In the early days of the internet, I heard the frightening statistic that possibly up to 70% of internet content had something to do with cats. I suspect this was a bit of an exaggeration, but given the amount of animal content that comes through my various social media accounts, I would say the overall content these days is equally as much canine as feline.
There is no doubt it is the decade of the dog in Canberra. With an all-time high dog ownership rate of possibly one in six homes having at least one dog, dogs seem to be popping up everywhere this summer. And I mean everywhere. For most owners, dogs aren’t just pets, they are important members of family units. Canberrans are now pretty used to finding themselves sitting next to someone’s prize pooches in many cafés (and shortly I will mention some of my favourite cafés and ask you to please make your own dog-friendly cafe recommendations), promenading along our various foreshore walks or charging along bush tracks with owners in tow. It is great the ACT Government has recognised this trend and is making dogs more welcome in public spaces. There are special off-leash public spaces where dogs can share their exercise time, including Belconnen, Greenway, Yarralumla, Forde, Casey, O’Connor and even some spots along the river.
What else can we do to show how much we love our canine companions? Someone has had a ‘ping’ moment about art and culture and, hey presto, the cultural needs of our beloved four-legged friends are being met by two of our favourite national institutions: the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery. Yes, if your canine friend is pining for a little more culture in their life than walkies and enjoying cafe society, they will be more than welcome to be one of the doggie celebrities next Saturday, January 21, at the Paws for Art day. They can become an artist’s model for the morning; dress up; be hounded by the paparazzi; paw paint; generally parade; or just lie on the grass and admire the sculptures, and be admired.
Buddy the Maltese Terrier is very excited about ‘Paws for Art’ and is practising dressing up already. Oops Buddy, your tiara has slipped!
So what is this about art, and culture for dogs? The subject of the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition “The Popular Pet Show” is a giveaway, but what do dogs and the exhibition “Versailles” have in common? If you have visited this impressive exhibition that so perfectly captures the world of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and his descendants, you may have noticed something. Nestled in among the fine silk, velvet and fur clothing of the subjects of many of the lovely family portraits, you will notice dogs – and not just one or two. Most outdoor scenes are also sure to include a few, if not dozens, of hunting dogs.
This shouldn’t be entirely surprising. Dogs were central to life at Versailles. After all, it was a hunting lodge long before Louis XIV decided to turn it into his own personal universe. The amusing thing is the dogs had complete and utter freedom and could thunder around the palace and behave like doggies do – quite often badly. Meanwhile the poor old courtiers had to follow strict court protocol, and woe betide anyone who stepped out of line. Banishment or worse. Dogs were everywhere, including their own special ante-chamber, the ‘cabinet des chiens’, located near the apartments of Louis XV so he could go and visit them easily. Unfortunately there was probably no ‘puppy obedience school’ at Versailles and curbing of dogs was unheard of. Just image all those naughty little puppies chewing the silk brocade curtains and relieving themselves at will on the Savonnerie carpets, and generally adding to the already overpowering atmosphere of way too many infrequently washed bodies, heavily doused in perfume and squashed into the various antechambers.
History records that Louis had a number of dogs. Filou was his favourite poodle and he was fond of the large Pyrenees Mountain Dogs bred in Spain. He is also recorded as having a miniature greyhound. His uncle had married Henrietta, the sister of King Charles II of England, and there is no doubt she arrived with a doggie entourage of King Charles Spaniels. They became well-established in the Royal Court, just as the corgi reigns supreme in the British royal household these days.
Then of course there are all manner of hunting dogs. Louis’ many descendants also loved dogs and this brings to mind the unfortunate Marie Antoinette. From the very earliest moments of Sophia Coppola’s wonderfully indulgent movie Marie Antoinette, dog lovers are on the edge of their seats as she heads towards the French border for impending marriage with her beloved pug puppy Mops. It is a heart wrenching moment when the puppy is removed, along with every other object, including every skerrick of her clothing, that represent her former life in Austria. She is reassuringly told she can have as many French dogs as she likes, which I am sure is exactly what she did. I have also read that Mops was eventually reunited with her mistress. There is no doubt that dogs were serious fashion accessories at court; a handsome Swedish Ambassador arrived with a dachshund and suddenly they were all the rage.
The gracious halls of Versailles no longer reverberate with the clatter of excited dogs. I suspect the closest a dog (other than the odd guide dog) has got in recent years is artist Jeff Koon’s stainless steel ‘Balloon Dog’, taken among the gilt and glamour of Versailles in 2009
So Saturday, January 21 will be a great dogs’ day out and fun for all the family. It makes me wonder what would happen if King Louis decided to step down from his portrait for the day and wander down into the Sculpture Garden or over to the National Portrait Gallery. Would he find dog breeds with which he was familiar?
In search of the favourite breeds of Canberra, I went out into café society to check things out. Where better to look than the dog-friendly cafés of Canberra? After visiting half a dozen cafes with good sized outdoor areas and talking to owners, I came to the conclusion that any café that has an outside area can be classified as dog-friendly. Lower down the scale of friendliness, some cafes may have the tables too close together, or not enough shade. A few dog owners told me some cafés ask people with dogs to sit on the perimeter which is sensible if the tables are close together. What is obvious is some cafes are more friendly than others and actively encourage dogs, but it would be a very brave cafe owner who made the decision to not tolerate our canine friends. So please feel free to share the name of your favourite dog-friendly cafe in comments below!
DOG-FRIENDLY CAFES OF CANBERRA
Wilbur’s of Hackett is super friendly for dogs. Named after the owner’s dog, and featuring a distinguished looking boxer on the café logo, this is a lovely place to hang out in the morning. Greeted by a large fresh bowl of water and tables in the shade, I felt welcome with my doggie companion, Archie, and his young puppy wrangler. After an excellent flat white, a good old fashioned milkshake and a huge slab of banana bread we, and Archie who had sat so patiently, were ready for some serious exercise.
Archie the Moodle is a regular with various members of his family at Wilbur’s of Hackett
Later in the week I headed over to the Kingston Foreshore and the very popular and funky wholefood cafe Local Press. My date was with Griffin the Groodle but it soon turned all very social and I got to meet a few other canine regulars. A neatly trimmed dog, I wasn’t surprised to see Griffin was into ‘accessorizing’. Sporting a natty dog bandana, he sensibly travels with his own portable water bowl. The added bonus to the whole morning was that I had nicest iced coffee I have ever had! No sweeteners, no cream, no ice-cream, just excellent icy cold coffee with milk and lots of ice. It was a real treat on a very hot day.
Oakley the English Pointer is partial to a bit of ‘down dog’ yoga time when he has been sitting still and behaving so nicely. A bit of a doggie celebrity, Oakley spends part of his life in Sydney. Before Christmas he was dog of the week at his favourite Sydney cafe, The Butcherbird in Petersham.
Ellie the gentle Greyhound, is a ‘rescue’ dog and a former racer. Initially shy, she soon came over to share Griffin’s personal water bowl. I just love her collar!
City dwellers flock to Coffee Lab with their dogs. Situated on a breezy corner of the Canberra Centre, there is plenty of space for everyone and their dogs. There is a smart stack of white enamel water bowls for dogs, so they can have their own individual bowl and a nice variety of tables and seating arrangements. The coffee is excellent and I am sure RiotACT readers will recall chef Samuel Scott’s delicious recipe for his breakfast classic of mushrooms, cauliflower and burnt butter, shared late last year.
Bowie the Newfoundlander is a regular at Coffee Lab in Civic. Enjoying a happy TOT (tongue out Tuesday) he was with his ‘Newf’ pal Jagger who was a bit too shy to have his photo taken. You can see more photos of these gorgeous big boys on their Instagram page or watch out for them hanging out at Coffee Lab on the weekends.
Unfortunately the weather turned very hot and my last day of research scored near zero doggie interludes. Passing the off-leash area at Yarralumla, I noticed it was completely empty. You know what they say about mad dogs, Englishmen and the midday sun! Undeterred I headed to the nearby Yarralumla Brasserie set in delightful lakeside woodlands. It is a must for anyone who likes to be out and about with their dog. With a sign welcoming dogs and their owners into a deeply shaded area set aside for people with dogs, this is cool even on the hottest day. What I really love is the doggy treat section of their menu …
So even though the original purpose of this article was to chat about dogs and seek out dog friendly cafes in Canberra from RiotACT readers, I really enjoyed finding out what breeds are around and what are popular. Undoubtedly there are oodles of poodles, cavoodles, moodles and groodles and I was keen, but disappointed not to see a Pyrenean. I was thrilled when I met two Newfoundlanders, delighted to see a small pack of beagles at a distance, but disappointed at the lack of pugs although I know they are around. I came to the conclusion that if King Louis (or any of his descendants) do become a bit restless, they will not be disappointed if they do decide to pop down from their portraits and be part of next Saturday’s Paws for Art event. There will be all manner of pooch out for a good time and I am sure they would all find at least one breed of dog that is familiar.
Banner: Griffin the Groodle of Manuka is very fond of excursions to the lake that bears his name. As a poodle/golden retriever cross (both water-loving dogs), he should be doubly partial to any activities involving water.
All photos provided by the writer and dog owners.