It was a quiet Saturday lunchtime when Abbie and I met Dexter the pub dog. He was sprawled on the floor of the Crown Inn, trying to keep cool. Outside, the Somerset village of Axbridge baked in the summer sun, showing off its flower troughs and limestone houses.
Dexter’s favourite spot was by the bar, facing the door, which made him the first thing we saw when we walked in the door. There he was, tongue lolling, half asleep, a pub dog both on- and off-duty. Not everyone wants to be faced with a Rottweiler when they go into a pub, such is the reputation of the breed, but chat to the locals and Linda Bishop, the landlady, and you begin to realise just how valuable a pub dog can be.
Dexter was talked about the way people talk about close family members. The testimonies kept on coming – how much he craved human company; how new customers would come in fearing him and walk out loving him; how local children would hang off him like he was a climbing frame, and steal him from the pub garden to play with.
From rural walkers’ retreats to back-street community pubs, hipster bars to village institutions, the pub dog’s role was the same everywhere: to be a friend to everyone
He was originally going to be called Zac, until one of the more eccentric customers, who had had a few ciders, intervened to say that the dog had told him he wanted to be called Dexter. Linda went with it – after all, Dexter was a dog of the community, why shouldn’t the community name him?
When Dexter died in 2016, after eight years of active pub dog service, the Crown Inn’s Facebook page was overrun with tributes. One of them, from one of the older regulars, said, “He was more of a friend than a dog.”
It was this quote that stuck with us as we travelled around Britain, meeting the country’s pub dogs for our book. They were a draw for such a range of people in such a range of pubs. From rural walkers’ retreats to back-street community pubs, hipster bars to village institutions, the pub dog’s role was the same everywhere: to be a friend to everyone.
There are so many other examples that come to mind. Frank, at the Brandling Villa near Newcastle, whom we named “Britain’s top pub dog”. Wherever this beagle-cross roamed, the locals gave him adoring looks and tried to clap him over to their table. The photo in the book captures the reverence perfectly: Frank has his paw up on the table, looking like he’s trying to catch someone’s eye – behind him some young Sunday drinkers are watching him, beaming.
Charlie, a bichon frise, has the run of an old-school boozer in Brighouse, where the virtually all-male clientele dote on his every move
Or there was Charlie, a bichon frise at the Market Tavern in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. He’s the sort of cartoon-cute dog you’d expect to be owned by a wide-eyed child. Instead he has the run of an old-school boozer, where the virtually all-male clientele dote on his every move.
Then there’s Shot at the Boatside Inn in Hexham, Northumberland. The locals chose his name in a vote, after the previous pub dog, Levi, passed away. They have Levi’s photo up on the wall, never to be forgotten. But it’s Shot’s time now, and he is theirs to take for a walk, whenever they want.
As many of Britain’s landlords and landladies know, pub dogs aren’t just a pet, they provide a public service. Some of their customers would love a dog but don’t have the time or money. Some people aren’t allowed to own a pet as they don’t own their home. Some people are, to put it bluntly, lonely. With social isolation a problem particularly among the old, the average pub dog is more than pulling its weight. These things are community assets on four legs.
It’s not just customers who benefit from a pub dog. The business of running a pub is much more precarious and burdensome in previous decades. Spiralling rents, high beer tax and business rates, and supermarket competition are just some of the barriers.
With social isolation a problem particularly among the old, the average pub dog is more than pulling its weight. These things are community assets on four legs
Getting people through the door has never been more important, and publicans say that having a dog is simply good for business. People come in specifically to see the dog, they say – the drink is just a fee they’re willing to pay for some dog time.
Would it be an exaggeration to say that pub dogs hold British pub culture in their paws? They’re certainly helping some age-old hostelries, like the Angel Inn in Wangford, Suffolk. It’s been a drinking hole for over 400 years – as the crooked timber testifies – and yet landlords Peter and Christine White say that rent rises are crippling their business model.
Lending a hand is Malibu Heartthrob, as handsome a poodle as you’ll ever see, who draws in locals for a pint, and dog walkers for the canine menu and pet-friendly rooms. The Whites warn that country pubs in particular could collapse, partly because of the difference in price between pubs and supermarkets.
This concern was highlighted by a recent Campaign for Real Ale survey, which found that going to the pub is becoming an “unaffordable luxury”, with only 15% of people thinking that prices were affordable.
There is of course a new breed of waterhole: the specialist or craft beer pubs which pride themselves on being a characterful alternative to generic, soul-less pubs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of them have a resident dog, who can end up being useful for the bottom line.
A pub with a dog is a good pub. They make a pub more homely, more welcoming, more of a community hub
One such pub is the Dead Crafty Beer Company in Liverpool, which opened in April 2016 with Dolly, a Tibetan terrier, as its unofficial mascot.
Co-owner Gareth Morgan said: “Dolly’s a huge help, people see her in the bar and that tells them we’re a dog-friendly pub, and because we’re the only one on our road, people come in just for that. We have four or five dogs who come in on a daily basis, and then they tell people and word spreads, which is fantastic.”
We awarded Liverpool pub, the Caledonia, “Britain’s top doggy pub”. Alongside landlady Laura King are miniature dachshunds Bonnie and Miss Havisham.
King says: “Having them here is an advert: here are some dogs, please bring some more. A real community has grown around them as much as the customers, and it’s really helped grow our business. Being so dog-friendly gives us an edge over other nearby places and Bonnie and Havi are a big part of that.”
Such is the range of pubs and dogs that we encountered, it’s hard to generalise, but a pub with a dog is a good pub. They make a pub more homely, more welcoming, more of a community hub. Of course not all customers are dog people, but not one of the pubs we visited had failed to make it work.
When the benefits of a pub dog are so many and so profound, you wonder why more publicans don’t get themselves one. They might make a few new friends.
Source : https://inews.co.uk/essentials/great-british-pub-dogs/