Soleil the yellow lab lopes down the aisle with his leash in his mouth, budging his way to the cashier. The cheeky five-year-old knows all too well where dog treats are kept.
Dogs and other pets are regular and welcome customers inside the Canadian Tire at Westshore Town Centre, one retail outfit that recognizes the hazard of leaving animals roasting in the parking lot during the summer.
“A lot of our customers have pets and we were concerned about animals staying in cars,” said Tim Curry, owner of Soleil and the Canadian Tire. “On hot days we see people rushing into the store to shop, but worried about their dog.
“If they are sitting in a car for 10 minutes on a hot day with a window half an inch down wearing a fur coat, you can see the dog panting. I feel so bad for them.”
Curry brought in the pet-friendly policy almost four years ago and has had few complaints, other than from a customer who mistook a dog cookie for a human cookie. Water dishes, treats and cleanup stations are positioned around the store.
Occasionally he’ll see a parrot or a cat, but dogs are the main non-human browsing the stock. About 15 to 20 dogs per day come in with their owner.
“We never see a fight or argument (among dogs). We never hear a growl but there’s the odd bark. Most people are very supportive, especially in hot weather,” Curry said.
Curry keeps Soleil around his office so the gregarious lab isn’t roaming the store on his own. Sensitive to allergies and hygiene, the dog is kept away from food and staff areas.
On the other hand, his employees find Soleil hard to resist. “You’ll see staff rolling around on the floor with the dog. He’s a stress reliever for them. He takes the edge off.”
Penny Stone, manager of the Victoria SPCA, said it’s encouraging more retailers are allowing owners to bring dogs into stores. She cited Pic a Flic Video and the Canadian Tire on Douglas Street as other pet-friendly venues.
“Go into Canadian Tire and you’ll see two or three dogs,” she said. “It’s great. It helps socialize dogs around people, and they learn not to be afraid.”
In terms of when it becomes unsafe for dogs and other pets to be left in cars, Stone said there are no hard and fast rules — it depends on the thickness of fur and the heat of the day. Even overcast weather is no guarantee a pet won’t become overheated.
Despite annual efforts at public education, people still leave their pets locked in cars in parking lots exposed to the sun.
Last year, SPCA staff attended five or six incidents where police broke into a vehicle due to an animal overheating and at risk of death, Stone said. Only the police can break into cars, and only when it’s evident the animal is in extreme distress.
“There are dozens and dozens of calls on our first hot day of the summer,” she said. “But all we can to is stand by. We have to wait for the dog to get sick before breaking in.
“Letting a dog in a store is far better. We love companies that let dogs in the door.”