Retailers are going to the dogs to help sales

These might be some of the darkest retailing times in recent memory, but some local fashion retailers have found an unexpected, furry bright spot appealing to shoppers.

Their dogs.

No, not the fashionable lapdogs that celebrities such as Paris Hilton tote to New York fashion shows, Hollywood lunches and Rodeo Drive shopping jaunts.

We're talking burly yellow labs, dignified English springer spaniels and lovable golden retrievers.

You'll find them in more Triangle stores these days, mostly in locally owned boutiques, lapping up as much attention from customers as do the Nanette Lepore tops, Betsey Johnson dresses and McKenzie Tribe leather jackets.

Shoppers often walk by, spot them through a door or window and, depending on how much of a dog lover they are, stop in to pet them. With any luck, they'll take an extra minute to browse the selection, make a point to return or, better still, spend some money.

"They're definitely showstoppers," says Tamsey Killian, whose husband Todd is co-owner of McKenzie Tribe. The North Hills store is becoming known not just for its high-quality men's sportswear, but for Bear and Moose, the golden retrievers often lounging on the rug near the front doors.

"They attract a lot of people," Killian says. "People want to come to see the dogs."

Elizabeth Patterson, 37, an admitted dog lover who regularly shops in Cameron Village, says she's often pulled into stores she wouldn't normally go into because of the dogs.

"It makes the businesses seem a little less like a business and more fun and homey," she says.

Of course, store owners aren't doing it just to pull in customers.

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