Leah Thrasher and Jeannie North are the co-founders behind Omaha.dog, a website that offers a comprehensive list of dog friendly businesses in the Omaha metro area. SPN caught up with the ladies (and their dogs, Riloh and Rue) at The Exchange in downtown Omaha.
SPN: So how did you guys get started with Omaha.dog?
JN: My husband and I took a trip to Boulder, Colorado, with Rue for the first time because we had heard that Boulder was very dog friendly. The first place we visited was Pearl Street, similar to Village Pointe. As soon as we parked, a security guard threatened us with a $250 ticket for having our dog on the outdoor mall grounds.
So we left frustrated, but still needed to go somewhere to eat. We googled everything and asked local restaurants, but couldn’t find anywhere that would allow dogs on the patio. There were a couple of local websites that had some listed, but none of them were near us.
That night I thought about this concept, and how it would benefit Omaha to have a listing of all the local businesses that are dog friendly. So in our hotel room, I bought the domain for Omaha.dog. When we got home, Leah and I had wine at Cork and Bottle, and talked about how this could be a really fun community project we could start for Omaha.
SPN: Is Omaha.dog an app or a website? What’s the vision for it?
LT: It’s web-based. Right now the site includes only Omaha companies and is structured in list form. Our next phase is to open it nationwide, so we can benefit other cities. We plan to rebrand as mycity.dog, the parent company to omaha.dog.
JN: We’ve been redesigning the site to include a better user-experience that will include features such as geolocation, better search functionality with maps and directions, and more variety of categories not limited to dog-friendly businesses, but also dog-specific businesses as well as travel regulations for airlines and hotels. We also want businesses who do not have websites to use this as a primary source of information for their customers. We explain it like the Yelp of dog-friendly businesses.
SPN: What’s the biggest problem you are trying to solve with Omaha.dog?
JN: Omaha.dog and Mycity.dog’s goal is to drive consumerism and help our community be seen as an attractive place where people want to live. We’ve met with the city planner of Omaha and the Chamber to help list “dog-friendly” as a benefit to living in our city. Being members of the tech community and having both lived in California, we know the appeal of being a more progressive city, especially since we are trying to attract more tech talent in the community.
LT: There’s a business side and a community side to Mycity.dog. We want to help make Omaha and other cities more dog friendly, and collaborate with those who we need to, to make that happen.
SPN: Can you walk me through some of the milestones and challenges that you guys accomplished or got through together?
JN: I think our biggest challenge for the community right now is the health department. A lot of businesses, like bars and restaurants, want to be dog-friendly and see the benefit of appealing to this large segment of customers, but they can’t because our health standards. There are 85,000 dogs registered just in Omaha, by the way. Nebraska laws are very strict and won’t allow dogs on patios without going through a laundry list of things required by the health department.
LT: The action plan is to present how places like New York and California have amended their health laws, and they made it work. New York just approved their bill, “Dining with Dogs.” We plan to write a proposal to the Douglas County Health Department to offer a plan similar to how these states of done it.
Also, some people think it’s unsanitary to have dogs on a patio, but statistics have shown that if they are fully vaccinated there is little to no health risk. You actually have more risk being around other humans that you would an animal. It’s a matter of re-educating the community.
SPN: Ideally, what will Mycity.dog look like in five years?
LT: We want to be the dog resource, and provide small and aspiring business owners the opportunity to gain exposure to an untapped customer base.
JN: In our first year, we want to sway the Douglas County Health Department and amend those rules and regulations around dog-friendly patios. Then year two, three, four, five, etc., go to other cities and help other passionate delegates be able to go do the same thing that we did.
SPN: What has been your biggest win as a business so far?
JN: I think we’ve had a lot of good wins. Joining Omaha Startup Collaborative has been a great change of pace. We are able to collaborate with other founders and it’s been a way to jumpstart our efforts. We were featured in the Omaha World Herald last fall, which provided a boost in our social followers. We’ve met with the Chamber and local radio stations and starting June 2, we’re launching a summer long puppy hour with Q98’s JennyO at local dog friendly businesses.
SPN: How can SPN readers help you?
LT: We are hosting Omaha’s first pet fashion week and need volunteers! Whether you’re a designer, photographer, business owner or have a dog that likes to strut its stuff – we’d love to have you. Check out omahafurshionweek.com for more info. Also, stay tuned for the mycity.dog site launch the end of April!
Melanie Lucks is a communications intern for Silicon Prairie News and AIM Careerlink.