When Scott Porter peered through a window looking into the room holding puppy playtime, he didn’t expect to see a man sleeping on the floor. At Tigard’s newest taphouse, customers are often on all fours alongside the adoptable animals that are eager to chase down a toy or play tug. But a grown man sprawled across the ground surrounded by snoozing pooches was a first — one was curled up on his stomach, another lay stretched out across his chest and two more nestled against his head on the now-crowded dog bed. It was the lost company of his own dogs that brought him to Fido’s that day, Porter learned his ex got them in the split. But that little nap not only provided some temporary comfort; he gave two of those dogs a forever home a few weeks later.
Fido’s is the rare taphouse where patrons rarely head straight to the bar. “I would say that the average person loves dogs. They come here for the dogs. They’re kind of blown away there’s a taproom, a beer place, that has adoptable dogs. Some people don’t believe it,” said Porter, the founder/owner.
He can always spot first-timers who enter with a perplexed expression and then immediately begin trying to track down these rare dogs that live in a bar. Curiosity has certainly ushered many people through the door thanks to a barrage of media coverage when Fido’s opened in mid-February. Every local TV news station along with a variety of other outlets, from “Food & Wine” to “Men’s Health,” have helped drive traffic to an unadorned strip mall-style building hidden away in the Walmart parking lot. It’s a unique arrangement — one that no land use code addressed. But to clarify up front: dogs do not have free reign here. Their space is attached to the taproom, but there’s a separate outside entry to keep the people food away from the dogs and the dogs away from hazards like a clumsy customer’s shattered pint glass.
On a recent weekday evening, couples and small groups of friends paid $4 each for a 30-minute session with the dogs. That money helps cover Porter’s expenses running that room, primarily a full-time employee who works with the dogs and helps supervise visitors. While some have complained about the cost on social media, Porter wants to stress that 25 percent of the profits will benefit dog-centric organizations once that room breaks even. He was only a few hundred dollars away from that goal during his first month.
“My biggest concern is to make sure I start donating to those charities,” Porter explained, “because I believe that the long-term success of the business is tied to my ability to donate to those charities.”
No matter where their entry fees went, though, a handful of customers seemed perfectly happy to hand over a few bucks to access this new suburban petting zoo with the added benefit of adult beverages.
“I am one-million percent here for the dogs,” Kirstie Gildersleeve said while crouched on the floor next to some chew toys. “I really appreciate the taphouse part because I like that there’s different things you can try. After I think we’re going to go try some stuff. But I’m definitely here for dogs.”
That pull should be relatable to most. After all, humans and dogs have lived and evolved together for at least 15,000 years. Moreover, a 2017 study published in the journal “Society and Animals” suggests we have more empathy for these animals than our fellow humans, a finding that’s not surprising to anyone who considers their dog family. Portland in particular has developed a reputation as one of the friendliest cities to dogs in the nation, ranking at or near the top in seemingly every survey ever published on the matter. But for years the metro area had a cafe dedicated to cats, yet nothing similar for canines. Fido’s is in part a rowdier answer to Purringtons, located in Northeast Portland. It was one in a string of field trips Porter made when trying to decide how he’d model his business. After his sixth visit to a normal taphouse, though, he realized they all looked the same. Nothing stood out.
“I just said if I’m going to do it, I had to have something that’s different.”
And that prompted the stop at Purringtons, which definitely stood out with its interactive cat lounge. But Porter wondered about the empty laps of visitors snubbed by a moody feline. “And my son said, ‘If they had dogs, that wouldn’t be a problem’ And it was just like, bing! Adoptable dogs in a taproom. Man, if I could do that, that would be incredible.”
The next big step: finding a supply of adoptable dogs. His initial idea was a bit too ambitious to be feasible. Porter figured he’d drive to Southern California, which is plagued with overpopulated shelters, and pull dogs out himself, acting as temporary owner until they found a new home at his shop. But that would’ve been a lot of border jumping to keep up with demand. On average, two dogs a week are adopted from Fido’s. So Porter sat down to discuss logistics with one of the founding members of Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals (OFOSA).
“Immediately I knew that I was talking to an encyclopedia — somebody who’s been rescuing dogs for 25 years and understood the issues surrounding it,” Porter described.
The more questions he asked, the more he realized he didn’t know. Handling shelter dogs, some of which are ill or exhibit behavioral issues, can be a delicate operation. And if Porter started using Lane County-based Rescue Express to transport homeless animals, he’d be competing with local nonprofits for spots on the fleet of buses. But if OFOSA could partner with Fido’s, they’d both benefit. The taphouse would receive dogs that are examined by a veterinarian and screened for temperament while the nonprofit frees up space in its other foster homes and saves more lives.
“I thought this was a fantastic idea,” said Chris Hill, president of OFOSA. “It’s exposure that these dogs wouldn’t have otherwise and it’s good for people to get a chance to actually interact with dogs before they decide if they actually want to adopt one.”
The dogs really do make a difference. For instance, it’s rare in a bar to see people soften. At Fido’s, everything is a little gentler — the smiles, the conversations, the demeanors. When asked what he noticed about customer manner when they walk into the dog room, Porter grinned. “It’s like they’re talking to little babies,” he said. “I think the vast majority of people that are in here, they all understand the value that dogs bring to us.”
“It’s really funny how some people go in there and they want to cuddle the dog. And there are other people who want to get down on the floor and play with the dog,” Hill added. “And the dogs seem to sense that. When the dogs want to rest, they find one of those people that just wants to cuddle. And it’s interesting how they emotionally feed off each other and match up. They’re intuitive.”
That bond between people and dogs is evident throughout the restaurant and bar in the form of framed photos and quotes touching on ways dogs have enriched our lives. Sure, Porter could’ve filled the walls with traditional beer ads, but he decided to go all in with the dog theme — videos of canines play on television sets instead of sports. He plans to add more posters telling the nonprofits’ stories “because they’re rewarding. And I think people will respond to that when they come in here. They read a story about how a charity’s rescued a dog, that’ll make a more lasting impression upon them than looking at a Budweiser sign.”
Even the name Fido’s has deeper meaning. It’s become one of those words that’s synonymous with “dog” like “Fluffy” or “Bowser.” But Fido was a real pet who has his own monument in Italy. The Tuscan statue honors the dog’s devotion to his owner, whom he met every day after work at his bus stop and continued to return to that location for 14 years even after the man died in a bombing during World War II. Fido is now the patron saint for Porter’s business representing a dog’s best qualities, those that he hopes resonate with customers.
“It’s the loyalty and the faithfulness that dogs provide — that unflinching, unconditional love and that they will give everything,” Porter said. “But it’s that faithfulness that just crushes your heart of what they will do for a person. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, if you’re destitute. They will bond with you and provide you that love and emotional support.”
The taphouse, then, could be seen as just one way Porter is showing his support in return by saving the lives of some of the most vulnerable. To mark National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, Fido’s is hosting extra pups and other organizations like Pacific Pug Rescue and Great Pyrenees Rescue Society Saturday, April 28 through Monday, April 30. If those events lead to the permanent placement of any more dogs, Porter will likely get that familiar lump in his throat when it’s time to say goodbye.
“They look at me like I’m their dad. When I walk in the room or I leave, they cry,” Porter said. “We’re the parents.”
“The family. You even said that,” Hill said. “They’re your family.”
“Well they are my family. And it makes me sad when they, I mean, I’m happy, but every time a dog gets adopted we take their picture. I take a little video of them leaving because I get all choked up. It’s so nice to see them go home with a family because of what they mean.” •