Pets Get Together

Southside businesses let
companion animals join in the fun

By Jason Hathaway

The United States is full of animal lovers. According to the American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 68 percent of U.S. households own at least one pet. That’s 84.6 million total households having at least one furry, feathered or scaled friend.

The survey also predicts that Americans will spend about $69.36 million on their pets in 2017 and even more in years to come. We love our pets, and many of us consider them members of our immediate families. But pets are family members that we often have to leave at home while we pursue outside entertainment, although we may bring home a doggy bag. Now that scenario is beginning to change.

Across the country, pet owners are making it known that they are happier when their furry friends accompany them; add to that the animal-assisted therapy trend in behavioral health care. Certified therapy animals that provide emotional support for conditions such as anxiety and depression are permitted to accompany their owners, and although Indianapolis has not moved as quickly as other metropolitan areas in giving pets carte blanche access to entertainment options, companion animals are now able to poke their noses around more public spots. 

“I think we’re all gradually moving in that direction,” says Anne Sutton, executive director of Johnson County Humane Society. “Pets are now being viewed more as family members, and there are so many mental health benefits to being able to take your pet with you to more places.  My dog goes everywhere with me. She even comes to work with me every day.”

Nudging the door open a little farther are business owners who see value in catering to pets as well as people. The southside has a growing variety of venue and event options for folks who want to take their pets out on the town this summer.

Dog-friendly businesses are important to Jon Sprong of Beech Grove, whose miniature schnauzer, Cookee, is a certified therapy dog. Cookee provides Sprong with emotional support for his depression and anxiety conditions; the relaxed, well-behaved dog often accompanies Sprong and his wife, Aimee, on trips to stores and restaurants.

“I think it’s really great that I can take her with me to places,” Sprong says. “If my wife is working and I have to go to the store, I have a good friend right there to take with me. Cookee’s very popular at Between the Bun in Greenwood. They love her there. They’ve always got a fresh bowl of water for her, and sometimes they’ll even give her a slice of bacon.”

At Greenwood’s Revery, not only are dogs welcome at the patio tables, they have their own menu. The restaurant, which features artistically presented American-style cuisine made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients, also offers dogs a selection of beef, chicken and vegetable dishes (such as the popular roasted sweet potato and chicken entrée) as well as biscuits made by Bella Dog Bakery in Greenwood. Plenty of popcorn is always available for the pups, offered gratis to good boys and girls.

Revery owner Mark Henrichs, a dog owner himself, began offering the canine-centric menu last year having read about the growing trend of dog-friendly restaurants in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The specialized menu was a hit right from the start, and the dining-out dogs have been a welcome presence. The dogs have all been well behaved, and there haven’t been any complaints from the pet-less patrons, Henrichs said.

“We really haven’t had any issues with the dogs not getting along with other dogs,” he says. “Usually when there are two or three dogs on the patio, they keep to themselves. We want to create a nice, friendly atmosphere, though, and are always considerate of those who may not like having dogs around. So far, we have not had any problems.”

Southside microbreweries that feature outdoor seating have put out the welcome mat for canine customers. Fireside Brewhouse in Greenwood has extended the invitation for patrons to dine with their dogs every Sunday on their patio. All dogs that show up receive a free bag of treats and a pup cup of water. For extra-hungry dogs, there are pup patties available for purchase. Taxman Brewing Co. in Bargersville also welcomes dogs to join their owners on its patio. Another favorite pet-friendly southside food and drink venue is Bargersville’s Mallow Run Winery, which offers a full outdoor evening concert schedule during the summer and spacious grounds for families and their pets to roam. Unless specified on the winery website, dogs are welcome to join their owners at the summer concerts and other outdoor events.

“We encourage people to bring their dogs out here,” says Sarah Shadday, marketing and wholesale coordinator for Mallow Run Winery. “We’re dog lovers, and we love to see the pups come out and have a good time, too. We also have a lot of barn cats who like to wander over to the grounds and check things out. Our customers love them.”

Some venues and events exist to benefit pets. This year saw the opening of the Nine Lives Cat Café in Fountain Square, where patrons, for a $5 per hour fee, can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in the Cat Lounge. In the lounge, where reservations are strongly recommended, people can enjoy the company of highly social rescue cats that are also available for adoption.  If you’re just visiting Nine Lives for the coffee, don’t worry: The cats have to stay on their side of the building.

Mallow Run hosts several fundraiser events throughout the year for dog rescue groups. On July 23, the winery’s event center, The Sycamore, will host Art Unleashed, a sale of animal-themed art to raise funds for the Johnson County Humane Society.  On Sept. 10, the winery hosts the seventh annual Labapalooza, an all-day festival designed to raise awareness and funds for Love of Labs Indiana, a southside-based Labrador retriever rescue group.

Southside dogs and the people who love them can wrap up their summer fun at public pools at the Franklin Aquatic Center or Freedom Springs Aquatic Center in Greenwood. Before the pools are drained for the season, dogs are allowed to have a swim on Sept. 9. The event, now in its second year, serves as a fundraiser for the Johnson County Humane Society; its 2016 debut was well-received by humans and pooches alike.

“Last year at Freedom Springs, we had about 75 dogs, and at Franklin Aquatic Center, there were 30 or 40,” Sutton says. “They had tennis balls there, and the dogs got to play around in the water. Everyone had a good time.”