**DISCLAIMER** I am useless at administration.
I recently got the ferry back to Guernsey to see my family, I do this a lot as it means I can take my dog. The ferry takes around three hours and isn't too hard going for Potato, my rescue Jack Russell. This is usually a relatively painless process, unless I do what I did on this occasion and accidentally book myself onto the 12 hour ferry that goes via Jersey.
After a very early morning drive down to Poole I drive Potato and I onto the boat, give him a scratch, and promise that mummy will be back soon. Then, up on deck, I hear the announcement that has me feeling more guilty than the time I ate an entire jumbo Toblerone on a flight to Dublin.
"We will be arriving in Guernsey at 9pm". I look at my phone, it's 9am. I recoil into the fetal position - what have I done!
I go straight over to reception to explain my uselessness and ask if I can pop back down to my car to get my dog. The answer? No.
"But wait, I've made a horrible mistake. I would never deliberately book him onto a twelve hour ferry. I did it through work, it's a terrible over sight. I can't leave Potato in the car for 12 hours he just isn't that kind of dog."
"He'll be fine."
"No, you don't seem to be listening. I haven't warned him, he hasn't had a proper walk. I didn't get him a magazine and there is no TV in my car, LET ME SAVE HIM."
One more time with feeling... "No."
I am heart broken and ridden with guilt. I travel with Potato quite often and always make sure he is exhausted from a lovely walk but on this occasion, he isn't. They allow me to go down to the car deck every now and then to let him out and walk around, but the car deck is cold, and loud, and Potato is more terrified out there than he is in the car. These sessions are made all the more unpleasant by the member of staff who has to escort me down every time, who watches me like a hawk and continuously checks their watch to show how much they want to go back upstairs, reminding me that the car deck is no place for anything with a heart beat.
The boat on this day is almost empty, Potato is the only dog on it. I have made a hideous mistake and I am willing to personally ask all 15 of the other people on this huge vessel if they mind me bringing my small, mute, gentle and very frightened dog upstairs - as lets face it, they haven't booked this 12 hour puke machine as a luxury experience, have they?
I am a fair person. I don't like chaos and as much as I love dogs, I agree that too many at one time can be loud, smelly and possibly unpleasant, but my problem is that so many establishments, the ferry included, have no discretionary policy. As let's be honest, they often do with humans. During the 12 hour journey the ferry manager fought - loudly - with a youth for not paying for his recliner seat. This was incredibly irritating for the rest of us who had paid £6 to sit in the quiet section, but as said youth was at least 50% human banishing him to the car deck was not an option. I lingered behind them before subtly leaning in and and whispering "Potato would pay for his recliner seat."
There was no response.
By total chance, the day before this 'ferry' upsetting voyage (sorry), I was wandering up and down Oxford Street with Potato partaking in a little experiment. We were with Cesar and their Paws in Places team, and we were testing which establishments in London allow dogs, and which don't.
I had gotten involved with the Paws in Places campaign a few weeks earlier, when I read that London had been voted the UK's most dog unfriendly city in the UK, next to Birmingham - Cornwall, for your information being the most friendly.
This made me really sad, we should be encouraging people to rescue dogs, not presenting the idea of having a one as a social kiss of death. In my opinion, London has the potential to be the best city in the UK to have a dog, so it's a shame that so many establishments make it tricky.
Where I live in Bermondsey the local community has it nailed. On beautiful Bermondsey Street nearly every shop, hairdresser and pub allows dogs. This doesn't mean that they are full of dogs all the time, quite the opposite in fact. It just means that the occasional mutt wanders in with its owner, sits while they have a trim or sink a couple of pints, then leaves quietly with no one even batting an eye lid. Because the fact is that most people can't be bothered with the drama of having to control their dog if it's a maniac, so the only people who take them to places where there are lots of people are ones who know they will behave.
Establishments turn unruly humans away all the time, I don't think anyone would argue if someone asked a dog to leave due to another customers extreme allergy, a terrified child, or because it had deposited a huge, steaming poo in the middle of a crowded pub. Which, if we are honest, very rarely happens. Dogs are trained domestic animals, an owner with an untrained one most likely wouldn't take it into an establishment anyway.
My local coffee shop, Street Coffee on Bermondsey Street, even has treats on the bar. I take Potato there all the time and if I sense that I'm sitting next to someone who isn't comfortable with him, I keep him on my lap or ask them if they would like me to move. They rarely do.
This level of dog friendliness doesn't really happen in many other parts of London, especially not in Soho, which I think is a real shame.
Potato and I did manage to find a gorgeous coffee shop on Ingestre Place called, The Society Club. In there we read vintage books, drank delicious coffee and hung out with the four or five very relaxed, very welcoming, and very cute resident dogs. Other customers came in and out, all seemingly delighted to accept the affections of the four legged occupants. The atmosphere was entirely pleasant. No scraps, no cakes snatched off plates, and most importantly, no legs lifted.
After that we hit Oxford Street.
I had Potato on a lead and at no point tried to sneak him in. We were bold and proud and walked into places more than happy to turn around and walk back out, but quite likely to buy something if they let us stay. First up, was GAP. The security guard shuffled uncomfortably but after he assessed Potato and saw that he meant no trouble, he said nothing. That was a good start.
Next up we tried Topshop. Within seconds the security guard rushed over, I whisper "it's nothing personal" to Potato but am thrilled when instead of asking us to leave he simply says "if you have your dog in here you must carry it."
Now THAT is what I'm talking about. People with big, wet or manic dogs wouldn't carry their dogs around Topshop, so wouldn't bother going in. But me, with my small and gentle dog who I'm quite happy to cuddle as I shop, would. This was the perfect response. You are allowed to take your dog in if you are fully responsible for it.
BIG UP TO TOPSHOP!
Not so willing to accept us were Marks and Spencer, American Apparel and H&M to name but a few. While John Lewis, Debanhams, and Pret a Mangér all seemed to carry an "at the managers discretion" policy, which again gets big thumbs up from me and the Spud.
Since working on this campaign I have been met with quite a few different views on the matter. The obvious split in opinion comes from those who have dogs, and those that don't. That was to be expected.
This campaign isn't so much about trying to make all shops, cafes and restaurants allow dogs, but more to encourage a few more to open their doors to our furry friends. Street Coffee and The Society Club are two places that already have and they are all the more popular for it. Dog owners don't want to upset any body by taking their dogs out with them, but they also don't want to upset their dogs by leaving them home alone all day. It's often because they are being responsible that they have them with them in the first place.
I think London being named the most unfriendly city for dogs is really sad, with a little bit of compromise by some establishments, man and dog really can be best friends.
Unless man books dog onto a twelve hour ferry, in that case dog is well within its rights to wee on man.
You can get a full list of where did and didn't allow us in on the Paws in Places Facebook Page, let us know what you think there.
Follow Dawn O'Porter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hotpatooties