A press release landed in my inbox the other day, proudly proclaiming that 248 Wilko stores were now allowing dogs to join their owners in the aisles for the first time.
Straight away I messaged my mother to ask if she’d like to join me and bring her dog on her first shopping trip to Wilko. I had the following afternoon booked off, and I needed to stock up on some seed for my bird feeders. Wilko’s good for that sort of thing.
So we bundled my two dogs, Rupert and Honey, and my mum’s dog, Missy (Rupert’s sister), into a car, and headed from Ashbourne over the Staffordshire border to my nearest Wilko, in High Street, Uttoxeter.
Not every one of the home and garden chain’s stores are included in this new rule-change. The press release promised we’d know if our local store was participating because there’d be signs in the window. And, as we emerged from The Maltings, the window was bare.
I got Mum to hold the dogs, wandered into the store and asked the first member of staff I saw. Quite enthusiastically, she said: “Oh, yes, we’re now allowing dogs. We just haven’t had the posters sent through, but you’re welcome to bring them in.”
Before I could turn around and collect my pooches, the nice lady politely laid out some ground rules.
Excitable or jumpy dogs, she told me, would be asked to leave. She didn’t want her customers feeling uncomfortable. Fair enough, I thought.
And if they make any sort of mess (you know what I’m referring to), we have to clean it up immediately. Again, this was a perfectly fair thing to ask.
“And please don’t take them anywhere where we’ve got food on sale,” she concluded, making some very protective noises about her pick ‘n’ mix.
I promised faithfully we’d all behave, and then dashed out to relieve my mother of her duty of supervising three dogs who were now absolutely desperate to get into the shop.
It felt a bit weird, at first, coaxing two excited dogs past the toiletry shelves and weaving up and down each aisle to find the bird seed – which, incidentally, is kept right next to the pet toys and treats.
My two have a bit of a habit of trying to “sample” the dog products which, in a pet shop, the staff tends to laugh off. But I knew in Wilko, with staff totally unsure of how their first day of allowing pets would go, this might not have gone down quite so well.
But actually, the staff were brilliant. As cockapoo Rupert and Labradoodle Honey, who were on a double-lead, clamoured to grab at the chewy sticks and squeaky toys, the friendly staff bounced up to them to say hello. And all three dogs lapped up the fuss.
With an armful of goodies for my sparrows, I led the dogs to the tills and had to wait a minute for the checkout lady, a self-confessed “dog person”, to finish embracing Rupert and Honey before she reassumed her role and checked in my goods.
But that was fine. Being able to join us in a shop they’d otherwise have to wait outside made Rupert, Honey and cockapoo Missy’s day – they love meeting new people, and I can only imagine how full of interesting smells the shop might have been for them.
And, for me, it’s a big relief to have another shop I can go in and not have to risk leaving my dogs outside, which has become very dicey since prices of pets soared in the pandemic and stories of thefts became a daily occurrence.
I think my mum and I spent about £20 in the store that day, and we wouldn’t have gone in if it wasn’t for the new rule change. I’d normally get my bird seed from my local pet shop, but it felt like we were giving Wilko a financial pat on the back for their forward-thinking.
Later that day I saw a comment on a social media post about Wilko’s rule change by a woman who declared she would “never shop in Wilko again”, because she didn’t like dogs. And it’s a fair point, not everyone will be pleased with this new scheme.
But I’d add that my dogs and I have become very proficient at social distancing over the last few years, so if you’re not comfortable, just let me know, and we’ll give you plenty of space to carry on with your shopping.
You’ll find us in the pet aisle, trying desperately to keep Rupert and Honey from nicking a tennis ball. I certainly don’t want them to be barred from a shop so soon after they’ve been allowed in.
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