IPhone App Lists Dog-Friendly Businesses

By Meredith May For The San Francisco Chronicle

The iPhone app, Fido Factor, helps owners find and post reviews of dog-friendly sites.

San Francisco — Not only does he say it’s dangerous – criminals like to take dogs with identification tags and then pose as Good Samaritans to collect rewards – but it also stresses the animals, making them more prone to aggression and anxiety problems.

His solution? A new iPhone app.

The former technology media consultant created Fido Factor, a free application that locates the nearest dog-friendly stores, restaurants, cafes, parks and hotels.

“I noticed there was this major disconnect between businesses and dog owners,” said O’Neill, 28, who likes to run errands with his 6-year-old Irish Terrier, Kole.

“Many welcome dogs but have no medium to convey that message, and dog owners have no way to find out,” he said.

To create the database, O’Neill spent three months walking all over San Francisco with Kole, asking business owners whether canines could cross the threshold.

He found some surprising welcomes – dogs are allowed in some Wells Fargo banks, the Crate & Barrel store in the Castro district, select coin laundries and many restaurants and bars with outdoor patios.

Some of what he found was common local knowledge, but when he collected it, and noted whether the places had dog bowls, treats or resident dogs, he had created a type of dog Yelp.

In Wiki-style, users who find additional locales can post them to Fido Factor, as well as write reviews of any of the 1,200 Bay Area businesses already listed.

Fido Factor accepts reviews from anywhere in the country. New York, Portland and Boston were the first to show up beyond San Francisco in the database, followed by Nevada and North Carolina.

Nearly 5,000 people have downloaded Fido Factor since it was released last July.

“There isn’t really one online resource where dog owners review all types of establishments, so you’re at the mercy of word-of-mouth, but this is real time info,” said Tina Ahn, director of development for the San Francisco SPCA.

Ahn recently arranged a business dinner at Water Bar in the Ferry Building after using Fido Factor, so she wouldn’t have to leave her puppy at home in a crate.

O’Neill is in talks with the SPCA to turn Fido Factor into a source of micro-philanthropy for the shelter. After Fido Factor’s first year developing a user base, he plans to add advertising to generate revenue, freeing him up to donate $1 to the SPCA each time a user adds a new location and 50 cents per new review.

Nicole Macias of San Francisco has reviewed at least 70 establishments for Fido Factor.

“My dog goes with me everywhere, she’s a regular Muni rider, and I want to be able to find places when I’m already out, and not have to worry,” she said.

Shop owner Michael Williams doesn’t allow drinks or large backpacks in Medium Rare Music on Market Street, but dogs can come in.

“So many people in the neighborhood have pets,” he said. “It would be just silly to not let them in.”

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