At this movie, their phones won’t bother you. Their barking might.
By Derrick Bryson Taylor
Kab, a 2-year-old Doberman wearing a blue bandanna, is noticeably anxious.
Sometimes called “cupcake,” he is roughly the size and weight of a teenage boy and has the energy to match. At the moment, he is being led around the courtyard of a cinema in East London by one of his owners, Luisa Fulcher, to walk off his jitters and allow for one last bathroom break before he and a handful of other dogs settle in for something unusual: their first moviegoing experience.
Last weekend, Curzon Cinemas, a chain with 16 locations in Britain, began allowing dogs to attend select movie screenings with their owners, starting with “Strays,” an expletive-laden, live-action comedy that follows a group of dogs (voiced by actors including Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx) that unite to seek revenge on an owner.
London is a paradise for pooches, which are regularly found at the feet of their owners at restaurants, pubs, on trains and in many other public places. Movie theaters may be next to welcome dogs, thanks in part to the pandemic.
In Britain, which has a population of about 67 million people, there are an estimated 11 million pet dogs, according to a report this year by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a veterinary charity. Pet ownership surged during the pandemic, and now that workers are being encouraged to return to the office, some pets and their owners are struggling with the transition.
“A lot of people got dogs during the pandemic, and they want to come and see a film with their dog,” said Jake Garriock, head of publicity at Curzon. He said the new screenings were part of a larger program designed to let customers watch films in ways that best suit them, such as screenings for infants that feature reduced volume and increased lighting.
For now, Curzon is allowing dogs of any breed at only one screening a week, at only one of the chain’s London locations, Garriock said. (And no, separate tickets are not required for dogs.) They’re not allowed on the seats, and their owners must clean up any accidents.
Curzon is not alone in welcoming dogs. Picturehouse Cinemas, another British chain, has offered pup-friendly screenings since 2015, and there are numerous independent movie theaters in Britain that do so. (Most cinemas, however, allow only service dogs.)
Back outside the theater, Fulcher said she had brought a bone for Kab, who was now whimpering for attention and playfully jumping on a reporter.
“I think that it’s a great idea because nowadays pets are part of the family,” she said of the theater’s new screenings. “They are not just pets anymore. It’s like your little baby.”
For other dog owners, the screenings provide a new freedom. Ziad Dajani said he and his partner had not been to the movies together in four years because of Tarçin, their 8-year-old Australian labradoodle, who suffers from separation anxiety. “We’re his hostages, basically,” Dajani said. “So we can’t leave him alone for a minute. Someone has to be with him all the time.”
Standing in line to purchase snacks for the screening were a few other dog owners, including Rebecca Minty and her daughter. With them was Lottie, who was lying on the floor and not particularly bothered by anything or anyone. Minty said Lottie, a 7-year-old working cocker spaniel who does not work, was taken on a long run before coming to the theater in an effort to keep her calm.
Inside, the screening was like any other, except for the rustling of collars and the occasional bark. The movie’s sound level was also dialed back.
“It’s vital that cinemas reduce the sound at dog-friendly screenings, otherwise the volume could cause them distress and even pain,” Dr. Katherine Polak, a veterinarian and a vice president at Humane Society International, said in a statement. “In principle, it’s similar to cinemas that offer baby-friendly screenings that also reduce sound and accept that some level of disruption is likely.”
Paget Fulcher, Kab’s other owner, said after the screening that Kab had behaved well despite the challenges. “Most of the time, he was laying down on the ground, playing with a toy that we brought for him,” he said. “It was all good. Nothing bad happened. I think we’re very happy with how it went.”
A dog’s behavior at home offers clues as to how the animal might handle a movie screening, according to Graeme Hall, a British dog trainer known as “The Dogfather” who hosts the Netflix show “Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly.”
“Some dogs seem to like watching the television, and some dogs don’t notice,” said Hall, who advised monitoring a dog for signs of stress, including making sounds, yawning, licking their lips and pinning back their ears.
He also said dogs take their cues from their owners. “We know for a fact that dogs are constantly looking at our facial expressions and body language, the little sounds we make, even our breathing patterns,” he said. “If you’re having a good time, there’s a very good chance that your dog will pick up on that.”
Garriock acknowledged that not everyone might enjoy going to a movie with dogs in the audience.
“Obviously, there’s plenty of screenings where they won’t be interrupted by dogs,” he said. “If you like cats, then you can head to one of the other screenings.”