This is Monty. As far as dogs go, she’s ... OK. Actually, who am I kidding? Monty is amazing.
She’s 14 months old, and thanks to my wife’s heroic training efforts, she’s one of the best-behaved black lab adolescents you’ll ever meet. She should be done growing, which means she’s topped out at the perfect mid-sized, 50-pound stature. Her quirks are numerous and charming, from presenting us with her stuffed animals whenever we come home, to the hilarious butt-wiggle zoomies she gets around other dogs.
Whatever breakdowns there are in my “man’s best friend” expectations are all my issues, not hers. The section of the yard she has destroyed probably won’t ever recover. Her barking at guests, delivery people, and passersby resonates through my head even when she’s quiet. She’s constantly summoning me to tie her up outside, only to request re-admittance five minutes later, only to insist she needs to go back outside five minutes after that. We’ve made great strides since she was a puppy, but the transcendent bond that only occurs between a man and his dog? For that, I’m still waiting.
Earlier this summer, Volume One proposed an article chronicling the places people can take their dogs, and I saw an opportunity. Instead of continuing to sit around and wait for the canine communion I’ve been assured will come, perhaps some proactivity was in order. If Monty could help research by accompanying me to some of these spots, perhaps our bond would deepen, and I too would become a dog person. All that remained was choosing where to begin, but that was easy: Might as well start with the places that have been welcoming dogs all along.
1. THE DOG PARK + PETSMART
Dog parks are a fantastic way for a municipality to support dogs and their owners. Also, dog parks can be intimidating. Some attendees act like helicopter parents, except instead of pliable children, their meddling focuses on animals that, up until a couple thousand years ago, had evolved to be vicious hunters. Other pet enthusiasts are happier to park in camp chairs and let their canines run rampant. Dog park attendees are expected to adhere to a set of rules, but those rules aren’t always clear or universally followed. Are balls OK? Treats? If your dog gets a little feisty, when should you intervene?
Still, when it comes to getting your dog some exercise, nothing compares to a dog park. Eau Claire features three: Otter Creek Off-Leash Dog Park on the south side, Sundet Off-Leash Dog Park, north of Melby Street by the airport, and Southwest Off-Leash Dog Park, on the river past Shawtown. Chippewa Falls boasts Happy Tails Dog Park, and Menomonie canines can visit the Menomonie Dog Park. For a daily fee or an annual pass, any of these locations provides a fantastic excursion for your pets.
On an overcast August day, Monty and I (and my wife Arwen) visited Otter Creek. This wasn’t my first time, so I knew to steer Monty away from the scrum of small dogs, with whom she can sometimes play too rough. On the far side of the park we found a group of more appropriately sized playmates, and Monty took off at full speed to commence a game of chase. She did pretty well leading the pack until a gray dog with blue eyes like a White Walker overtook her. With an intensity that further indicated an undead creature from north of the Wall, this dog wouldn’t let up, which led to the sort of dog park flare-up that is all too common: barking, snapping, growling, and the fear that old pack instincts might get carried away. Luckily, the other dog owners, my wife, and I collaborated on separating our over-excited animals, and everyone left covered in each other’s doggie saliva, but otherwise unharmed.
Next we stopped at PetSmart, one of Eau Claire’s pet stores that has traditionally welcomed animals. (Actually, according the PetSmart assistant manager Stefan Alsheskie, they are happy to host the domesticated pet-type animals the store caters to, as opposed to the one time someone tried to bring in an alpaca.) While looking at leashes we met another four-legged shopper who was interested in sniffing Monty, but who growled when Monty attempted her own olfactory assessment. At this point I discovered the greatest friend of first-time dog shoppers: tile floors. Dogs can’t pull on their leashes without any traction. Next we chatted with a former colleague of mine, then stood in the checkout line with several other canines and received the customary treat from the cashier. Through all of it, Monty behaved herself.
“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in sales,” notes Alsheskie, referring to the phenomenon of animals purchased during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 to help pass the lonely hours. “We’re seeing as many animals as before in our store, but people are talking about all the other places where dogs are now welcome.” And perhaps the most surprising of these are all the non-pet-focused stores that are now welcoming your furry friends.
2. SCHEELS ALL SPORTS
Why would a retail business admit pets and the accompanying potential for accidents and aggression? It’s complicated. As society has become more accepting of service and support animals, it’s difficult for businesses to discern which creatures meet those criteria. Also, the retail sector is working hard to attract shoppers back from the internet, and creating the most accommodating atmosphere possible certainly works to their favor. The biggest reason of all, however, is best summed up by Scheels All Sports assistant manager Glen Bushbeck. “Pets play such a large role in people’s families, and we want to welcome the whole family.”
My son is playing ninth-grade football this fall, so when he needed something called a “football girdle,” I saw the perfect opportunity for Monty and me to complete our next outing. At first, bringing Monty into Scheels felt strange. As she sought to sniff the other customers around us, it become obvious that not everyone likes dogs. One fellow shopper asked, “Are dogs even allowed in here?” with a tone that indicated more accusation than inquisitiveness. But after my son found the equipment he needed and we grabbed a few other items, all such trepidation faded. No doubt, bringing Monty along made the errand less comfortable than if I had gone alone. But someday, when I’m a little more confident in her social abilities, I can see how a companion would make shopping more exciting. And Monty enjoyed some minor celebrity status, until someone else came in carrying a brand-new puppy, at which point Monty’s star dimmed considerably.
In addition to Scheels, numerous other retailers around the Chippewa Valley welcome pets. Some, like Scheels, are unabashed in their support of the animals we love. Fleet Farm features little clean-up stations around the store, should an animal guest have an accident, and other establishments like Farm & Fleet, Joann Fabrics, and Michaels are quick to point out that they welcome all pets, not just dogs, up to a certain size and type (best call ahead for any alpaca visits). Other establishments, like Home Goods and TJ Maxx, explain that their preference is for service and support animals, but since they don’t require proof, all well-behaved creature companions are welcome.
As more businesses join the trend of welcoming animals, it’s important to confirm ahead of time if your pet is allowed, even at places you may have heard are pet-friendly. And as for other points of etiquette when it comes to taking your dog out in public, Monty and I had our next excursion all lined up.
3. LAZY MONK BREWING
So far, my adventures with Monty had been fun … for me. But what about her? If insights into a dog’s mind are required, few in the Chippewa Valley can offer more expertise than Heather Mishefske, owner of emBARK in Eau Claire, which offers dog day care, behavior classes, grooming, and other canine-related services. Heather agreed to meet Monty and me at a brewery, and prior to her arrival I asked Monty, as nicely as I could, to please cooperate. Once again, she was happy to oblige. I found a seat at one of the long tables at Lazy Monk Brewing in Eau Claire, and Monty plunked down on her mat next to me.
Still, I was on edge, and after Heather arrived, that led to my initial question. What’s the first thing a dog owner should consider before bringing their hound out into the world?
“You have to identify, does your dog enjoy this space?” explained Heather. “Are you bringing them because you want them to come, or because they want to come?”
This, for me, was a profound thought. Amongst all the discussion of where people can take their dogs, I hadn’t thought much about whether they should. Some dogs don’t do well in loud environments. Others, either by breed or personality, may be especially sensitive to movement. Add to this list other common doggy stressors like little kids, other dogs, strollers, and people in hats, all of which mean that responsible dog owners need to consider what their pets might want, too.
But, if both canine and owner are on board, what comes next? How do you make sure your dog is ready?
“Big skills to have would be stationing behavior of some sort, like settling on a mat. Then the mat becomes their camp chair,” Heather explained. “ ’Leave it’ is pretty important, because there’s often food and other trash on the ground.” She also recommended prep work related to loud noises, movement, and handling other people and dogs. And once you’re out with your dog, pay attention for the signs that their stress is compounding, which can include panting, scratching, yawning, lip licking, and obsessive sniffing.
While this sounds like a lot, it may help to remember that every outing is a chance for additional training. “Bring treats to reinforce the behavior you want,” she said. “And a harness and poop bags, of course.”
In the middle of our interview, one of Lazy Monk’s other four-legged patrons started barking, which caused Monty to spring up and commence barking herself. With treats from both Heather and I, she laid back down in less than a minute. I felt proud of her, and of myself. The interview and the beer I enjoyed after Heather departed felt like an accomplishment. Perhaps I was glimpsing why so many people are enamored with their dogs
4. SHANGHAI BISTRO
When we got Monty last fall, we were quick to note another of her amazing features: She barely shed at all! How lucky were we? Then, one day last spring, the other paw dropped, and the hair started raining off of her. I can deal with this development; the Swiffer corporation sells some amazing products these days. What I can’t deal with is dog hair in my food. Gross.
This leads to the final type of local establishment that has started accepting dogs: restaurants. With health regulations covering every square inch of a foodservice operation, how can drooling animals with fur and dirty paws possibly be allowed to dine with us? The workaround more and more local eateries have discovered is their patios.
The week before school started, I took my daughter out for her favorite sushi lunch, and because Shanghai Bistro in Eau Claire welcomes dogs on its patio, Monty got to come along too. She hunkered on her mat while my daughter and I worked our way through some dumplings and super salmon rolls. Our server was nice enough to bring a dish of water and ice, and while he couldn’t offer it to Monty, I was allowed to. In fact, this is how some restaurants further show their willingness to accommodate pets. Waitstaff can’t serve animals, but they can serve dog-friendly items to the pet owners. What those customers do with the food when the server is gone is outside of the restaurant’s control.
As before, a substantial and growing list of local eateries with outdoor seating options are welcoming dogs, and numerous online resources exist to help point dog owners towards those options. Still, because this is new territory for our community and its businesses, it’s always a good idea to call ahead.
5. DOGGIE SWIM FEST
A few weeks after that first dog park trip, I understood my dog, her behavior, and her preferences better than ever before. And while I like to pretend that she understands me a little bit more, I know that’s silly, because she’s a dumb animal who sometimes barks at me when I haven’t even left the house. Regardless of whatever strides we each made, we needed to end our adventure with something notable, and the perfect option was waiting for us at the end of August: Doggie Swim Fest at Fairfax Pool in Eau Claire, where canines can swim, play, and chase the plentitude of complimentary tennis balls before the pool is drained for winter.
Standing amidst a hundred wet dogs and their owners, a simple truth became evident. Lots of people love their dogs, and for a variety of reasons, they like taking their dogs with them into public places. While plenty of factors need to be navigated in order to ensure that dog owners, other customers, and the businesses themselves remain comfortable and safe, it is all but guaranteed that we’ll be sharing our community with an increasing number of animal companions. Monty, for one, appears grateful for all such opportunities. And, you know what? Thanks to her licks and tail wags, I am too.