Why leave your pooch at home when they can join you on your adventures throughout the city? This was the question Ali Jarvis faced which eventually gave her the idea to start SidewalkDog.com, an organization aimed at being the number one resource for dog-friendly information in the Twin Cities. Each entrepreneurial effort begins by trying to solve a problem that doesn’t have a solution quite yet, and Jarvis found herself with quite the dilemma five years ago.
Jarvis had grown up in a home with dogs and, ten years after graduating college, decided it was time to have a furry friend of her own. It wasn’t long before she adopted a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, naming it Luc. Shortly after welcoming Luc into her life, she discovered her furry friend required special attention. “I had a dog with medical issues who required medication at different intervals throughout the day,” Jarvis says. “I found I constantly had to go home to give him medication, so I started looking for dog-friendly businesses where I can live my life and take care of him at the same time, whether they be coffee places I can go to with my friends or dog-friendly dry cleaners.”
Her search for businesses willing to accommodate her four-legged friend wasn’t as successful as she’d originally hoped, however. Jarvis was unable to find a resource to answer her questions about dog-friendly businesses in the Twin Cities. After finding herself wishing for one all-inclusive website to provide locally based information to dog owners, Jarvis decided to fill that missing niche. And so SidewalkDog.com was born.
From dog parks and restaurant patios to apartments, hotels, and events, SidewalkDog.com curates all-things-dog-friendly in a convenient location for dog owners to peruse at their own will. SidewalkDog.com’s blog acts as a media company, discussing the happenings on the local dog scene. Coverage ranges from companies that donate tips to a local shelter to a profile of a local celebrity and their dog. Growing to a readership of 80,000 unique visitors and 400,000 page views last year, Jarvis notes that people use the site for different purposes. “Some people are really into the dog park map,” she says. “Our most popular feature is the dog-friendly restaurant patio section. Even in the winter, when people can’t bring their dogs, they still want to support those dog-friendly restaurants.”
So why is Jarvis’s project so popular? “There’s been a cultural shift over the past 20 years or so,” she says. “Dogs were always considered part of the family, but we never included them in things outside of the home. Now people want to include them, so our site helps them do that.”
Depending upon business sponsors to cover the costs of running the site, relationships with local businesses is the key to her success. Conveniently, SidewalkDog.com offers businesses a way to advertise their dog-loving ways to those who might not even visit the website. Through the use of decals, Jarvis’s brainchild allows business to communicate their canine accommodations: one for restaurants, coffee shops, and other places that serve food (featuring the slogan “Dogs Welcome on Our Patio”) as well as one for other businesses (with the simple phrase “Dogs Welcome”).
Jarvis is quick to articulate how this signage benefits the business owner. “People will just walk by a business if they are with their dog,” she says. “You don’t feel comfortable leaving a dog outside while you go in, so this lets people know they can stop and shop.” She suggests businesses do more than just post her decal, though. Her best advice is to communicate exactly what their policies are through signs such as “any dog you can carry” or “no wagging tails” if the establishment showcases merchandise close to the floor.
Although much of the website’s lifestyle expertise finds its reach within the Twin Cities, there are a surprisingly high number of viewers from beyond the metro area. “People from outside of the Twin Cities and Minnesota use our site for when they’re visiting; they know what to do with their dog when they’re in town,” Jarvis says. And with a demographic ranging from 25 to 55, her organization addresses concerns for every age group. Jarvis cites a surge in younger people becoming pet owners before having children and retired persons using her site as they grow into empty nesters and begin looking for ways to fill the void with their canines. Addressing the GLBT community specifically, Jarvis says “dogs have always been such an important part of the family dynamic,” frequently in place of children.
As a member of Minnesotans United for All Families, SidewalkDog.com has long been a supporter of the GLBT community. Past involvement has included Pooch Pride, a happy hour on the patio of Loring Kitchen & Bar that allowed people to mingle and celebrate with their dogs in tow and then leave the pups at home for the rest of Pride if the weather was too hot. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts kept the event from being held last year, but Jarvis is eager to start it up again in the future. “Pride is an incredibly important event for us to support,” Jarvis says, before adding that SidewalkDog.com has been at Pride for three of the past four years.
Inspired by her organization’s first year of involvement with Twin Cities Pride, SidewalkDog.com created T-shirts which read “If I pee on it, it’s mine,” which have grown into a huge hit. Currently waiting for stock to be replenished, Jarvis says “you can get away with that kind of sass at Pride and people love the shirts!”
But it isn’t all fun and games for the dog lover. Jarvis has been appearing on Twin Cities Live once a month with a rescue dog, trying to find an owner. Her successful track record of 32 out of 34 dogs adopted maintains her company’s mission. “We are big advocates of helping people live life with their dog while promoting rescue and responsibility.” SidewalkDog.com even sells Minneapolis pet licenses for the City of Minneapolis, rewarding those who do so through the site with freebies (such as dog food from Solid Gold Northland and free doggie daycare from Metro Dogs Daycare and Boarding) with new rewards being added in the next few weeks. “We’re rewarding folks for being responsible dog owners and obeying the law,” she says.
These sentiments about responsibility are echoed in an article recently published on the site: a guide to patio etiquette. Don’t think your dog should be taken everywhere on the site’s directory; not everyone has the right dog to take here, there, and everywhere. “We’re always promoting knowing your dog and knowing what situations your dog does well in and how it impacts the people around you.”
Responsible pet ownership is something which Jarvis is actively involved in, as she and her company are vocal advocates for passing puppy mill legislation. “Breeders aren’t regulated, so there are a lot of deplorable conditions and incredibly sick dogs,” Jarvis explains. “Minnesota is one of those states that doesn’t regulate the industry, so we do a lot of advocating.”
All of that seriousness aside, Jarvis stresses her love for engaging with the public. Her favorite example of this? Each month, the SidewalkDog.com Facebook page holds a Cover Dog Contest. If your dog wins, they get a photo shoot with the SidewalkDog.com photographer and your dog’s photo is the Facebook page’s cover photo for the month. With the site featuring massive amounts of user-generated content, Jarvis “tries to view it as more of a community than a company.” Users can submit pet-friendly events and businesses to the directory as well as write reviews of the listed businesses. “We engage with our community a ton and try to give away prizes and feature real dog-owners a lot,” she says.
Although the company doesn’t often host events of its own, Jarvis says they frequently sponsor events as a media partner or will share event information through their site. One of the more popular events, Pet-A-Palooza, is an annual event hosted at the State Fairgrounds with free admission to pet owners. Some upcoming examples include Pugstock, Dog Days of Summer, and Pet Haven Doggy Dash, all with event details posted on the website.
For anyone seeking involvement with Jarvis’s company to share any dog-related knowledge, you need only contact her. “We welcome anybody to contact us about writing,” she says, stressing her constant search for writers. This is, of course, in addition to the user-generated methods of involvement. “As long as you can match our sassy, informative tone, we’ll give you a shot!”