These dog-friendly startups want to tap into Calgary's puppy love

Calgarians sure love their dogs, and that's leading to a growing market for pretty much every service under the summer sun.

Services for 4-legged friends are growing in the city, from online dating to luxury services and pet patios

Calgarians sure love their dogs, and that's leading to a growing market for pretty much every service under the summer sun. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

It's a beautiful day, bringing out tons of dog owners to the Edworthy off-leash park in southwest Calgary.

The prairie grasses sway in the wind from the top of the hill that provides a spectacular view of the downtown skyline.

Dogs and their owners casually walk through this expansive park — just one of many available in the city — greeting each other or saying hello to longtime friends. It's a community, and one that is based around their four-legged companions.

Often times an introduction only includes the pet's name, or some tidbit about what breed, age or rescue group they represent. It's not hard to tell that the lives of most of these Calgarians revolve around their dogs.

That notion is something that Pam McCarthy wants to explore, and is why she's launching a dating website called Must Love Dogs this fall.

An ad for the soon-to-launch Must Love Dogs website hangs at the off-leash park near Edworthy. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"I find that singles who have dogs, they only want to be partnered up with people that either understand and respect it, or have one of their own dogs as well — because people who don't have dogs don't really understand the fact you have to go to the park everyday after work, or can't go out for cocktails, or you might have to go home for lunch to let your dog out," she said. 

She plans to have speed dating events so people can meet potential matches with their pups in tow.

"You'll see right away if the dogs can interact and get along with each other," said McCarthy.

"It cuts out so much of the online thing ... at a very minimum, you have at least one thing in common."

She says many Calgarians treat their dogs like family, or even four-legged, furry children.

"It's hard to date somebody that's allergic to dogs, or thinks it's really odd that your dog sleeps in the bed with you," she said. "Or thinks it's really odd that you have a stroller for your dog who's got failing legs, or full wardrobe for your dog — including winter boots."

She says Calgary has a young, urban, professional population, with lots of singles. And there's a lot people can do with their dogs here. For example, take in DogFest Spring Fling or Pet-A-Palooza — which markets itself as the largest outdoor pet festival in the west.

More and more events that are dog-friendly are coming online in Calgary lately, including this dog parade at the Beltline Garden Party in July. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"Those events are packed," she said. 

"There is a real sense of community, both at the off-leash but also in other environments."

There's also an app for that

An expansive dog park system — claimed to be the biggest in North America — is part of the reason why Pet-A-Palooza came to Calgary five years ago. The dog festival started in Victoria, and also hosts shows in Vancouver and Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We love Calgary. It's definitely our biggest festival that we got," said organizer Jordan Illingworth. 

And she says it keeps growing.

"Calgary is a really vibrant city. They really like their dogs, and there are so many dog parks available," said festival-goer Michelle Cavanaugh. "I think dogs give so much. They are such a benefit to everyone's lives."

Michelle Cavanaugh says many Calgarians treat their dogs as extended family. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Roughly one in 10 Calgarians said they own a dog in the most recent census numbers from 2016.

Illingworth says that's just another reason the people behind Pet-A-Palooza want to tap into Calgary's puppy love by launching a new app.

"Sexy Beast is a dating app for people with pets, so people will be able to go on and connect with other pet owners, they can connect with people that are breed specific," she said.

Pet-A-Palooza organizer Jordan Illingworth co-founded the popular pet festival eight years ago in Victoria. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"We saw a lull in the dating app world where so many of our friends were on there saying, 'I chose that person specifically because they had a dog in their profile,' and we thought, why wouldn't there be one that is specifically for dog owners?"

The plan is to launch it this summer.

Summer loving

Another growing service for owners and their pets is dog-friendly patios. It seems like every day another establishment is acquiring a permit from Alberta Health Services, which comes along with strict rules (and that's even after patio rules were relaxed by the province last year).

Here is a list of known pup-approved patios:

  • Cold Garden Brewery in Inglewood.
  • Vin Room in Mission.
  • Joyce on Fourth in Mission.
  • Oak Tree Lounge in Kensington.
  • Midtown Kitchen & Bar in Kensington.
  • Booker's BBQ + Crab Shack in downtown.
  • One Night Stan on 17th Avenue S.W.
  • Embarcadero Wine & Oyster Bar on 17th Avenue S.W.
  • Una on 17th Avenue S.W.
  • Caffe Beano near 17th Avenue S.W.
  • The Garage Sports Bar in Eau Claire.
  • Boogie's Burgers in Renfrew.
  • Ranchman's on Macleod Trail.
  • Donna Mac in the Beltline.
  • Montana's in Signal Hill.

*Have a business to add or remove from this list? Email

​Hailey Seidel, who once operated BowDog Canine Specialists — Calgary's largest pet care provider — and is now a consultant in the industry, has some tips for a stress-free experiences.

Dog-friendly patios are a barking success in the city, and the list continues to grow every week. (Danielle Bauer/

"I was inspired to write a blog post after a recent outing where I noticed someone struggling with a pet on a patio, and wanted to make sure people interested taking in taking their dog out in public are set up for success," she said.

Some suggestions are exercising your dog beforehand, training your dog to sit or lay down under a table on leash and respecting those non-dog lovers.

"There are people who have real concerns about health and safety around dogs, so some people have allergies and others are scared of pets, so you need to respect their use of that space as well," said Seidel, adding it's best if the establishment splits their patio space into dog-friendly and no dog zones.

She says people love spending time with their friends and pets, so these patios offer another market in Calgary. And they aren't the only service expanding. Calgary is home to a variety of dog-friendly options, such as stores that allow you to take your pup shopping — as long as they are leashed and well behaved — or "all inclusive" resorts.

Pet pampering

Seidel is looking to launch a new 7,000-square-foot luxury pet care centre called the Petropolitan at the end of this year downtown by the Fairmont Palliser. She is currently going through the permitting process for the overnight doggie daycare.

"It's going to be a really fun project and awesome offering for those who want the best for their pets," she said.

"We'll have valet ... and we will take your pet and have it ready for you when you want to pick it up after work." 

They plan to have luxury pet care accommodations, which means bedrooms like you would have at home, with a Queen-sized bed, and any additional services you think your pet needs while you can't be with it.

This very tall greyhound at this year's Pet-A-Palooza has a Swarovski crystal dog collar. 'Only the best for my baby,' said its proud owner. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"We are really excited to offer something of that calibre in Calgary," said Seidel.

She thinks the market exists in Calgary, adding she travels a lot and gets to see what other North American cities have to offer and felt Calgary was lacking in that department. She also says most pet care services require you to drive out of the Beltline or core, which isn't an option for a lot of people who live or work downtown.

And while many hotels are pet-friendly these days, Seidel says they do have rules about leaving the pets alone or in kennels, so this is a much more exciting option for Fido.

​Hailey Seidel founded Calgary’s largest pet care company in 2008 and sold it last fall. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"As we watch the city of Calgary grow and evolve, we are seeing the development of some of the city's first pet-friendly office towers, I think with the introduction of pet-friendly patios and restaurants we are really starting to see this trend and acknowledgement grow, with education, that pets really add a tremendous amount of value to our lives on a daily basis," she said.

"People with pets live longer, they get more exercise, they experience higher happiness ratings — things like that. And so I think the inclusion of these animals into our work spaces and into the core are really just going to be great value adds for our community as a whole."


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