Dog Friendly Finds CT: Festive Gift Guide
Tell us a little more about you — the person behind Dog Friendly Finds CT…
Hi everyone! My name is Rachel Musa, and I am the creator of Dog Friendly Finds CT. Growing up, my brother and I were unable to have pets because our dad was allergic to them. Now that I have a house of my own with my husband, Aken, we have filled it with dogs. We are currently pawrents to Weezy and Usher. We often refer to them as “the boys”. We have also taken up fostering with New England Puppy Rescue. You can often find adorable foster pups looking for their homes with us.
Outside of Dog Friendly Finds, I am a literacy coach for New Haven Public Schools. I have been teaching for ten years, with most of my career spent as a third grade teacher. When I’m not on a dog adventure, my husband and I are usually checking out the newest restaurant or going on a little getaway. We love to travel and experience new things!
Is there something that inspired you to start DFF? What’s been your most exciting discovery on this journey so far?
Weezy became best friends with the dog next door, Bailey (we call her his girlfriend). Weezy and Bailey love to play together! We became fast friends with Bailey’s humans. Bailey’s mom, Mary, and I were determined to find some places we could bring them. It was pretty easy in the warmer weather since dogs can be outside at a lot of places. Once it started getting colder, we found it was more challenging. Dog Friendly Finds was created because we wanted to find out where we could bring our fur babies, no matter the weather. It has been so much fun reaching out to different local businesses to find out their dog policies. I have learned that dogs are allowed in a lot more places than you would think! I was so happy to learn that outside of wineries and breweries, dogs are allowed in some bookstores, at the beach (off season), in some coffee shops, and many other places. My favorite discovery last winter was the SoNo Collection Mall in Norwalk. It's a great place to walk your pup on a cold day. Many of the stores allow your dog in to shop with you as well!
Why Connecticut? What do you love most about living here? Share your favorite spot and why…
I created this Instagram account and website specifically for Connecticut because this is where we live. I wanted to find local spots that we could easily visit. CT is so wonderful because everything seems to be about an hour and a half (max) away. All our adventures are very doable within a day.
One of my favorite days is going to Mystic and stopping at spots along the way. Esker Point Beach in Groton is the only beach I have found in the state that allows dogs all year round. We love stopping at Book Barn in Niantic for a unique book shopping experience. Once in Mystic, Olde Mistick Village is dog friendly. There are many shops downtown that allow dogs in as well. We love shopping at Queenie's Gift Emporium, grabbing a drink at Bank & Bridge Brewing, and having a bite at Dog Watch Cafe or Taquerio. There are so many options! Using our map is super helpful in planning out your day adventure!
What brings you the most joy turning this passion project into a reality?
I think the best part of all of this has been connecting with so many small business owners. It has been beyond incredible talking to so many people and learning their stories. The Connecticut Dog Community is truly the most supportive, encouraging, and friendly group of people. I have learned so much about being a responsible dog parent from listening to others' experiences. The more my Instagram account grows, the more people I am able to connect with. It has truly been a dream! I never imagined it would have such a positive response. I honestly just wanted to make a list of places where the boys could visit and figured if I wanted this information, maybe others would as well.
How do you spend the holidays? Do you have any year-on-year traditions?
I love that my family is an interfaith family. This makes the holiday season super special for us. We always light the menorah for Hanukkah and then celebrate Christmas as well. In our house, we have two Christmas trees every year. One is our serious tree that is decorated with ornaments that never change and that match our house. Our second tree is our fun tree. It is filled with ornaments from vacations and happy events in our lives. I love seeing this tree get decorated more year after year.
Every year, I buy our crew matching PJ sets as well! Recently, we have been alternating between Hanukkah and Christmas PJs.
For a while, we had Christmakkah with our friends every year. Covid stopped that, but we are hoping to bring it back this year. Basically, we all get together in our ugly holiday sweaters and eat latkes and cookies. It’s a great time! We also visit Cava with our friends to see the beautiful decorations. It has become tradition to grab a late dinner and then visit Hubbard Park’s holiday light display.
My favorite thing to do for the holidays is to spend a day in the city. I love going to Bryant Park’s Winter Village, seeing the window displays at the department stores, and stopping by Rockefeller Center. Christmas in New York is so magical!
What are your happiest memories of the holiday season? Name a few of your favorite festive things to do with your pups…
I love bringing the boys to Hubbard Park in Meriden to see the holiday lights. We always drive through the display and blast holiday music at least once a season.
We always visit at least one location to get holiday photos taken. It has become tradition to go with our best neighbor dog Bailey. We like to make a fun little adventure day out of photo day.
I also love filling the pups’ stockings each year with lots of chews and treats. The chews come in handy for all our adventures. Our family pictures in matching PJs is also a core memory for me. I love being together!
Talk us through how you like to include and/or spoil your pups on big celebration days like Christmas…
The boys get an advent calendar every year. Some years they get their own and some years they share. This year we have already ordered our Because of Dogs Advent Calendar (check out their Instagram to order your own). The boys get spoiled with new sweaters for their walks, lots of treats, and so much love! They might even get some scraps from human dinner if they’re extra good. The boys each have their own stocking and their own ornament on our tree. They are included in all things holiday at our house!
Do you have any dog-friendly holiday reminders?
Remember that although our dogs are family, they are still dogs. Never feed them chocolate or other toxic foods. Make sure that if you are having people over, your dogs are still accounted for. Never leave them alone with candles or food. Also, make sure you are not filling your home with poinsettia, mistletoe, and holly. They are all toxic to dogs!
Also, as the temperature drops, please be mindful. Dogs can get hypothermia and frostbite.
Now for the gift guide! We would love you to share your “top 12 festive finds for pups” with us…
Here are my top 12 holiday suppliers, gifts, and locations to visit for you and your pups:
- Top Dog Food & Supply - Our boys go crazy for some air-dried chews and treats. Check out the large variety of flavors Top Dog has to offer. They make it convenient with pick up at their warehouse or local shipping options. These are going to be the boys favorite stocking stuffers this year!
- Canis Mountain Outfitters - We are obsessed with our Clip Lead with Flat Traffic Handle Leashes and Slip Collars. We highly recommend checking out their catalog with beautiful color options and collections. The gear is durable, fashionable, and practical. We love our custom fitted gear that keeps the boys safe on all our adventures. Their gear would make a great gift for your pup!
- Because of Dogs - We are so excited for our 25-day Advent Calendar of apple cinnamon decorated treats from this local all natural dog treat vendor. We love that there is an option to order double treats for each day since we have two dogs. This was definitely a must-buy for our holiday celebrations this year.
- Annie’s Art Party - Annie travels around CT to local breweries and wineries. She offers different workshops and walks you through painting your pet. Some of her workshops include painting pillows, whitewash boards, canvas totes, wine glasses, beer mugs, and ornaments. We love how fun and easy Annie makes this experience. You leave with a special item of your pet! Many of the places Annie visits happen to be dog friendly as well. We love this as a gift for any dog parent to make a one of a kind keep sake of their pup!
- Dogology - This pet store has locations in Avon and Canton. They have a large supply of dog food and the most knowledgeable staff. Dogology is committed to helping you find healthy options for your pup. We love going and exploring the natural options of supplies. Check out either store for lots of gift options for your dogs!
- Lovelee Paws Photography - Lee is a local photographer who we have worked with multiple times. She does beautiful studio sessions or outdoor sessions for you and your pup. These pictures are great gifts for any dog family. We love Lovelee Paws because Lee is kind, patient, and caring towards all dogs. It would be a beautiful idea to give a gift of a photography session to any pet owners you know.
- Charlie's Traveling Treat Truck - If you haven’t seen Charlie’s treats yet, you are surely missing out. The owner, Becky, creates the most gorgeous dog treats that are always themed for the season. She does custom treats and cakes for any occasion. Did I mention our dogs go crazy for her treats? Check out her social media to see her latest winter themed treats. They make great stocking stuffers for your pup.
- Dane Good - We love this local retailer. Dane Good has lots of custom-made products that make gorgeous gifts for any pet parent. I am obsessed with my laser etched notebook, tumbler, and candle from them. All candles are pet friendly. They donate $1 from every item sold to a pet rescue organization. The owner, Kelly, hosts candle making workshops as well. Highly recommended for a human gift with perfect doggie touches.
- Chuckit! Flying Squirrel - Our favorite dog toy of all time is the Flying Squirrel from Chuckit! Weezy loves frolicking around outside with the squirrel in his month. It makes for a great game of fetch, and really helps us get the zoomies out. These durable toys last a long time. We always have multiple all over our yard. This is our favorite toy of the year. You can find a link to this toy on our website.
- Treats Pupperia - This boutique pet store is located in Ridgefield. They have a beautiful selection of food, chews, treats, gear, and clothing. When you walk in, your dog is offered a pup cup and invited to be off leash. It is a welcoming environment with a small dog park attached in the back. This store is truly meant for your dog to shop with you! We love their selection of Dope Dog CBD treats and supplements. Shopping at Treats is a treat for you and your pet.
- Saybrook Point Inn & Marina - This dog friendly hotel is one of our favorite places to bring our crew for a staycation. The inn is quaint and welcoming. Dogs are allowed in dog friendly rooms for a nightly fee. They are allowed in common areas and on the grounds, which back to the Saybrook Marina. We highly recommend dining at Fresh Salt which is connected to the Inn. Dogs are welcome to dine with you outside. They do have heaters in the colder months. This is a gift for the entire family. Be sure to check out the spa and their amazing pools and saunas.
- Last but not least, we had to include New England Puppy Rescue to our list. Although this is not a place you visit with your dogs or a place to buy supplies, NEPR is a magical place no matter the season. We strongly recommend getting involved by volunteering or donating. If you are willing to take it a step further, fostering and adopting with New England Puppy Rescue is a no brainer. It has brought me so much joy becoming a part of their team this year. If you are gifting someone a dog this year (or yourself) be sure to apply with any rescue. Adopt, don’t shop!
What are your go-to Top Dog products for filling those stockings?
We cannot wait to fill the boys’ stockings with bully sticks and a variety of air dried options from Top Dog. Weezy and Usher especially love the air dried chicken. Top Dog has so many amazing chews for all dogs to use to help them settle in on our adventures.
Have you got any money-saving tips for people sticking to a budget?
The best part about most of the dog friendly places on my Doggie Bible list is that you do not have to spend money to be there. You can always visit a local spot and just hang out. There is also no cost for walking around and seeing the holiday lights. Spending time with your pup is a gift in itself!
Is there anything else you’d like to share or believe our Top Dog community will benefit from knowing about using your Doggie Bible?
The Doggie Bible was created with so much love. It is absolutely free to be on, and now has a map feature to make it easier for people to see where different spots are located. Each list is divided into sections that tell any restrictions locations might have. It is important to always check with businesses before visiting because policies are always changing. I am constantly updating the website as well. I am proud to say we have well over 1,000 locations listed! We are working to begin partnerships with local businesses. Reach out to learn more!
What’s the best way for people to contact you with new “dog friendly” suggestions and locations to try out?
If you would like to be added to the website or have any suggestions, please reach out. Everything I am doing is for you! If you have ideas of how I can make it better or easier to use, I want to hear! The map was added because of used feedback! You can DM me on Instagram @dog_friendly_finds_ct or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What matters most at this time of year?
The holiday’s can be so magical if you allow yourself a moment to appreciate all you have in life. Although it can be a challenging time as well, I encourage everyone to focus on the good this holiday season. It doesn’t matter what holiday you celebrate or how many gifts you're able to buy. The real magic of the holiday reason is being with the ones you love. Hug your pups extra tight!
Remember, it’s always better when your dog can come. Shop small. Support your local businesses. Be kind. Spread the love.