Online, on-leash and together at last

Every business begins with an idea … and a story.

The story of Sidewalk Dog began with two dogs, two women, a guidebook, a so-so day job and a lemon.

Ali Jarvis, a Linden Hills resident, knew she wanted a dog. But apartment living didn’t recommend itself to the hole-digging, puddle-jumping big galoots of her youth. So, after a little research, Jarvis settled on the fairly petite cavalier King Charles spaniel.

Known for its docility and sweet temper, the King Charles spaniel can also claim the stamp of royal patronage. England’s King Charles II populated not only his palaces, but also his portraits with the cuddly spaniels.

Jarvis named her puppy Luc. He was the apple of her eye.

“But within a month, Luc became extremely ill,” said Jarvis. “Long story short, he’s just a lemon of a dog.”

Luc had been born with episodic falling syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that required Jarvis, in the early stages of detection, to feed him meds every two hours.

“I had to start taking him with me on errands,” said Jarvis, then living in the Warehouse District where, she discovered, “every single coffee shop, every single liquor store, every single dry cleaner would not only let me bring him in but were super psyched about it.”

A light bulb went off.

Why couldn’t more Minnesota businesses be dog-friendly? And, if they were, what would that mean to the single full-timers like Jarvis who had a life to live but only so much time to spend with their dog?

Meanwhile, back in Southwest, a Linden Hills event organizer had a dream.

Alice Barry wanted out of her 9-to-5. With her marketing background and organizational skills, she had already begun to attract clients asking her to plan their events. Yet Barry couldn’t justify giving up a steady paycheck for the uncertainty of self-employment — until Indie came along.

Indie is her Bernese mountain dog.

“Literally within five months of getting Indie, I had quit my job, applied to grad school and decided to follow my passion,” said Barry, who founded Entertaining the Idea to inspire like-minded entrepreneurs to create the business and lifestyle of their dreams.

“I credit Indie with opening my eyes,” said Barry

And Indie did. Suddenly, a walk around Lake Harriet became a social gathering, as walkers with and without dogs stopped Barry and husband Craig Anderson to talk about Indie.

Neighbors would swing in for doggie play dates and doggie happy hours — neighbors they’d only just met, though the couple had been living in Linden Hills a year before getting Indie.

Another light bulb went off. If dogs were such great icebreakers, why didn’t someone develop more events around them?

It was only a matter of time before Jarvis and Barry met. They finally did in 2006 at the second annual Dog Lover’s Night Out (now called Woofstock), sponsored by the Linden Hills Business Association and organized by Barry, who has made a name in canine circles as the dog-friendly-event organizer.

At the time, Jarvis was putting together a guidebook for Twin Cities dog owners — places to go and things to do for owner and pet. She also had begun a column for TC Dog magazine and was planning a fundraiser book for canine rescues.

“I got together with Alice because I was trying to figure out how to get all this done,” said Jarvis. “And we found we were kindred spirits.”

“What’s interesting about how we came together,” added Barry, “is that Ali changed her lifestyle to take better care of Luc, while at the same time, before we even met, I changed my lifestyle because of Indie.”

Both women saw potential in a company that could bring together dog lovers and expand their options when out on the town with their pets.

They also saw how catering to dog owners could make great business sense to Minnesota retailers and outdoor cafés.

“Dog owners want businesses to create affinity with them,” said Barry. “Dog owners, on average, have a higher income, a higher education and a higher rate of home ownership than the average population. That means more disposable income to spend at your store.”

Jarvis and Barry’s company, set for an official launch this June, will provide an online searchable database of dog-friendly businesses across Minnesota. Besides the usual lineup of groomers, walkers, and sitters, the website will provide listings of cafés, restaurants, retailers, hotels and other locations that welcome dogs.

“But Sidewalk Dog won’t work unless we help businesses,” explained Jarvis, who, along with Barry, has spent the past year building traffic to their website through the Dog eDish newsletter, blog entries and good old-fashioned networking in the dog community.

Sidewalkdog.com is becoming one of the go-to sites for Minnesota dog owners and dog-friendly businesses in search of events, petiquette, trends and places to go on- and off-leash. So, for businesses signing up as Sidewalk Dog members that means a built-in audience with one very specific thing in common.

“We’re not for everyone,” said Barry. “But by all means, if you’re a dog-friendly business or would like to be but don’t know how, let us help you. Our site is a way for companies to connect to this community and to promote their events, their offers, their
expertise.”

To help businesses and events along the dog-friendly path, Jarvis and Barry are working with professionals to create a list of standards. They are also developing signage, available to members, to identify their dog-friendly businesses.

But for Jarvis and Luc, and Barry and Indie, Sidewalk Dog promises to be more than another destination with doggie treats inside the door.

“When people can be with their animals, their pets are going to be healthier,” said Barry. “And the people are going to be healthier, too.”

FYI

To find out more about Sidewalk Dog, visit the website www.sidewalkdog.com. The Doggie Dining Bill (HF 2423), currently working its way through the state legislative process, would allow municipalities to loosen ordinances now in place prohibiting companion dogs in outdoor cafés. The next Woofstock, a one-day fest for dog and owner, will take place this fall in Linden Hills. Check www.lindenhillswoofstock.net.

Contributing writer Britt Aamodt lives in Linden Hills.