New Forest Dog On The Forest Off The Lead

Who let the dogs in?

It is well known that Britain's dog population has increased and according to PDSA figures, 53% of adults in the UK own a pet, and 31% of households now own a dog.

Many more people own dogs and enjoy taking them out into the countryside or towns. But how many businesses may be (or may not be) dog friendly?If you take your dog with you, what if you might stop for something to eat in a tea shop or in a restaurant?Perhaps you might explore some gardens, a museum or even a church or  cathedral. Are dogs welcome in all those places?In these tough financial times, it would seem prudent to open up more businesses to potentially another 31% of customers by allowing well-behaved dogs into the premises.

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it law that people with an assistance dog are allowed everywhere (unless there is a very specific safety reason) but the rest of the population are not allowed to take their dogs. There are very sensible reasons for this for example guide dogs are trained to toilet on command (and not in the food aisle of Tesco!). Guide dogs are trained to ignore food temptation when in harness, and wait patiently for instruction. But there do seem to be many places where other well-behaved dogs are not allowed for any good reason other than the opinion of the person in charge.

If you ask visitor attractions and organisations why assistance dogs are allowed but others are not the answer reveals to me that they have not thought the answer through. The reasons sometimes given are that aggressive dogs or banned breeds might frighten people, or that some people might have allergies to dogs. This might be true, but there is no law preventing me from eating a peanut butter sandwich in a public place, which might be equally hazardous to a few individuals. Screaming babies and annoying children welcome, but not a well behaved, quiet dog on a lead.

This brings me to a little personal victory. Last December I visited Winchester Christmas market with my Labrador 'Daisy'. I thought I would also pop next door into Winchester Cathedral to visit this amazing place. Outside the main door there were signs saying, “WELCOME TO ALL!” explaining that God welcomes all into his house… but once I was inside I was stopped and told that I was not welcome because I had Daisy with me. Staff on the door were so apologetic and explained they did not know why it was the policy. I was asked to leave the building. Meanwhile families with screaming babies and toddlers, teenagers running about throwing litter and making lots of noise and nuisance walked past me into the cathedral.

Daisy

When I arrived back home I set to work to try to rectify this situation. I composed a persuasive, positive and well reasoned letter to the Dean of Winchester Cathedral, the Very Reverend Catherine Ogle asking if she would reconsider the policy and allow dogs into the cathedral. Many other cathedrals have recently changed their policy to become dog friendly. Salisbury, Chichester, Bristol, Canterbury and many others all welcome well behaved dogs with little or no problems arising. Chichester cathedral has a page on their website detailing dog friendly pilgrimages you can do together, short walks you can do in the area ending up at the cathedral.

I was excited that a few days later I received a reply from the Dean saying that she had decided to change the cathedral policy and would be inviting me and Daisy to the cathedral as her guest! The new policy welcomes well behaved dogs, who must be on a lead. Owners must clear up and make staff aware of any ‘accidents’… and if your dog becomes disruptive in any way you should voluntarily leave the cathedral. Fair enough – that sounds like a sensible policy to me. This Summer Daisy was the first dog allowed into Winchester Cathedral as a guest of the Dean! She was given a free dog biscuit on arrival. Our responsibility is now to ensure that she is always well behaved and sets an example for all other dogs.

Many dogs, and especially rescue dogs, do not like to be left alone at home, suffering varying degrees of separation anxiety. Owners must either arrange for day care or take their dog everywhere with them to avoid leaving them, or just stay at home with them. Dogs contribute such a sense of wellbeing in our lives. Dog friendly businesses and places make life so much easier. Just as we reward our dogs for their good behaviour, we should reward dog friendly businesses with our custom and with our thanks.

Sarah Morris.