Doobie is a three-month-old dog with a lot of responsibilities.
The German shepherd pup belongs to Moe and Steffanie Bjorgan, which means she needs certain levels of training and reliability to be allowed to fraternize with the residents and visitors at Red Roof Retreat, which offers programs and respite care to those with special needs.
Doobie is also required to be a delightful family pet, which she seems to have mastered already.
Along with receiving professional training, Doobie goes on family outings to the Outlet Collection at Niagara outdoor mall, where she is exposed to a wide variety of people and situations. Not usually much of a shopper, Steffanie says, “bringing the dog to the mall has cost me a lot of money.”
Moe says he takes Doobie to the mall at least once a week. “It’s good for the dog, and good for people to stray from their materialistic endeavours to pat some reality,” he says.
“People probably remember the interaction with the dog more than they remember the stores.”
He watches for people who look at the dog and make eye contact with him, and then he invites them to pat her. Moe keeps up a running conversation with the puppy as he lets her sniff around and choose her own path, asking her companionably what she smells, where she wants to go.
“Your puppy is adorable,” is heard often. Many stop to comment. One person on her cell phone says, “hang on Mom, I’m just patting a dog.”
Noting the predominantly female interest in the puppy, Moe says, “now that Owen (his adult son) is single, he enjoys bringing the puppy to the mall.”
When people ask to pet her, Moe answers, “you can. That’s why she’s here.” And they thank him before and after petting the pup. Everyone who stops expresses enormous gratitude, as though patting a dog was just exactly the thing they needed most.
“We take her to seniors’ homes, to visit my mother, for example,” says Moe, citing other ways they work at socializing the dog and getting her used to any number of scenarios.
“How can you not pet that cute dog,” asks another person, leaning into the irresistible.
“I bring her here to meet not just people, but other dogs as well,” says Moe, as they approach an enormous grey Cane Corso. The two dogs have a civil sniff, with the other owner saying he, too, brings his dog to the mall for socializing. The Outlet Collection encourages people to shop with their four-legged friends, with the majority of stores boasting a sticker that defines them as dog-friendly.
Outlet Collection’s marketing and tourism manager Carly Rupcic says the mall has been dog-friendly since it opened its doors five years ago. “We like to encourage people to bring their whole families to the mall,” she says, “and for many people that includes their dogs.” She also says they didn’t want people to feel guilty leaving their dogs at home while shopping, and stresses the safety factor as well. “We don’t want people leaving their pets in cars while they shop, so this is another way to prevent that.” She says their security staff also monitor for pets in cars.
Rupcic, the owner of two Great Pyrenees dogs, says she brings them to the mall to socialize, and finds that extends to people. “You often see people having a conversation who might not normally connect, but the dogs are an icebreaker.”