The Napa Valley has gone to the dogs, and for businesses, that’s seemingly a good thing.
Downtown restaurant owners and innkeepers said Napa has become more dog-friendly in recent years and they’re seeing an increase in traveling pooches as a result.
Jim Beazley, co-owner of the Beazley House bed-and-breakfast on First Street, said his establishment began welcoming four-legged guests 15 years ago when Napa held a different attitude toward dogs.
“When we first started out, Napa had a reputation of not being friendly to dogs,” Beazley said. Even Alston Park, today the city’s prominent off-leash dog park, had stringent canine rules, he said.
“The valley has gotten friendlier and friendlier to dogs,” Beazley said.
Beazley and other business owners said more people are traveling with their pooches, and bringing them along for shopping and dining trips.
“I think the whole fact that the river walk is complete and there’s so many businesses down here is part of it,” said Toni Chiappetta, owner of Sweetie Pies. Her business is widely regarded as “dog-friendly.”
Natalie Bradshaw, owner of Yountville’s Vineyard Dog, said there has been a shift over the past 20 to 30 years in the way people treat and view their dogs.
“More and more, they’ve become members of the family, rather than the pet you keep in the backyard,” Bradshaw said. When humans hit the road, they are now more inclined to take their dogs with them.
Bradshaw sells dog carriers that look like purses. No one would suspect someone was carrying a dog in such a bag.
Outside her riverfront shop, Chiappetta offers a water dish and tables for diners who bring along their dogs. Sometimes, Sweetie Pies bakes dog biscuits for sale.
“We’re all big dog advocates,” Chiappetta said.
The Napa Valley Welcome Center’s greetings don’t stop with human tourists: Dogs are also warmly embraced inside the Main Street facility. Their owners are provided with information about dog-friendly restaurants, wineries and activities throughout the valley.
“On our mobile app, you can sort through the various filters and you can sort wineries that are pet-friendly,” said Allison Simpson, vice president of communications for Visit Napa Valley, which operates the center. “It’s very popular. It seems like there’s more interest in it.”
Simpson said she doesn’t have data on how many dogs visit Napa or how the number has grown in recent years, but her anecdotal experiences were similar to stories provided by others.
“At the Napa Valley Welcome Center, we have a dog dish with water and it gets used quite frequently,” Simpson said. Hotels and inns often market to dog owners using their own pooches to appeal to like-minded, would-be guests, she said.
In Napa, the Inn on First has three miniature schnauzers who greet guests and their pooches. Co-owner Jamie Cherry said the bed and breakfast inn has allowed dogs for years, and has seen the number of travelers bringing canines increase recently. The 10-room inn has three rooms where dogs may stay with their owners. In the high season, all the dog-friendly rooms may be filled on the weekend, Cherry said.
The dog-friendly rooms are located on the ground level and have enclosed patios so travelers may easily let their dogs outside if that’s necessary at night, Cherry said. In the years the Inn on First has welcomed dogs, he said there have not been any problems with guests who bring dogs and guests who don’t.
“We’ve never had any kind of experience where a dog created any inconvenience or discomfort for a guest who didn’t have a dog,” Cherry said.
Dogs are allowed in the patio area where breakfast is served most of the year. “We’ve never had to ask anybody to remove their dog from breakfast,” Cherry said.
Sara Brooks, general manager of the Napa River Inn & Historic Napa Mill, said her inn has seen an uptick in the number of dogs brought along by guests in recent years. Traveling dogs tend to be well-behaved, she said.
“It’s much more common for hotels to accept pets these days, but it’s not the norm,” said Brooks, who attributed the increase in traveling pets, at least in part, to the high cost of boarding pets.
The Napa River Inn offers canine guests a “Very Important Pet” welcome basket, complete with a pet mat, food and water dishes, dog treats, a blanket and a scoop so their owners can clean up after them. Brooks said it’s intended to make it easier for their guests to travel with dogs.
In Napa, a visitor is more likely to bring a dog along on vacation than children, she said.
“I think a lot of places (outside the Napa Valley) cater to kids, and we don’t have a lot of kids who stay here. So we cater to dogs,” Brooks said. “We probably have 20 percent more dogs than we do kids.”
Most establishments charge a fee for dogs to stay. The cost, ranging from about $25 to $40 a night, covers the cost of additional cleaning. Most innkeepers said their housekeepers are trained to clean up pet hair and ensure that subsequent guests never know a pooch was there. Some set aside certain rooms for guests who do not want to stay where a dog has been.
Water bowls and treats are increasingly common in and outside of stores and restaurants. Outside Trader Joe’s in Bel Aire Plaza, dogs are nearly as common a sight as are shoppers. The grocery store has a box of treats next to a water dish, offering them up to dogs. Trader Joe’s manager Carlo Domitri said the purpose is two-fold.
“There’s a lot of people with dogs that walk around here,” Domitri said. “It’s just a nice little thing we do for people and their animals,” he said. “It spreads good will throughout the community.”
Domitri admitted there’s a marketing aspect, because Trader Joe’s does sell the brand of treats it offers passing pets.
According to the American Pet Products Association, 39 percent of U.S. households own at least one dog. There are more than 78 million such pets in the country.
While the Napa Valley has become more dog-friendly, Bradshaw said she would like to see more parks open to off-leash dogs and would like more restaurants to welcome dogs on their patios.
Simpson said more wineries are adapting to the changing market, along with businesses not traditionally oriented to dogs.
“I think being pet-friendly is a niche that is worth paying attention to,” she said.