A few weeks ago I spent a significant amount of time compiling a list of dog-friendly businesses and patio dining. I posted it for our community but also on an Oshkosh based community page. Overall people were grateful and sent updates and additions.

Of course, there were a few who felt dogs do not belong in businesses beyond service dogs. The discussion got heated on that other list with people pointing out that there are some disruptive dogs in stores, that people have allergies and dog phobia. While this might be true that’s not a reason to decide that dogs can’t come with us as part of our family when done responsibly.

Finally, one group member asked a question that turned the naysayers off. After my response people responded in such a positive fashion I thought I would share it here. Only by talking about issues that matter to us can we help others understand and maybe even change their way of thinking.

She asked, “Why do you want to bring your dog with you to stores?” Here is my answer. I was never a dog person until my car wreck and brain injury. I was suicidal, terrified to drive, had PTSD and anxiety and I really was a mess. I moved to Oshkosh because I had no options. I grieved my old self and my old life. My doctor had been trying to get me to adopt a dog as an emotional support animal. I laughed at him for two years but I finally gave in and it’s the single best thing I have ever done for myself.

When he is with me I can drive more easily, I feel less scared and anxious, and more focused on him and less on my headaches. I still have a brain injury and I still will never be my old self. But my dog literally saved my life. So I bring my dog in because he helps me enormously in more ways than I ever dreamed. I rarely bring him into stores because I don’t want to change clothes in the dressing room with him. I don’t want to stop and say hello to every person who wants to greet and make a big deal about him. For every one of you who hate dogs and thinks we owners are Satan for bringing them in, there are a few dozen who have their faces light up and their crappy day get better by seeing him.

I brought him to Lowes to get appliances because it was not a quick trip. I spent hours there three different times comparing models and features and benefits. I did not want to leave him in a kennel alone at home and I sure as hell was not leaving him in the car to bake while I shopped.

It was stressful to buy appliances as I had never purchased new ones. Having my dog helped me to not panic. I spent thousands of dollars and every person there treated me and my dog with dignity and it was a fun experience. I went without my dog to the other stores and I found it difficult to focus, I panicked because there were too many choices, and it was a totally different experience. In one local store, was told, after the jerk placed his arm around my shoulder, “Come back with my husband next time because he’ll know what to buy since he’s a man.” True story.

Take away patio dining a few months that only happens a few months of the year in Hawaii at a handful of restaurants and there are not many places to take your dog. You can do pet stores, a handful of non-pet supply stores (often selling something I don’t need) and that’s pretty much it. I love the dog park but November through May it’s closed and now mosquito season is in full swing and it’s not nearly as fun swatting bugs and begging my dog not to swim in the mud puddles. I hate seeing my dog swell up with welts and scratch all night no matter what I put on him.

I don’t want to always have to go spend money on food and alcohol I don’t need just to so that I feel I can hang out with my dog. I believe that signage, clearly stated, will help dog haters, people with allergies, and dog lovers know 100% how to proceed. Dogs are a huge business in our country and state and in Oshkosh. Companies that embrace dogs usually attract new customers, retain those customers, and enhance the shopping or dining experience. It all goes back to communication.

I have encountered way more screaming and misbehaving children than I have ever witnessed irresponsible dog owners and badly-behaved dogs. I can’t complain because a parent lets their child continue with a tantrum with ear-piercing screams causing a migraine to spike. I have had that happen to me way more than once in Oshkosh at a store where I could not bring my dog. I’ve gone into my car, heart racing, crying, head in pain, and miserable while I tried to calm down enough to make it home.

I have sat at restaurants and had my meal ruined by families that let their children run wild and make noise and act out in ways that should never be allowed. It happens.

You ask why do I need to take my dog with me into stores and the answer is because he is my help and my support. I don’t abuse the opportunity and I always buy something as my way of saying thank you for them allowing me to come in with my dog. Dogs have helped to connect me with a community I have not found to be as warm and welcoming as I thought it would be. Having a dog in stores has sparked conversation, has helped me find kindred spirits and given me hope that maybe I might thrive and not just survive in this little town of people who don’t seem to embrace change or be willing to welcome newcomers very well.

Not to say everyone I have met is small-minded or only interested in their current circle of family and friends but there are tons out there. I am an outsider and my dog is like a secret password that has gotten me into a club.
That is why I bring my dog into the store and that is why we need signage and consistency. I was that person who was never getting a dog and was appalled at dogs in public. I hated them on sight and they scared me. And then my life changed and, I truly believe, without Coconut I would be dead. If not dead, I never would go outside and I’d wither away in pain hating life and waiting for it to be over.

Conversations like this might not change anyone’s mind but it’s only through dialogue that understanding begins.