Wednesday 19 September 2018

Aisles of Dogs - ‘Having dogs around means everyone is more friendly’

It can be difficult to hold on to a social life with a canine companion, but Ireland is embracing pet-friendly entertainment, writes Caroline Foran

Everyone’s a critic: Tomas and Louisa Fox from Dunshauglin, Co Meath with their dogs Strudel (centre) and Pesto at the Light House Cinema’s ‘dog-friendly’ screening of the new Wes Anderson film, Isle of Dogs. Photo: Damien Eagers
Everyone’s a critic: Tomas and Louisa Fox from Dunshauglin, Co Meath with their dogs Strudel (centre) and Pesto at the Light House Cinema’s ‘dog-friendly’ screening of the new Wes Anderson film, Isle of Dogs. Photo: Damien Eagers

Caroline Foran

It's just before noon on Good Friday, and the Light House Cinema in Dublin's Smithfield is typically quiet. But the silence is punctured by a shrill bark from a surprisingly noisy miniature Schnauzer, impatient for his human companions to finish their coffees. In the space of a few minutes, the reception area is filled with dogs of all shapes and sizes, here to attend a special screening of beloved indie filmmaker Wes Anderson's latest movie, Isle of Dogs.

While a young golden retriever bounds through the doors and a freshly shorn Pomeranian barks at every dog she meets, other canine attendees are content to wait patiently at the ticket kiosk or lie down in the café.

Louisa and Tomas Fox have travelled up from Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, with their two dogs Pesto, a springer spaniel, and Strudel, a Hungarian vizsla less than a year old.

"They're very rural dogs, they don't actually do city slicking very much. But they're well behaved!" says Louisa, as the pair sit obediently next to a line of dishes filled with water outside the cinema.

Jessie, the lively golden retriever, wags her tail and eagerly nuzzles passing guests, while her owner Sarah Chubb explains: "I never get to bring her to stuff like this. This is a first, so I'm a bit intrigued as to how it's going to go. I would have hoped the walk here from the car park had calmed her down a bit, but it's always the excitement at the start, she just has to get used to the other dogs. She's the type of dog that if others are quietly watching a film, she'll do what everyone else is doing."

Hien Au Ngoc is a little more nervous about her five-year-old pug Oscar, wearing a colourful bandana. "I don't know if he'll behave himself. If he sees animals on the TV, he's just off barking, but he's good with other dogs, and he loves movies, as long as it doesn't have a horse in it," she says.

Pup crawl: David Early, Orla Kinsella, Karen Duff and Philip Dowling with their dogs at the Light House Cinema in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers
Pup crawl: David Early, Orla Kinsella, Karen Duff and Philip Dowling with their dogs at the Light House Cinema in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers

Orla Kinsella and David Early have come from Dún Laoghaire with their Japanese spitz, Blizzard. "It's really rare to be able to take him to things like this, so I immediately jumped on the tickets. There are very few places that you can bring him," Orla explains.

While dog-friendly cafés and bars are becoming increasingly popular (such as The Bath Pub and Pupp in Dublin, The Bulman in Kinsale, Chez le Fab in Limerick and The Secret Garden in Galway), dog-friendly film screenings are entirely new. Of all cinematic releases, it makes sense that this particular screening would open its doors to our four-legged friends, but with tickets to the Light House's Easter weekend screenings selling out in mere minutes (as well as in the Palas cinema in Galway), it's proved a stroke of marketing genius.

"We were so happy to host all the lovely doggies. They were all well-behaved and I'm happy to report there were no 'accidents'. All good boys and girls!" says marketing manager Gale Wilson. Inside the theatre, each dog was assigned their own seat and provided with a blanket for the film, and Gale hopes the Light House might continue the trend, perhaps inspiring other cinemas around the country to follow suit. "They loved the film so hopefully when more dog-friendly films come around we can look at doing further screenings."

This kind of canine-inclusive entertainment follows on from the likes of last September's hugely successful 'Doggie Do' festival in Dublin's Herbert Park (in partnership with the Dogs Trust).

Pawsitive review: Saoirse Colgan with her dog Roisin at the Light House Cinema. Photo: Damien Eagers
Pawsitive review: Saoirse Colgan with her dog Roisin at the Light House Cinema. Photo: Damien Eagers

Having worked behind the scenes on Doggie Do, Claire Buckley of Buck and Hound PR described the inaugural event as a "passion project": a "Mardi Gras for Mutt and Man" where Irish dogs and their families flock to events that are "for and about dogs". Set to return in September 2018, attendees can look forward to 'ReTail Therapy' shopping, doggie workshops, games and even a snooze at the 'Doggie & Soul' chill-out area.

At such festivals, "dogs aren't merely tolerated, but celebrated", says Claire. Pawsitivity is a similar set-up ­- with the addition of a doggie dance class, agility lessons and a screening of Lady and the Tramp - returning to Merrion Square on May 13 and 14 and Fitzgerald Park in Cork on May 20.

For Ireland's many dog-lovers, canine companions bring countless wonderful benefits. From unwavering love and affection to a physical boost of your oxytocin levels (specifically when you gaze into their eyes), the pros surrounding our furry friends have been well documented.

That said, if it's a new addition to your home or a boisterous puppy (read: ALL puppies), one of the less than favourable trade-offs is the effect they can have on your social life (and your skirting boards... and your sanity).

Lazy lie-ins are a thing of the past (golden retriever owner Megan O'Riordan says she is up at 6.15am seven days a week to let her pooch out) while weekends abroad begin with a dog-sitter search.

Fido's a social creature; he doesn't do well when left home alone for huge chunks of time but understandably, this is sometimes unavoidable - as is the all-consuming guilt that goes with it. The solution? More dog-friendly entertainment options. This concept is already well established in cities like New York - I met a French bulldog in a Williamsburg cafe who went by the name of 'Lord Voldemort' and was just short of picking up a latte with his manicured paw - but it's still relatively new to Ireland. Is it possible, in Ireland, to give a dog a home while simultaneously holding on to your social life?

The answer is a resounding 'yes', especially following the abolishment of the law banning dogs from restaurants last November (though it's still at the venue owner's discretion).

Eimear Fitzmaurice, a PR director and owner of a young lurcher, says that finding dog-friendly places to go is "something we've seriously struggled with since getting our pup", but a lot of establishments that welcome dogs don't explicitly shout about it - perhaps because they don't want to deter those who prefer cats - so it's often just a matter of enquiring. Surprisingly, hotel PR Ailish Cantwell says that "almost all Irish landmark properties accept dogs".

In Dublin, the Dog House in Howth comes highly recommended, offering a space where you can chow down on some 'scooby snacks' while your mutt relaxes after his walk on the heated terrace.

Commenting on their "all dogs welcome" policy, Michael Part from the Dog House says that it doesn't just benefit the dog owners, but the staff too: "Having dogs around changes the environment; everyone is happier and more friendly, dog walkers are mingling and it's just incredibly positive. This is what's most important to us. You wouldn't exclude your best friend from a meal so why should you have to exclude your dog?"

Well, from bars to restaurants, festivals and even the cinema, it seems that in Ireland, you don't have to.

Additional reporting by Meadhbh McGrath

Irish Independent

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