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Lisa Wogan

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

Dog's Life: Travel
Home Sit, Stay or Swap
The offbeat, budget-smart frontier of dog-friendly travel

When Barrie and Tod duBois traveled to France earlier this year, their dog Abbie joined them. The well-mannered Fox Terrier went nearly everywhere with them, including a weeklong sailing trip in Corsica. When they dined out, Abbie was there, under the table and out of servers’ way like a native chien. Almost always, someone brought a water bowl without being asked, and one night in Provence, Abbie was served an entire steak and a meaty lamb bone. It helps that she bears a strong resemblance to Milou, sidekick to the hero of The Adventures of Tintin, a beloved French comic book series.

The previous year, the California-based couple left Abbie behind during a trip to Germany and missed her terribly. “We just didn’t feel that our family was complete without her,” Barrie duBois says. “Having her [in France] to cuddle with in the evening, watching her chase squirrels and lizards … was awesome.”

During their four months in France, the couple stayed free of charge in a succession of private homes while the homes’ regular occupants traveled to the U.S. and stayed for free in one of the duBoises’ two residences (one in Campbell and another on a lake in the Sierras). Listed on as many as 10 home-exchange sites, including HomeLink International (homelink.org/usa), HomeExchange.com, 1stHomeExchange.com and the Vacation Exchange Network (thevacationexchange.com), the duBoises are deeply ensconced in the world of dog-friendly home swaps.

Fueled by a multitude of websites and apps, travelers with dogs or those keen to find a pup at their destination are enthusiastically embracing alternatives to hotels, motels and inns. Among these alternative are house swaps, house-sitting and short-term rentals.

“I like being able to wander into the kitchen for coffee in the morning in my pajamas,” says Barrie, who got her fill of hotels while traveling for her job as an organization-effectiveness consultant. In addition to the low cost of swapping, private homes offer distinct advantages for those with dogs. Many have fenced yards and are located in residential areas well suited for walking. Plus, a house can be a more comfortable environment for dogs unaccustomed to the circumscribed environment of a hotel.

Most home-exchange services charge a membership fee, and the exchange itself can be simultaneous, non-simultaneous or even hosted (with residents on the premises during a stay). Some include resident pets in the deal. Using HomeLink and Intervac-HomeExchange.com, Betty and Bob Shiffman of Frankfort, Ky., have swapped homes during trips to Sweden, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. Bob is retired and Betty teaches at a community college. Generally, they board their dogs—a Labradoodle named Howdy (as in Howdy Doodle) and Daisy, a Cockapoo—during these vacations.

“When we go to Europe, we miss having our dogs with us,” Betty Shiffman says. So they were excited about a recent exchange in Norway that included swapping dog-sitting duties. For the Shiffmans, it meant looking after Cassie, a Golden Retriever who’d been rescued from her plight as a breeder dog in an Eastern European puppy mill.

“Cassie became my shadow,” Betty says. “She even followed me into the bathroom.” The Shiffmans fell in love with Cassie, who went almost everywhere with them. “It was fun to be able to take her so many places,” Bob Shiffman says.

It wasn’t until Cassie bolted during a walk along the beach that Betty started to have second thoughts. Cassie ran home safely, but the experience made the Shiffmans more aware of the responsibility. “I’m not sure we’d leave our dogs during a home exchange again,” Betty says.

For all of his 16 years, Ed Kushins’ Lab Nelson was never boarded. When the Kushins traveled, which was frequently, Nelson stayed at their Hermosa Beach, Calif., home and was cared for by home exchange guests—it was simply part of the deal. For the Kushins’ swap, guests had to want to take care of a dog.

“Even from the very beginning, we always had in the application if pet care was required, right up front. That’s because of me,” says Kushins, who is the founder and president of HomeExchange.com. He says around 20 percent of the site’s more than 40,000 listings specify some sort of pet care, and many are dog-friendly.

On the other hand, not everyone has a home to swap, and for years, frugal adventurers have long known how to parlay house-sitting into a way to see the world on a shoestring. Today, many websites connect homeowners and house-sitters, among them, HouseSittersAmerica.com, HouseCarers.com and MindMyHouse.com.

“A large proportion of our sitters are retired couples who, after a lifetime of work, have decided to pick up sticks and travel the world,” says Lisa Logan, a spokesperson for TrustedHousesitters.com. Two years ago, the UK-based company launched its website to connect homeowners with responsible travelers looking for a place to stay, usually free of charge.

In many cases, pets are part of the equation. “Lots of people love pets but can’t have their own for various reasons, so a break away with a dog or cat to look after is the perfect holiday,” Logan says.

Busy schedules and their grandchildren’s needs have kept TrustedHousesitters.com members Dan and Lyn Reece from having pets of their own, and the couple misses the companionship. Several of their best house-sitting experiences during the last three years included a resident pet.

“In each case, exercising the dog brought instant recognition from the neighbors, and led to making quick friends who could direct us to ‘must-see’ attractions in the area, and great restaurants that weren’t on the map,” says Dan Reece, a security consultant whose skills include fixing leaking pipes and scratching dog bellies.

Like other industry sites, TrustedHousesitters.com runs a “police check” on prospective house-sitters. They currently have 500 individuals from 36 different countries—including 70 from the U.S.

Short-term private home rentals can’t compete with free, but they do offer a way to cut costs (cooking at home, no-fee parking and so forth), plus a break from cookie-cutter hotel chains.

Many dog parents swear by VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner), including the Shiffmans, who rely on it to rent getaways for family reunions that can include up to as many as six dogs. VRBO.com boasts an inventory of around 165,000 properties, most of which are in the U.S. Of these, more than 41,000 are pet-friendly, including the duBoises’ lakefront house. HomeAway.com, which is VRBO.com’s slightly larger parent site, has more international coverage in its 260,000 vacation rentals, 73,250 of which are specifically pet-friendly.

Founded in 2008, Airbnb.com is a hip, new player on the block and is growing fast, with more than 100,000 listings for homes, apartments, houseboats, lofts and cottages as well as individual rooms, floors or suites. The service is available in more than 19,000 cities and 190 countries in a wide range of prices. More than 6,000 of the listings are pet-friendly.

Unlike VRBO.com, Airbnb.com includes many hosted opportunities, such as rooms in homes or apartments in houses, with the residents on the premises and part of the experience. Many times, this includes pets, which can mean playdates if you’re cleared to bring your dog or, if you’re traveling without your pet, a little fur therapy to fight off loneliness.

Layla, a lovable brown dog, offers canine hospitality to guests of a shabby-chic tree house in Burlingame, Calif., available through Airbnb.com. “As we present our ‘Treehouse Overlooking SF Bay’ experience to potential guests, we discuss openly that we are animal lovers,” says Doug Studebaker, treehouse builder and host. In addition to Layla, ten laying hens free range in the yard (which may be one reason guest dogs are not permitted). “This attracts other animal lovers from around the world. Funny how animals seem to speak that international language about love and kindness.”

Advocates of sitting, swapping or renting often mention that staying in someone’s home takes them outside the tourist bubble and helps them forge a deeper connection to a community and place. Include dogs in the mix and the experience deepens even more. As Studebaker says, “Animals have a way of creating heartfelt conversation.”

News: Guest Posts
The Gift of Dreams
When our departed dogs return to us for a night

The other night as I drifted off to sleep, I thought about how much I’d love to dream about my dog Lulu, who died in August. I’ve only had one dream about her since then, and it felt like she was back, which means it felt wonderful. But when I woke the following morning, I didn’t have any memory that I’d been successful in my efforts to conjure her.

Later in the day, while my husband and I were out walking our dog Renzo, Charlie mentioned that he’d dreamed about Lulu that night. He said, she had come to the back door and barked to be let in. When he opened the door, she pranced in with a couple packages of Jello mix in her mouth. Then, she produced another package of sausages and danced around her treasures. That’s all he could remember, but it was more than enough to feel right and make us laugh.

Next time, I hope I’m at the door when she stops by.

News: Guest Posts
Foster A Lonely Pet for the Holidays
While I rewrite A Christmas Carol

I recently watched A Christmas Carol—the überschmaltzy George C. Scott version with weirdly campy ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. It got me thinking that someone needs to make a dog-centric version of this holiday classic—not in least part to erase this one from my memory banks.

Scrooge would be a lonely old man, running a huge puppy mill. His visit to Christmases Past would flash on young Scrooge playing with a beloved family pup (his only friend) and then 20-something Scrooge dumping his best buddy at a shelter to take his first big job in another city.

For Christmas Present, he’d be forced to witness the destitute breeder moms in their cages and visit a home where children are surprised with the gift of one of his mill dogs, blissfully unaware of the incipient signs of temperament and health issues Scrooge can’t ignore.

Christmas future? Well, that’s a puppy mill raid on Christmas Day, which means rotting away in prison for Mr. Scrooge (this is a future where cruelty laws have real teeth). But, of course, he is redeemed when he wakes. The old black-hearted villain converts his acreage into a cage-free animal sanctuary, pours his ill-gotten gains into lobbying against puppy mills, and surrounds himself with healthy, happy rescue pups. Sigh.

Write your own Christmas miracle script this year through PetFinder.com’s “Foster A Lonely Pet for the Holidays” Program. Now in its third year, the program aims to “empty out animal shelters from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day.”

The goal of the program is to spread awareness about fostering and find temporary homes for adoptable pets while giving shelter workers and volunteers a much-needed break. A list of participating shelters and rescue groups can be found at www.petfinder.com/fosteralonelypet.

A short-term foster is a wonderful way to capture the spirit of the season, learn how fostering works and maybe discover you like it and want to continue, which could lead to a very happy new year for a pup or two.

News: Guest Posts
The Bark Story That’s Taking Me to Kenya
It started with hand-beaded dog collars

A funny thing about being a writer is that some assignments become part of your life. Seven years ago, I wrote about a community-based micro-enterprise program called BEADS (Beads for Education, Advancement, Development and Success) that was helping Maasai mothers in Kenya sell hand-beaded dog collars in the United States as a way to pay for their daughters’ tuition. (“Good Deeds with Beads,” Bark, Winter 2004).

Without education, many Maasai girls end up in arranged marriages as the second or third wife of an older man, expected to have many children—neither able to provide education for their own daughters nor improve the family’s standard of living. Even a high school education can break this cycle.

The beautiful patterned collars are what first captured my interest (I still love the one I bought—they make great gifts), but after talking with BEADS cofounder Debby Rooney, I became interested in doing more to support the program’s education goals through direct sponsorship.

My husband and I began paying school fees for a third grader named Lynn. At the time, BEADS sponsors were covering tuition for 127 students, most of whom were the first girls in their family to attend school. Today, more than 320 are sponsored, and Lynn will enter ninth grade in January.

On Friday, I am leaving for a trip to Africa, which will include nearly two weeks in Isinya, Kenya, where Lynn lives and attends school with many other BEADS-sponsored girls. It is also where BEADS is in the process of building its own high school (more on that, when I return).

My sister Whitney will be joining me and, along with Debby Rooney and Rukia Kadidi, who was the first BEADS college graduate and now manages the program, we will celebrate the eighth grade graduation, lead journaling, writing and reading classes for 40 girls, help build a traditional Maasai hut on the grounds of the future school and much more. I will also have my first chance to meet Lynn and her family, and offer in person my congratulations for her accomplishments so far.

I’m happy to have been given an opportunity to support the work of BEADS—first with a collar, then a sponsorship and, now, in person. I look forward to sharing a few stories when I return.

Culture: DogPatch
Good Deeds with Beads
Hand-beaded dog collars help send Maasai girls to school

For a young Maasai girl in rural Kenya, the future often looks like this: If her parents can afford high school, her brothers will attend in her place. At puberty, she’ll be forced into an arranged marriage to a much older man, as his second or third wife. She’ll be expected to bear as many children as possible. Once a mother, she will be in no position to educate her children or improve her family’s standard of living.

“But if you get a Maasai girl through high school, she’s probably going to pick her own husband, probably going to be the only wife, and probably will have far fewer children,” says Debby Rooney, cofounder of BEADS for Education, a nonprofit business development, conservation and education program in Isinya and the Amboseli region of Kenya. With education, she says, these girls will find careers, run businesses and take charge of their futures.

In a little more than ten years, Rooney has found a way to send 127 Maasai girls to private school, and her success has a most unlikely launching pad: dog collars.

As a New Jersey–based environmental educator traveling frequently to Kenya, Rooney recognized that many tribal families wanted to educate their daughters but couldn’t afford to. She decided to help create a sustainable solution—a community-based micro enterprise for Maasai women, most of whom were illiterate and had no business experience.

One day in the early ’90s, she took a friend and drove down a dirt road south of Nairobi, stopping to talk to the first woman they saw beading. “We asked her if she’d like to bead dog collars, which is a hysterical thought,” says Rooney, who’d realized that collars might have a better profit margin than belts. “They don’t name their dogs, feed their dogs, and rarely put collars on them. It’s a ridiculous idea. But that’s where it started.”

Since 1993, the 25 beaders in the Dupoto Women’s Group have been creating dog collars with tribal, snake and traditional patterns for sale halfway around the world. They live with their families in traditional mud huts or small wood and metal homes on dry plains. Gazelles, zebras and other wildlife from nearby Nairobi National Park migrate through their lands.

In the past, the women would attempt to sell their beadwork at crowded tourist markets—mostly in vain. Through BEADS (Beads for Education, Advancement, Development and Success), their collars and other beaded products are sold online and at a few museum and zoo shops in the U.S. All of the profit is returned to the women. It is their primary source of income and helps underwrite school fees.

“But it’s not just a financial difference,” says Karen Zulauf, co-owner of Safari Africa, an adventure travel company that began arranging small group visits to the Dupoto project last summer. “The whole program really transforms these women. It takes them from soft-spoken and retiring to people who are positive about themselves and positive about the progress their families can make.”

In 1998, Rooney expanded the program's reach by launching a direct sponsorship component. Sponsors commit to sending a girl to private school at a cost of roughly $30 per month. BEADS, which is affiliated with the Africa Wildlife Foundation and the International Women’s Democracy Center, also supports AIDS/HIV training, conservation education and internships.

The headmaster at a BEADS-affiliated school recently told Zulauf, it’s time to sponsor boys. “Now we have all these really intelligent girls and we have no one for them to marry,” he told her with a smile. “Once our girls get educated, they want to marry an educated man.”

It’s the sort of problem Debby Rooney will be happy to tackle next.

 

News: Guest Posts
Holiday Ornaments with a Mission
Make happy tails come true this December

This time of year, I’m always looking for ways to balance the excesses of the holiday with the true spirit of giving—without being a total buzzkill. It’s not always easy. But I can depend on Shelby Humane Society ornaments.

For a $50 sponsorship fee, I receive a framed portrait of an adorable shelter pup in Central Alabama, where pet overpopulation makes finding dogs homes extremely difficult. Meanwhile, that dog gets much-needed transportation to a partner shelter in New England, where animal laws and spay and neuter initiatives have limited the number of pets available for adoption, making it possible for most Shelby animals to be adopted within a week.

This is the fifth year of Shelby’s Shelter Partners transport program, which means they have plenty of wonderful dog-finds-loving-home stories to read, which is another way to get into the holiday spirit.

 

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News: Guest Posts
Our First-Ever Dogging the Hound Award
To Gail Collins for never letting Romney off the hook

For some achievements in life, there are established awards. For others, awards must be created—inspired by an accomplishment. And so it is with New York Times columnist Gail Collins and her relentless mission not to let Mitt Romney off the hook for his massively ill-fated decision to put his Irish Setter, Seamus, in a crate and tie the crate to the roof of the family car for an eight-hour drive to Ontario.

Yes, it’s been reported. Plenty for some. But not for Collins. The episode is shorthand for Romney, a key to understanding the man. Where’s his empathy? His reason? Was he just too cheap to hire a dog-sitter?

She hit it most recently in her November 30 conversation with David Brooks. They surveyed the Republican field, and Brooks segued to the Massachusetts governor:

David: That gives us a chance to talk about Romney and his weaknesses, which are glaring.

Gail: Dog on the roof of the car. Dog on the roof of the car.

I’m thrilled she brings it up every chance she gets, even goes out of her way to flag it. According to a Collins watcher on Tumblr, the columnist has mentioned Seamus’s sad story 23 times since she first wrote about it. A key to her fixation can be found in the last line of that story, “… every time Mitt Romney walks on stage, a sodden Irish setter is going to flash before my eyes.” And ours—if she has her way.

Update: Military Dogs with PTSD
More dogs in war, more dogs suffering combat stress

Last March, several news stories reported on the mental and physical health costs U.S. military dogs were paying in the line of duty, including what behaviorists at the time mostly called “combat stress.” Now they're calling it canine PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and, according to a story in The New York Times, more than five percent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed in combat are developing the condition.

The partnership between humans and dogs is a beautiful thing, but it’s upsetting to see our dedicated partners suffer in this way. If the Pentagon’s record on treating PTSD in veterans is any measure, I’m not hopeful for these poor pups.

News: Guest Posts
West Hollywood Bans Fur Sales
Good for foxes and rabbits and dogs and cats

West Hollywood is simultaneously the first and the last place you’d expect a ban on fur sales. The last place because West Hollywood is home to a long tradition of A-listers sporting fur when it’s not even cold. The first place because West Hollywood has steadily been in the vanguard of passing humane laws. It was the first city to ban the declawing of cats in 2003 and among the first to formally adopt the term “guardian” in place of “owner” in 2001.

The ban on sales of clothing made from the skin or pelt of animals with hair, wool or fur is the first in the country, and goes into effect in 2013. It’s a small but significant step in the effort to end the cruel practice of factory farms and the trapping of wild animals, and the ban is also good news for dogs and cats. Investigations by the Humane Society of the United States have revealed that dog fur (which cannot legally be sold in the U.S.) is still falsely labeled and sold here. HSUS claims that millions of domestic dogs and cats are killed on purpose or accidentally by the fur trade every year. Every step that reduces demand is a step in the right direction.

News: Guest Posts
How Many Raisins in Raisin Bran?
A veterinarian with a potentially sick dog needed to know

Thanks to everyone who replied to my post, A Death in the Pack. Your stories and advice were both comforting and enlightening. Happily, Renzo dodged any long-term ill effects of his raisin binge and was back on stride within a few days.

But there was one aspect of Raisingate that was not satisfactory. When I first brought Renzo in, my veterinarian tried to assess how many raisins he may have ingested by eating approximately a half a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. She called Kellogg’s to ask and was told it was proprietary information the company couldn’t release.

She was trying to figure out if he’d consumed more than three ounces, which would make a big difference in toxicity and treatment strategy—essentially, one day of fluids versus three days.

Thanks to the Internet and a skeptical engineering student, my vet was able to crack this carefully guarded secret with a few strikes of the keyboard! Aspiring Polymath: Adrian Corscadden decided to challenge Kellogg’s two scoops claim and actually separated out the raisins and weighed them. (His judgment: Barely a cup, or 150 grams in the 475 gram box.)

While Adrian was bothered by the vague “2 scoops” claim, I was peeved by Kellogg’s disregard for my dog. My business-savvy friends tell me it’s the way business is done. Sick dog be damned! Companies need to protect their intellectual property. I get that. I understand why they might not want to reveal a secret recipe. But anyone—including Corscadden, spikebythesea and Chow.com—can eventually separate out and weigh the raisins, so it’s hardly top secret.

So thanks to all of you out there who like to count and measure and record your discoveries. I’m not the only dog mom who’s grateful you did (at least one commenter on Adrian’s blog mentioned needing the information for this same reason). As for Kellogg’s, count me unhappy.

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