activities & sports
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A handicapped dog negotiates obstacles with his nose
Navigating an agility course isn’t easy, so it would seem impossible for a dog who can’t see or hear. But there’s one pup in Texas who is proving everyone wrong.
Charlie is from a litter of deaf and blind puppies who were slated to be euthanized at a Texas shelter. Tara Stermer, a local trainer, and her friend, Carol Knight, took in Charlie, the mom, and two of the other puppies. Tara and Carol have been doing basic obedience and rescue event demos with the dogs, but were looking for new ways to provide enrichment.
At the suggestion of a friend who works with deaf and blind adults, Tara started teaching Charlie to negotiate agility obstacles with his nose. It may seem crazy, but Tara believes that training blind dogs to differentiate obstacles by smell isn’t so dissimilar from teaching a seeing dog to track.
Each obstacle is assigned a different scent so that Charlie can use his nose to anticipate what obstacle is coming up. So far Charlie has learned to go over a small jump and weave through poles.
Tara isn’t aware of anyone else doing agility by scent, so it’s still a work in progress. She may incorporate textures since scent varies with wind and other weather conditions.
Unfortunately, dogs with disabilities are often the first to be euthanized at shelters. But Tara has found that their handicap doesn’t hinder their learning curve. These dogs don’t realize that they’re different and can be trained with operant conditioning just like any other dog.
Charlie is an inspiration who will hopefully encourage people not to give up on these special dogs. Truly anything is possible!
Check out the Training By Tara Facebook page to follow Charlie's journey.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Paddling white water with a dog at the helm.
With the rhythmic stroke of our paddles, we leave the city of Glenwood Springs, Colo., behind and continue our float down the famed Colorado River. Ahead, a trio of herons stands at the water’s edge on a small grassy island that sits mid-river, temporarily dividing the Colorado in two.We paddle for the channel on the right, hoping we’ve made the correct choice.As we enter the channel—well past the point of no return —we’re confronted by a big rapid and tall waves.
Pointing our kayak resolutely downriver, we paddle hard into the rapid. Two waves crash over the bow, soaking Kelli (my wife), Altai (our dog) and me. The cold water is a momentary shock to our systems.We’re drenched, but we make it through, exiting into calmer water below the rapid. Altai turns around to look at me, a shocked expression on his face, and seems to be thinking, What was that? Kelli and I, for our part, are elated. This is what whitewater rafting is all about.
Eight months earlier, Kelli and I had adopted Altai as a twomonth- old puppy from a local shelter.His name, which means “golden mountain,” was both a reflection of his coloring and the embodiment of our wishes for what he would become as a fullgrown dog. Kelli and I are passionate outdoor adventurers, and we hoped that Altai would become our companion in the mountains— hiking, climbing, camping, snowshoeing. Early on, he proved to be a more-than-able adventurer, romping in the snow, hiking on trails and scrambling over rocks to lofty summits. But when whitewater rafting season came around, Kelli and I had concerns. Could we safely take him with us? Could we merge our passion for river adventure with our newfound responsibilities of puppy parenthood?
I scoured the rivers of Colorado for an appropriate whitewater run, and ultimately settled on a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River on the state’s Western Slope, starting in Glenwood Canyon, running past the town of Glenwood Springs and finishing humbly at a pullout along Interstate 70 known as Tibbet’s Takeout. I chose the route for its scenic beauty—it is a transitional landscape, in which the evergreens and high summits of the Rockies slowly give way to the sagebrush and red rock of Utah’s canyon country—and also for its whitewater. Predominantly Class II with a series of Class III rapids thrown into the mix, it would offer Altai an introduction to whitewater rafting that wouldn’t scare him off the river for life, but would still give us a challenge and excitement.
In the weeks leading up to our planned adventure, a photograph I found on the Internet became our inspiration.Taken on a stretch of Arizona’s Upper Salt River, the photo showed a solo whitewater rafter using a pair of oars in oarlocks to navigate his raft through a tumultuous, foaming rapid. In the bow of the boat, his yellow Lab stood smiling into the spray.With any luck, Kelli, Altai and I would be doing much the same thing, or having at least as much fun.
The Big Day
Accompanied by Altai—properly attired in his flotation jacket—Kelli and I walk the kayak down to the water’s edge. More than a dozen other rafts are lined up, with commercial guides and literal boatloads of paying clients ready to give it a go on the river. Altai is the only dog, and he gets lots of smiles as I strap our food, water and camera into the back of the boat. The Colorado is running swift and brown, and the rock walls of the canyon soar above us.
Kelli settles into the bow of the boat, Altai follows, and I push us off into the river’s main current. Altai’s ears are down, and he’s clearly not sure about this new activity. The inflated gunwales of the boat flex under his feet as he tries to walk around,and he struggles to hold himself steady.We float downstream, and slowly but surely,Altai gets his river legs under him.As his comfort and confidence grow, so does the smile we’ve come to know so well, and he shows an endless curiosity about the canyon around us and the water surrounding him on all sides.
Before long,we tackle a series of straightforward rapids.Altai, who has been sitting in the bow in front of Kelli, comes back to sit between my legs; he seems to feel safer when sandwiched between us.
Then we face our first challenging Class III rapid of the day. We enter the rapid on river-right between two large boulders jutting out of the water.As the accelerating current pulls us into the rapid, a third large rock looms dead ahead. “Back-paddle right!” I yell to Kelli. Together, we quickly reverse our paddle strokes, which has the combined effect of halting our progress toward the boulder straight ahead of us and swinging the back of our kayak around so that we execute a 360-degree spin, exiting the rapid without touching a single rock. Both of us share the excitement and satisfaction of cleanly navigating our first major rapid.
By now, Altai, for his part, is learning to read the river. During calmer stretches between the rapids, he is alert, looking around at the canyon. But when he hears the subtle roar of approaching whitewater, he drops his center of gravity and braces against the gunwale.
So continues our whitewater adventure.We follow a bend in the river oxymoronically dubbed No Name. As the river continues its westward march, the canyon slowly recedes, and the canyon walls are replaced by the hot springs for which the town of Glenwood Springs is famous. There’s a pungent smell of sulfur, and the riverbank is streaked yellow and green with the mineral deposits from the springs. Amazingly, despite the busloads of commercial river trips driving up I-70 to the Grizzly Creek put-in, we have the river to ourselves.
As we float into the heart of downtown Glenwood Springs, the red ramparts of Elk Mountain loom over us.We pass an Amtrak station, and then a large Petco store.At the confluence of the Colorado and the Roaring Fork River, which flows down from Aspen, the river grows considerably. It’s wide and gentle here, and we beach our kayak among willows on the shoreline to eat lunch before resuming our journey.
Back on the water, we pass the island with herons and the rapid alongside, and then face South Canyon Rapid, the biggest of the day. Our guidebook describes it as a giant wave train, and recommends tackling the rapid straight on and “staying at the top of the food chain.”With Altai fully comfortable on the river now, we paddle hard into the rapid. It’s like a wet roller coaster as we go up and over each successive wave.
With the South Canyon Rapid behind us, the river relaxes considerably, and the three of us kick back to enjoy the view. Just before Tibbet’s Takeout, we navigate one final rapid, Dinosaur Hole, named for a nearby quarry where fossils were discovered. Soon, though, we’re on the beach at Tibbet’s, soaking up the warm early-afternoon sunlight. Altai lies down as Kelli and I deflate the kayak and pack up our gear. I glance over and see him smiling, and I know there’s a river dog somewhere back in his bloodline.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Play by the numbers
The popularity of Dog Perignon Champagne plush toys, Hairy Winston squeak toys, and the chewable Dolce and Grrrbana designer shoes is a sign that the market for dog toys has exploded in recent years. Choosing toys can be daunting—the good ones need to be safe, fun and last a reasonable amount of time, but they shouldn’t be outrageously priced or so painful when stepped on in the middle of the night by bare feet that we lose our PG rating. Here are a few that I feel meet all of the above requirements.
1. Intellitoys. Dogs learn when they play, and some toys, such as the Intellicube and the Intellibone, are designed specifically with canine education in mind. Dogs can spend hours happily playing with the removable parts, learning to use mouths, paws and noses to manipulate objects.
2. Jackpot Chipmunk. Another educational favorite, this toy has a Velcro® closure pocket containing a plush-covered squeaker. Dogs can learn to open the pocket to get the squeaker, or the pocket can be used to store treats. My dog Bugsy, whom I lovingly describe as a couple of ants short of a picnic, finally learned to fetch with this method. He dutifully brought the toy, which he probably thought was a dog-proof cookie jar, back to me so that he could be paid in liver biscotti for his hard work.
3. Kong. If a household has only a single dog toy, it’s likely to be from the Kong line. These almost indestructible hollow toys can be filled with almost any kind of food, including treats such as cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese or biscuits, which the dog will then spend enormous amounts of time removing.Many dogs who are not toy-motivated learn to love them after experiencing the Kong.
4. Ball. A lot of dogs get over-the-top excited about fetching tennis balls, and anybody whose dog loves them to the point of distraction (literally!) should pause to be grateful, because never was there a less expensive, versatile, goodfor- us, good-for-them toy. If you’re inhibited by the prospect of handling a slimy ball, get a Chuckit, a plastic tool that you can use to scoop up and toss the ball without ever touching it.
5. Flying Disc. Fetch games with flying discs are even more fun and exciting to many dogs than fetching balls. The Flying Squirrel and the Hurl-a-Squirrel are both popular with the canine set. The Soft Bite Floppy Disc floats in water and has hot pink edges, which make it easy to locate after an errant throw (note the voice of experience here).Regular flying discs can injure dogs’ teeth, which is why I recommend these kinder, gentler types.
6. Donkey Tail Tug Toy. Though a knotted rope will suffice, the Donkey Tail— a long, stretchy braid of fleece—is even better for tug games. Plus, it’s made of material that doesn’t get as slimy as most tug toys or become as strongly redolent of eau de dog breath.
7. Egg Babies. These plush toys, which come in forms such as dinosaur, duck, hedgehog or platypus, have three removable squeaky “eggs” hidden inside a pouch. Dogs can pull the eggs out through the elasticized opening, which is fun for those who love to search for and find treasures. The eggs are just a little bit bigger than tennis balls, and as a huge bonus, replacement three-packs are available.
8. Booda Rip ’Ems. These are “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” toys.Dogs love to rip things apart, and Booda Rip ’Ems are actually designed for it. Their pieces are attached with Velcro® and can be reattached in a variety of ways. Many dogs love the ripping sound the Velcro® makes as much as the feeling of pulling the toy apart. The shapes include tigers, beach balls and watermelons.
9. The Critter. Lest we forget that our furry friends are predators, and superb ones at that, their toy choices remind us. Plush toys to rip apart and squeaky toys to pounce on are prized by most dogs. For the more discriminating predator, consider The Critter, which is essentially a faux fur–covered tennis ball with a faux fur tail attached. It is rare to make the acquaintance of a dog who does not go wild over it.
The main purpose of dog toys is not to give us a peaceful moment in which to read the paper and have a cup of coffee (although if you’ve used them this way, join the club). Rather, their function is to enhance play, which is a critical and often ignored part of canine behavior. And just as the best children’s books can be enjoyed by adults and children reading together, the best dog toys can be enjoyed by people and dogs playing together.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Program transcends the sport to improve kids' lives
Blond fur flying gracefully, Lizzie the Golden Retriever leaps through the tire jump, scurries through the first tunnel and times her bar jump perfectly. Then, rounding the corner, she scampers past the second tunnel.
“Lizzie, this way!” directs her handler, circling her arm toward the tunnel entrance. Lizzie watches, wags and then seems to make a decision: she dashes gleefully toward the trees. Everyone on the course laughs.
Normally, this behavior on an agility course would earn major faults, but here, it’s all part of the fun—and the therapy.
Lizzie is a participant in Abilities Through Agility, a unique program that combines kids, therapy dogs and an agility course to help the children achieve their physical, occupational (focused on improving motor functions and everday activities/interactions) and speech-therapy goals.
The program began over a picnic table at the dog park, a brainstorm shared by Anne Bates, a physical therapist at ChildServe (childserve.org), the rehabilitative-services facility in Johnston, Iowa, where the program takes place, and Nicole Shumate, founder of Paws & Effect (paws-effect.org), a nonprofit that trains therapy and service dogs. Shumate, who had seen a television program that featured an autistic boy and his dog participating in agility trials, imagined starting a similar program. Bates agreed, but wondered, “Do we have to limit it to autism?”
In January 2007, they launched Abilities Through Agility (ATA) with just four children. Now, the program has grown to four sessions each week, serving kids with severe injuries as well as degenerative, developmental, chromosomal and other disorders.
With three children, three therapists, two to three dogs and their handlers, three rehab techs, and a few parents in attendance, the sessions are “exercises in controlled chaos,” according to Bates. “It’s structured, but that structure’s hidden underneath.” In this setting, agility obstacles mask sometimes mundane or frustrating therapy obstacles, and the dogs motivate the children to overcome them.
This session starts with setting up the jumps, which requires physical and occupational skills. Alex, a 14-year-old with purple- and blue-streaked hair, wheels the uprights down the sidewalk in her wheelchair. “You’ll have to use your muscles,” says her therapist.
“I left ’em at home, sorry!” calls Alex.
Alex, who has Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a rare genetic neurodegenerative disease, doesn’t actually mind the difficult task of transporting and handing off the uprights. She’s motivated to set up so that she can direct a dog through the course. “Kids are more likely to do things for the dogs than probably anyone else,” says Alex’s father, Greg Champion.
“You don’t notice you are actually working as much,” adds Alex.
Part of the program consists of the participants simply keeping up with their four-legged therapists as they dash through the course. While some run alongside their dogs, Alex pushes herself down the sidewalk that cuts through the course. At one point, Finn, her Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier partner, scampers to the top of the dogwalk, then half-turns to check on Alex’s progress. Seeing her far behind, Finn freezes, and Alex shakes her head and laughs as she propels herself toward him.
When it’s Kylie’s turn to run with Finn, she must first unhook the leash from his collar—a difficult maneuver. Kylie, Finn’s handler and the therapist all lean toward his curly neck as Kylie releases the latch. Then, the normally quiet 10-year-old girl sends Finn through the tire triumphantly—“Jump, Finn!”—punctuating the command with a thrust of her arm.
The children’s physical cues, whether pointing or arm motions, help them progress toward, and sometimes showcase the achievement of, their occupational therapy goals, as does rewarding the dogs; working a treat from palm to fingertips increases dexterity. Petting the dogs, one of the simple joys of human/canine interaction, also promotes dexterousness.
The kids clearly demonstrate their speech therapy work through the commands that ring out in conjunction with the physical cues—“Jump! Tunnel! Up! This way!”—. “They have to speak loudly and with authority for the dogs to respond,” says Champion.
As Lizzie did during her unscheduled frolic break, the dogs sometimes add to the speech-therapy load by misbehaving (“No! Come back, Lizzie!”). “I don’t care,” says Bates of the canine naughtiness. “I’m not looking for the most obedient dogs. From a speech perspective, [the kids] have to learn to re-ask—the appropriate way to get [the dogs’] attention.”
Therapists capitalize on surprises and routine tasks alike to incorporate the agility course into the kids’ overall therapy goals. Even the dogs’ well-deserved water break provides the children with opportunities to develop their skills and abilities; they have to manipulate water-bottle caps and squeeze hard to fill the bowls. The children seem proud to be able to offer their special partners a cool drink.
In addition to ATA, ChildServe offers other animal-assisted therapy, such as animal interactions during individual therapy sessions, as well as animal-assisted activity, like visits from a dog to a patient’s room. These interactions occur sporadically, though, while ATA pairs meet weekly to develop the bond between child and dog. The first 10 weeks a pair works together can be hectic, as each learns the other’s cues and capabilities. “But eventually … it clicks, and the dog starts listening to the child versus the handler,” says Bates.
Alex and her regular dog, Blue, have clearly clicked; when Bates tells her that Blue will be back in January, Alex breaks out in a huge smile. Blue, who sustained a back injury, was temporarily absent from the program and Alex had been sharing both Lizzie and Finn with the kids in her session.
“Kids know their dogs,” says Bates.
Kylie’s reaction to Finn’s no-show at the beginning of the session illuminates the strength of the bond they’ve developed over two years. “Where’s Finn?” she worries. Told he’ll probably come soon, she asks over and over, “But when?” When Finn arrives, Kylie brightens immediately, calling his name as she runs to him. She sinks her hands into his wavy fur and lovingly strokes his back.
“It’s a special bond,” says Champion of the connection between the child handlers and “their” dogs. His older daughter, Paige, who also has A-T and participated in ATA, connected so deeply with her dog Jessie that the yellow Labrador appears with her in her senior pictures.
These bonds allow the dogs to adapt and listen to handlers who aren’t their caregivers. “Dogs can adapt to just about anything in life. The bond will grow simply because the dog is having fun with the handler,” explains Pia Silvani, a well-known certified dog trainer.
Thanks to the bonds forged by teamwork and the clever strategies employed in these group agility sessions, the children reach their goals.At that point, they graduate from the program, leaving space for new members. However, kids can’t graduate fast enough to meet demand. The program currently serves 12 children, with 10 more on the waiting list. “It could be a few years,” says Bates. “We’d love to have a group every night, but we have to have the dogs.”
Bates leans on Shumate at Paws & Effect to recruit both volunteers and dogs. On her part, Shumate hopes to obtain corporate sponsorships to offset the cost of agility- and therapy-dog training classes for potential volunteers. She would also like to expand the program to another arena: the Special Olympics. “[Her idea] is that the kids will use agility through their lives, and have it be their sport,” says Bates.
Regardless of the venue, when these dogs and children appear on the agility course, the focus won’t be on times, faults or medals. As the teams conquer the course, they’re really overcoming the real-life challenges the children face. Improvement in the young handlers’ abilities and the loving bonds that develop between them and their canine therapists are part and parcel of their success.
Dog's Life: Travel
Doggie adventures on and off the the slopes.
We were overdue for a vacation when my fourth-grader pleaded that we go away for Thanksgiving break.“Anywhere. Even somewhere cold,” Jacob tendered as a concession, knowing that our Dalmatian, Sketch, and I preferred brisk air, whereas he, a southern California native, tended to chill when the mercury dipped below 70. I had barely felt like getting out of bed, let alone town, since the blistering day months earlier that JP, Sketch’s father, shed his last hair in the parking lot of a Palm Springs veterinary clinic.
In the three years since I’d adopted Jacob, he had grown to love my dogs, and especially JP, almost as much as I did. “I miss him, too. But he’s gone,” he said in the resilient tenor of a boy who had endured more heartache in his 10 years than I in my 40.“Far away.”He looked up to the heavens, and I realized that it was not only grief that had numbed my nomadic nature, but also guilt at the thought of leaving behind the spirit of my spotted traveling companion of 14 years.
* * * * *
Heavy flurries were blanketing the mountainside’s majestic evergreens and slender, white-barked poplars when we arrived in Aspen, Colo., a getaway our family had always found to be welcoming to dogs and kids—and surprisingly affordable for passers-through—despite its ritzy reputation. Sketch bounded out of the car and over a snow bank to greet an elderly Schnauzer,who was exiting the lobby of our hotel, the Limelight Lodge, and nipping at the soft flakes falling all around her. She made an obliging,wobbly effort at meeting Sketch’s playful advances lunge-for-lunge. “Getting old is tough on them,” said her owner, a young-looking, middle-aged woman, wincing at the obvious discomfort the activity caused her pet.
Tougher on us humans, I thought.Sketch still had the temperament and energy of a puppy, and was seemingly not prone to his breed’s hip dysplasia or hyperthyroid conditions. But he was going on nine, and I was determined that he would be the third and last dog I would love … and outlive.
* * * * *
The following morning dawned bright and frosty, and Jacob’s and my sights were set on the powdery slopes. There was no shortage of dog-walkers-for-hire or canine activities at Sketch’s disposal— dog trails, off-leash parks, dog-watching in the pedestrian mall, even an après-ski wine-and-cheese “yappy hour” for dogs and their people at a neighborhood tavern— but I was intrigued by the hotel manager’s recommendation of a day of pampering at Aspen Wags to Riches. The proceeds of the pet salon sustain its adjacent no-kill shelter, which rescues dogs and cats from around the country.
We were greeted by Bo, the shelter’s cheerful, 13-year-old mascot, a retired sled dog. One of his floppy ears stood straight up and he sniffed the air, but he appeared otherwise indifferent to Sketch’s faux alpha posturing and close inspection of his stomping ground, particularly the glass-walled cat room in the reception area. The latter is a zoo-like haven that houses a dozen or so adoptable felines, some playing with toys or comrades, others napping on lush cat beds or window seats … and all, like Bo, unfazed by our assertive dog’s probing nose.
* * * * *
Seth, the shelter’s director, gave us a tour of the facilities and suggested that we take one of the many itinerant (and immaculately groomed) dogs for a walk along the hillside that flanked the play yard while Sketch was introduced to the pack. The shelter encourages prospective adopters—as well as local volunteers, and even visitors who needed a dog-fix—to check residents out of the kennel for leisure time. Jacob chose Lola, a very old Malamute/Lab mix. She was timid, but her eyes twinkled as hopefully as those of her mates.
Once outside, Lola eagerly led us up a steep, unshoveled path. Like Bo, she had worked many thankless years as a sled dog, hauling tourists across the snow, but still had a zest for life on the mountain. She took in the cold, thin air with a more grateful and less winded pant than ours, all the while casting proud glances back down at the fenced-in dogs.Among them was our youthful Sketch, as content in his captivity as Lola was in her few moments of independence.
* * * * *
Later, on Snowmass Mountain, we soared for several petrifying minutes down the practically vertical,double-black-diamond trail that I’d inadvertently steered us to …off the more apt, blue-square intermediate route.
“Yes!” Jacob shouted, as he came to an impressive parallel stop. “We’re alive!” He thrust a clenched fist into the air, exhilarated by his newfound ability.
“For now,” I said tentatively.We were at a fork that would allow us to veer onto a single-black-diamond slope, which I prayed would lead us to a beginner’s green circle!
“Now is all that matters,” he whispered to himself invincibly, propelling his skis toward the white abyss. “Don’t worry. Just…I don’t know…try to think like a dog or something,” he said to me.
Okay…now! I gathered my wits, and plunged.
“But later,” he called back. “Can we adopt one of those old dogs?”
Maybe, I thought.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The ways my pets have inspired me to try new things
When I wrote about the ways my dogs have helped me connect with other pet lovers, it made me think about how many experiences in my life that I have my pets to thank for.
The first time I drove a car by myself was to go to a pet first aid class at a local community college. The first time I used a power tool was to attach jump cup strips to my agility jumps. And the first time I finished an official race, I had Nemo to thank for running every step of the way with me. Sense a trend?
My dogs have inspired me to learn new things and embark on adventures that enrich our lives together. Studies have shown that dog lovers are more active than the average person, but I think that our relationship with our pups extends beyond increased physical activity. My dogs give me unconditional love and I want to be the best person I can be for them.
Does your dog inspire you to learn new skills or test the limits of your abilities?
News: Guest Posts
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.
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine surfing event in California
The list of activities we do with our dogs continues to expand. Over the weekend in Huntington Beach, Calif., the Surf City Surf Dog competition took place. If you know anyone who thinks of surfing as a sport in which only humans participate, these pictures of dogs catching waves will prove them wrong.
Dogs competed in heats lasting 30-40 minutes. Judges awarded points to the dogs for each ride, with standing on the board worth more than lying down, and riding backwards richly rewarded. Even recovering from nearly falling was a way to score extra points.
These dogs are clearly channeling their inner Gidget—to the delight of all the spectators.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Build the bond with the newest dog sport
Like most dog people, I do not live on a farm, nor do I have l ivestock, unless you count the chipmunks squatting in our garage. This is one of the great disappointments of my dog Ginger Peach’s life. She’ll herd anything — people, other dogs, Jolly Balls, even the cats. Our friends in law enforcement insist she’s a Dutch Shepherd mix. No doubt she’d love to be out rounding up bad guys.
Short on both sheep and criminals, I eagerly signed us up for a Treibball (pronounced “try ball”) workshop at Wiggles ‘n’ Wags in Lombard, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. A new sport, Treibball is best described as urban herding: from varying distances, you direct your dog to move large exercise balls into a goal, like herding sheep into a pen. All dogs are welcome to play, regardless of breed or age. While the distance skills and verbal cues are similar to those used in agility, Treibball makes almost no physical demands on the handler, and so people of any age and athletic ability can play.
Treibball, also known as drive-ball, originated in Germany six years ago when Dutch dog trainer Jan Nijboer watched his Australian Cattle Dogs push their rubber water dishes around the field after finishing herding lessons. The dogs, who clearly still had energy to spare, had created their own game. He wondered if they would also push large exercise balls, and found that they easily took to the new “sheep.” After Nijboer introduced the game to his herding students, it quickly spread across Europe and then to the United States. In 2007, Sweden hosted the inaugural international Treibball competition.
“As a trainer and behavior consultant, a lot of the behavior problems I’m asked to address stem from the sad effects of dogs who are bored … who are expected to simply lie [around] while their owners watch TV,” says Stearns. “Most dogs are problem solvers. They need an outlet for their intelligence and energy before it gets funneled into destructive chewing, digging, barking and fence running.”
Stearns enjoys the challenge of Treibball with her own four dogs: Terry, a still-feisty 13-year-old Westie; Chance, a nine-year-old Black Lab/German Shorthaired Pointer mix and demo dog extraordinaire; Huerro, a sweet, sixyear- old yellow Lab; and Fin, a one-yearold Border Collie/Aussie mix who, she jokes, is “currently suffering from teenage brain.” (Watch Stearns and Fin in action at youtube.com/americantreibball.)
“Chance and Fin have different approaches to the balls and to the game,” says Stearns. “I’ve had to adapt my training to each of their different learning styles. Because Treibball is a problem-solving game [in which the handler directs] the dog to go after a specific ball depending on where that ball rolls, both handler and dog must continually correct their positioning. It’s been a major problem-solving exercise in creative thinking and teaching.”
That was certainly the case when Ginger Peach (GP) and I followed our Treibball instructor’s directions. Since we have competitive agility and discdog backgrounds, the verbal and physical cues I used were different than those suggested in class. I made some adjustments and decided how to match up cues GP already knew with the various Treibball maneuvers. GP took it all in stride, eager to work on “sends” to her mat from 15 feet away and down on command at varying distances, and to target various objects — even a toy dump truck! — in preparation for our first ball.
We both pouted when we realized we wouldn’t get a ball right away, but like any canine sport, it’s important to master foundation skills first. Also, GP habitually retrieves her Jolly Balls with her mouth, which is frowned upon in Treibball. A dog who bites the ball will be eliminated; driving must be done with the nose only.
Through the ATA, Stearns hopes to offer a solution for high-energy dogs whose owners cannot match their activity level. “Our sedentary lifestyles are often at odds with what our dogs were bred or have evolved to do,” she says. “Most dogs need a job, and a thinking job or game that increases their bond with their owner in a nonaversive manner is a natural.”
The ATA, a young organization, is in the process of training Treibball instructors to increase the number of classes being offered around the country. Members are also drafting official rules for competition, which Stearns says will likely debut in early 2012. And Treibball enthusiasts will soon be able to register their dogs and earn points toward titles.
Ideally, GP’s and my skills will have progressed so that we’ll be ready to compete. Some of our classmates plan to play just for fun. Whether you pursue Treibball competitively or recreationally, suburban and city dogs will enjoy the physical and mental stimulation of tending to their inflatable ball flock.
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