Dog's Life: Home & Garden
It’s springtime, the warm weather and longer days give us time to see how our gardens and yards can be made more dog-friendly. One way is to make sure they’re free of plants that might make them sick; another is to add a few small amenities they’ll enjoy more than digging up the flower bed. Here are some ideas from Maureen Gilmer, landscape designer, horticulturalist and dog lover. More can be found online at moplants.com, where you can also download The Dog-Scaped Yard: Creating a Backyard Retreat for You and Your Dog, the eBook from which these were adapted.
Warm Weather Flop Spot
A Disguised Seasonal Dipping Pool
Al Fresco Nibbles
Wheat and oat grass dog patch. Fresh wheat grass juice is a popular drink for humans. Wheat and oat grass are also good for dogs, in moderation. They will naturally graze on it when they need the nutrients it contains, rather than browsing through your flowers. If you have a dog in a small city yard, consider planting wheat grass in an outdoor patch. It grows great in low, wide troughs. Most pet suppliers sell the seeds in small quantities. For a sizeable dog patch, save money by purchasing your oat and wheat seed in quantity at a health food store. It’s free of chemicals and ideal for large plantings.
Keep Your Yard Foxtail Free
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
When shopping for a trainer, look behind the advertising language.
If you live in a big city like I do, you’re overwhelmed with choice for just about any service you can think of. I could get a different coffee and haircut every day of the week and never leave my local neighborhood. This is great, in theory, but how do I choose the best place for my morning latte? Who should I trust to get my hair faded just right?
Choice is also a benefit when you’re looking for a dog trainer, but you can end up facing the same kind of issues, with a lot more riding on the outcome than a bitter drink or a less-than-stellar ’do.
So how do we find the right trainer if we have only Google to go on? Online reviews are hardly fair and balanced, but we don’t always have the luxury of a personal recommendation. The answer is to learn how to interpret the language used on dog-training websites.
Think of a trainer’s website as an infomercial. Although we know it’s designed to convince us to sign up, if we’re savvy we can also pick through the language to find clues about a trainer’s methods and beliefs. Let’s start with the most common word, one that pops up on almost every trainer’s site: effective.
Of course, we all want our dog trainer to be effective. Who would sign up for Dave’s Ineffective Dog Training? We’re spending time and money trying to help our dogs become well-mannered citizens, and we don’t want to feel like our efforts have been wasted. However, there are many different ways to accomplish training goals, some more fraught with potential pitfalls than others. Efficacy is important, but ethics are important too, and are something that trainers also reflect in their word choice.
Words like compassionate, fair and humane indicate what trainers believe about themselves, but they don’t add much clarity for potential clients. All three are subjective terms; what I believe represents compassionate training might not be what you envision. Besides, what counts as humane and compassionate is determined by a trainer’s beliefs about how dogs learn and how best to teach them, so these words raise questions rather than answer them.
Trainers also use a relatively small number of more specific, objective sounding terms on their sites. Because these can provide a general idea of the kinds of things that might happen to a dog during training, it’s useful to understand what they mean. Following is a list of the most commonly used.
Trainers who describe themselves as “force free,” or some variation of “purely positive,” will never deliberately use pain or fear in their training. They will focus on finding ways to reward a good behavior that is incompatible with the behavior they don’t want to see, like sitting politely instead of jumping up on guests. Often, they’ll use a clicker and treats, paired with ignoring the dog when he’s doing something inappropriate.
The key thing to remember here is that although these trainers might see themselves as using only positive, gentle methods, what really matters is how the dog sees things. Force-free trainers who put clients’ dogs in situations where they feel uncomfortable, or who can’t teach their guardians the skills required to carry on after the session, can cause frustration and anxiety and even reinforce undesirable behavior.
Trainers who describe themselves as “balanced” may use everything from electronic collars to clickers in their approach. The balance here is between things designed to punish bad behavior and things designed to reward good behavior. However, not all balanced trainers will use every tool, or the same balance of rewards and punishments. Some will use punishment only in certain cases, others will use it most of the time. Many balanced trainers make distinctions among different breeds of dog, or different types of problems that they believe won’t respond to the kinds of reward-based approaches on which force-free trainers rely.
For example, many balanced trainers claim that although dogs can learn tricks using a clicker and treats, they can be taught to avoid rattlesnakes only by associating the snakes with something unpleasant, like a shock. Force-free trainers strongly disagree with claims like this, which has led to serious rifts within the dog-training community.
LIMA AND HUMANE HIERARCHY
These terms are less common than the previous two, but they are gaining traction in professional circles as a way to explain both an ethical stance and a practical approach to dog training. LIMA stands for “Least Invasive Minimally Aversive,” meaning that with any set of possible interventions, the trainer will always try whatever is least likely to cause pain or punishment first, only moving to more potentially unpleasant options if he or she feels the need. (This position is endorsed by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.) The Humane Hierarchy was developed by Dr. Susan Friedman as one way of organizing potential interventions, from most to least punishing. A trainer who uses these terms is engaged with the latest thinking on ethics and wants to display this engagement to potential clients. It’s very unlikely that trainers who align themselves with LIMA will use punishment, especially for basic obedience issues.
BOOT CAMP (and other military terms)
This kind of language usually suggests that the trainer believes in punishment as the best way to manage behavior. Trainers who sell themselves as providing this type of intervention often also subscribe to ideas about dominance and “being the alpha.” They appeal to frustrated owners who are faced with dogs who seem rude and out-of-control, but their approaches can be harsh and lead to suppression, not modification. Trainers who describe themselves or their approach in this controlling, militaristic language are probably best avoided altogether.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR SUBSTANCE
Although being able to parse these terms and understand them gives us more of a picture of how a trainer operates than the words “humane and effective,” it’s clear that each label still represents a spectrum of beliefs and approaches.
The only way to get the clearest possible information is to ask trainers directly. That means you’ve got to shop around, get in front of trainers, and ask unambiguous and substantial questions about what is going to happen to your dog, and why. Dog behavior consultant John McGuigan proposes the following questions, which every trainer ought to easily be able to answer: What will happen to my dog if she gets it right? What will happen to my dog if she gets it wrong? Are there less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
These questions don’t cover everything, and they can’t inoculate you against a marketing spiel, but they’re a good place to start. If you’re not comfortable with the answers you get; if the trainer becomes evasive and starts using concepts like “energy,” talking around the question or invoking his or her years of experience; or if the answer involves anything that is designed to cause pain, to startle or to do anything else unpleasant, think twice. It’s your responsibility to exercise due diligence when choosing a dog trainer, and it’s always better to risk being seen as a busybody than it is to put your dog in a situation you didn’t want or expect.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Man and dog ride the waves together.
Brazilian Ivan Moreira remembers the first time his father took him surfing. He was five years old, and they set off from a Rio de Janeiro beach. From that point on, surfing played a major role in his life, just as it did in his father’s.
An only child, Ivan often wished he had a brother with whom to share the joy and excitement of surfing. The longed-for brother never did show up, but years later, Ivan found the companionship he craved in a chocolate Lab.
Bono, named for an Oreo-like chocolate cookie, was a birthday gift for Ivan’s then-wife in 2010. He was, of course, adorable: blue puppy eyes, fluffy ears and a desire to destroy the furniture if given an opportunity. From the first, Ivan took Bono to the beach with him; Ivan spent hours on the surfboard and Bono hung out in the company of Ivan’s friends.
When Bono was three, Ivan decided to trade in his traditional board for a much larger stand-up paddleboard (SUP). That was when Bono took matters into his own paws: he trotted behind Ivan and hopped on board for what would be the first wave ride of many to come. For the dog, the days of watching from shore were over.
In the beginning, the two were frequently knocked down and swept under by the waves. “At first,” says Ivan, “I didn’t really have a plan for how to train Bono to get his balance on the stand-up board. I had heard of dogs doing SUP but never thought that my dog would be one.” Time and persistence helped the pair learn how to synchronize their movements so they could stay upright.
A new era started for Ivan and Bono when Ivan switched back to a large surfboard and invested time and energy in a different type of training. Being able to pop up (jumping from a lying-down position to an upright position) with Bono already onboard was a major challenge, but the two built their confidence as a pair and learned how to recognize and predict one another’s moves.
In a few months, Ivan and Bono were catching waves like pros. After attracting the attention of video producers and potential sponsors, they entered the 2014 Surf Dog Competition in Huntington Beach, Calif., competing in the tandem category.
“I never expected a competition of that magnitude. I was expecting to see just a few dogs having fun on the beach,” Ivan recalls. There are no surf dog competitions in Brazil, which probably explains his notion of what the event involved.
Bono and Ivan won first place. The following year, they returned to Huntington Beach, where they repeated the feat. Once back in Brazil, they were welcomed as heroes, and Bono became the most popular dog in the country; his smiling face appeared on TV shows and in newspapers and ads. Companies were eager to sponsor Bono by providing his food, his baths and his vet care. Recently, a new Brazilian pet accessory and toy brand bought the right to use Bono’s image to promote all its pet gear, including a swimming vest specially developed for him.
Considering that in Brazil there is not a single beach where dogs are officially allowed, Bono’s accomplishment may lead to changes in the way dogs are seen and treated in the country.
This year, Ivan decided to undertake a new challenge and realize an old ambition: to have his name, along with Bono’s, entered in the Guinness Book of World Records by breaking the record for the Longest Stand Up Paddleboard Ride on a River Bore by a Human/Dog Pair. They set the new record in March, when the two traveled 1.05 miles down the Mearim River, on Brazil’s northern coast. “After three minutes on the paddleboard, I started feeling my knees burning, but then I looked back and saw Bono’s face so happy and joyful. I forced myself to persist, no matter what,” says Ivan.
Besides surfing dogs, the use of dogs to cheer up patients in hospitals in Brazil is another new project that Bono is launching in the country, as Ivan and Bono also pay constant visits to kids undergoing cancer treatment, through Casa Ronald MacDonald in Rio de Janeiro. “The kids’ mothers always tell me that when Bono arrives the kids are filled with renovated energy and joy and that they forget about their cancer and treatment side effects,” says Ivan, teary-eyed.
With almost 40,000 followers on Instagram, Ivan hopes to close a deal for a TV series that will highlight his and Bono’s adventures, lifestyle and special bond. He also has been approached about a documentary focusing on his two passions: surfing and his surfing buddy, a five-year-old chocolate Lab named Bono.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
These working dogs calm harried travelers.
Traffic on the way to the airport makes you late. Rushing, fearing you’ll miss your flight, you anxiously stand in endless check-in and security lines, annoyed at the delay. Your stress level increases with every passing minute. Finally clearing security, sitting to put your shoes back on, you notice something unusual across the room: an enormous harlequin Great Dane wearing a vest that says, “Pet me!” A smile breaks across your face and your blood pressure immediately drops. You say a quick hello to the dog and rub his soft ears, and the tension of the past hours melts away.
We’re used to seeing security dogs at airports, but those dogs are working— no petting allowed. The “pet me” dogs are a different story altogether, reflecting the industry’s growing understanding that helping passengers destress, especially during busy holiday flying seasons, has value. These dogs are all about being touched!
So far, some 30 airports across the country have therapy dogs on duty, and luckily for travelers, the number is steadily growing. The idea started at California’s Mineta San Jose International Airport shortly after 9/11 as a way to ease traveler jitters. Videos of those dogs at work convinced other airports give it a go.
The distinctively outfitted dogs and their handlers position themselves throughout the airport, from checkin to boarding—wherever passengers can use some calming canine love. Recognizing that not everyone loves dogs, the teams typically remain stationary in an open area so those who wish to greet the dogs can do so while anyone not so fond of dogs can easily avoid them.
One of the most recent converts to the service, North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport, began deploying professionally certified therapy dogs in March 2015. Currently, there are 15 dog/handler teams providing coverage daily between 10 am and 4 pm. Lauri Golden, the airport’s manager of customer engagement, supervises the all-volunteer CLT Canine Crew. “We wanted a way to create a sense of place,” she says. “Our airport is a hub for American Airlines; 70 percent of traffic is connections, so the passengers just see the facility, not the city.”
Initially, Golden worried about finding enough volunteer teams. However, the pilot program created to iron out the logistics was an instant success. “We expected that kids would like the dogs, but even more, it’s the adults benefiting from them,” she says. “They pull out photos of their own dogs; talk about ones recently lost; take selfies; ask the name, age and breed of the dog … lots of questions. The dogs create a gathering, an audience, which creates its own community as people talk to each other, sharing dog stories. They are our superstars.” The demand for teams is high, and Golden is constantly recruiting.
Max the Great Dane and his handler Fred McCraven make up one of the Charlotte teams. “When I asked Fred why he wanted to join, he was so honest: ‘I just want to show off my dog.’ Max is a complete sweetheart!” says Golden.
Fred thoroughly enjoys taking Max to the airport. “Some tourists just light up when they see Max, and take photos,” he says. “Some look at him funny, like, ‘Please don’t bring that big dog near me.’ I try to gauge peoples’ reactions. Even those who don’t come up to touch Max are smiling. I once met a woman who was traveling to her brother’s funeral. Her brother had a Great Dane as well and she took it as a sign her brother was okay.”
Los Angeles World Airports (LAX) was the third to create a therapy dog program, after San Jose and Miami. Heidi Heubner is director of Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) and volunteer programs for LAX. PUP, which launched in April 2013 with 30 teams, now has 52, allowing them to have dogs in most terminals every day of the week. Each PUP dog has his or her own baseball card–style ID, which is given to passengers as a keepsake.
Heubner enjoys observing the interactions between volunteer teams and passengers. “The dogs bring strangers together,” she says. “We’re often afraid to talk, or are on our devices, but with the dogs, people are sharing stories and photos of their own dogs, talking about where they’re going. I never get tired of watching them. Sometimes my face hurts from smiling so much, watching them in action and listening to what the passengers are saying.”
Therapy teams are also called upon to calm passengers when things don’t go as planned, Heubner notes. “One day, a f light was cancelled. A f light attendant asked if one of the dogs could visit with the passengers. The passengers loved it, were saying, ‘Who cares that we’re delayed! It was worth it to see the dogs.’”
Airport therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds but the thing they have in common is that they’re all certified by one of the country’s therapy-dog organizations; for example, Charlotte and LAX use teams certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. New teams do an initial walk-through at the facility to make sure the dog is comfortable with the noises, smells and crowds of strangers. If that goes well, they’ll go through a more thorough vetting, with the human half of the team undergoing background and security checks. Once approved, teams typically work one day a week.
Dog-loving passengers rave about the programs. A letter sent to the Charlotte program expresses an often-repeated sentiment: It was like having my pups with me though they are miles away. The stress that is lifted when you see and touch a dog, it’s indescribable and it was the best part of my trip today. I cannot thank you, the staff that implemented the program, the handlers and the dogs enough for this remarkable program.
Clearly, these programs are positive for passengers and airport staff, but they’re also proving beneficial for the handlers. “Max has made me a better person,” says Fred. “I’m not a very social person, sort of a lone wolf, but taking Max to the airport has gotten me out and around people, improved my social skills. And it puts me in a good mood. Last week I had a bad day at work. I took Max to the airport and came home in a totally different mood.”
Dog's Life: Travel
Pound Puppy Hikes
Red Mountain Resort and Spa in Ivins, Utah, near Snow Canyon State Park and St. George in the southwestern corner of the state, hosts adventure retreats focusing on wellness, healthy meals and exercise. In addition to the list of offerings one might expect— hiking, fitness training, biking, yoga, water workouts, spa treatments and more—this destination resort also provides another option that’s sure to bring joy to a dog-lover’s heart: opportunities for its guests to interact with animals from nearby shelters and rescue groups.
According to Tracey Welsh, the resort’s general manager, incorporating animals into the program started a few years ago, when the staff noticed that guests who brought their dogs with them were “instant rock stars”; other guests wanted to meet and pet the dogs. About the same time, one of the resort’s hiking guides became the animal control officer at the Ivins Municipal Animal Shelter. The guide-turned-officer had an ambitious goal: turn the facility into a no-kill shelter. Armed with two critical data points— shelter dogs need walks and increased exposure promotes adoptions—the new officer worked with the municipality to overcome liability concerns, and “Pound Puppy Hikes” was born. It didn’t take long for Red Mountain Resort to realize the potential benefits of the program to its guests and weave Pound Puppy Hikes into its wellness offerings.
The shelter, which is only a mile from the resort, determines which dogs are best suited to be hiking companions. The resort transports guests to the shelter, where their guide shares information on shelter history and the no-kill philosophy before they head out— shelter pups in tow—on their hike.
“The biggest problem is that sometimes there aren’t enough dogs,” says Welsh, adding that a few guests will sometimes stay behind to play with the shelter’s cats and kittens. “The program sets us apart,” says Welsh. “Our guests are highly disappointed if the hike doesn’t happen; it’s something people really look forward to.”
The resort also collaborates with a nearby nonprofit that rescues wild mustangs. Guests can visit the ranch, meet and learn how to lead the horses, and “experience a powerful heart-to-heart hug.”
Red Mountain Resort and Spa has always been dog friendly. According to Welsh, most guests who arrive with their own dogs are on their way to another destination, and stay one or two nights. Those who stay longer tend to have smaller dogs not into hiking; the resort makes it possible for the petite pups to safely stay behind while their people do the Pound Puppy Hike. For those who want to get out and about with their dogs, the resort provides information on nearby dog-friendly trails.
Sometimes, with the help of the resort, an Ivins shelter dog finds a new home. Guests have been responsible for about 20 adoptions since the program started in 2009. “We’ve had dogs go as far away as Alaska and Kentucky,” says Welsh. “It’s a delightful problem, to help guests figure out how to get a dog home. We feel so good about the program.” redmountainresort.com
Postscript: Another way to do good for southwestern Utah dogs is to contribute to INKAs (Ivins No Kill Animal Supporters), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that makes it possible for the shelter to maintain a no-kill philosophy by helping pay for various items and services, including veterinary care, food, medications, cages, litter boxes, bedding, harnesses and leashes. inkas4pets.org
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Whistle (and bark) while you work
This Friday marks the annual Take Your Dog to Work Day—created by Pet Sitters International to celebrate the great companionship dogs offer and promote their adoption. Since its inception in 1999, TYDTWDay® has brought awareness to dogs in the workplace and help encouraged the practice. Today, being able to bring one’s dog to work is a bonafide perk—right up there with great health benefits and a gourmet lunchroom. In speaking to companies who welcome dogs, some best practices jump out. If your company is considering instituting a dog-friendly policy or looking to tweak their existing program, take note …
Best practices employed by dog-friendly companies
It is common practice to require a 2-week or 1-month trial or probationary period to see if the dog (and people) work well together. It is only after the trial period that the dog is officially granted “office visits” status. This lets people know that nothing should be taken for granted and that people and dogs have to be on their best behavior. This is a practice recommended to offices rolling out a dog-friendly policy.
Some companies required dogs to wear work ID badges, photo and all—including dog’s name, office location, owner’s name and telephone … it comes in handy more than you’d think.
The main points of responsibility to get across to people is that dogs should never be left by themselves or permitted to wander. Any issues of aggression or even high alertness (ie. barking when somebody enters a room) should be addressed. A dog doesn’t need to growl and bare his teeth to be disruptive.
Over time, there will probably be dogs who are so well adjusted and mellow, that they may be able to wander the office or hang out at various (sunny) spots on the premises. Most dog-friendly offices have these kinds of “roaming” dogs. But you don’t start out that way. Abiding by rules and agreed upon structure are essential when rolling out a program.
Like any other new program that requires employees to have ownership, it might help to put together a small group of workers, dog owners, management and non-dog owners to work out the rules and regulations. Trupanion, the Seattle-based pet insurance company has a great program that is led by a committee who meet quarterly (or when needed) to review policies, mitigate issues and develop dog-related programs.
Dog owners need to understand that having a dog-friendly office is a privilege and not a right— so everybody needs to be committed to making it work.
Autodesk (San Rafael, CA) is one of the first software companies to allow employees to bring their dogs to work back in the early 1980s. According to company lore, programmers worked such long hours that they began bringing their canine companions to the office so they didn’t have to run home to feed and walk them. Recognition of a dog-friendly workplace is so key to the company culture, that it is even written into Autodesk’s corporate bylaws. About 5 percent of the company’s 9,000+ employees take advantage of this benefit. Other perks include offering a dog insurance group plan and dog training classes scheduled during lunchtime.
Autodesk shared their ten-point rules for a successful dog-friendly work environment:
1. Dogs are to be kept on a leash when inside company facilities.
2. Dogs should stay with their owner or designated watcher at all times and should be in the employee’s office when the employee is there (in cubicles baby gates are often employed or dogs are tethered).
3. Dogs with fleas are not to be brought to the office.
4. Dogs are not allowed into bathrooms or into the café serving and seating areas.
5. Dogs are not to brought into meetings.
6. Employees are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs should the dog have an accident inside the facilities.
7. Employees are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs outside the buildings. All receptionists have “doggy bags” for this purpose.
8. If a dog has three accidents inside the building the dog will need to stay at home at least until the owner can demonstrate that the dog has been through some kind of training program to mitigate the issue.
9. Any incident of aggressive behavior by a dog is unacceptable and the dog may not be brought back to work. Loud, repetitive barking or eating another employee’s food is also not acceptable.
10. Employees with allergies to animals may ask a dog owner not to bring a dog to the office if that dog makes it difficult for the allergic employee to work.
Dog's Life: Travel
Set in the green and rolling Texas hill country, Austin is known for its eclectic cultural events—think Austin City Limits and SXSW—Lady Bird Johnson's bluebonnets in the spring and the bats of the Congress Avenue Bridge. It's also a pretty dog-crazy place, as noted by Beth Bellanti Pander of Austin's own Tito's Handmade Vodka, where she's the company's Program Manger of Vodka for Dog People. Here are some of her hot spots...PLAY
Ahh … the water, the trees, the squirrel sightings: Red Bud Isle and Emma Long Metropolitan Park’s Turkey Creek Trail are great places for a leash-free dog to unwind. Dogs can go also off-leash at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, 293 acres of trails (which, FYI, they share with cyclists), hills and creeks. For a more contained experience in the central city, give Norwood Dog Park a try; it’s fully fenced and has a large, shaded main section and a separate area for small dogs. For time on the water rather than in it, stop by Zilker Park Boat Rental, where your dog’s welcome to join you in a canoe (bring his life jacket, as the rental company doesn’t provide them for dogs). Finally, if you and the pooch are in the mood for a movie, look into Austin’s “Movies in the Park” series, which started in April and runs through November in parks across the city; the pup will need a leash, but you'll both enjoy being entertained under the beautiful Austin night sky.STAY
Consider taking the HomeAway route; at press time, the online booking site had 157 pet-friendly listings in Austin—which, coincidentally, is its home base.EAT/DRINK
Dog-friendly eateries are thick on the ground in Austin. Jo’s Coffee not only welcomes dogs, it also sponsors the annual Lyndon Lambert Easter Memorial & Pet Parade. Perla’s serves some of Austin’s tastiest seafood, which can be indulged in on the patio in the company of your dog. Likewise, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters has patio seating (in this case, fronting Lake Austin) as well as—you guessed it—fine coffee drinks and a decadent selection of desserts. Three venues go the extra mile when it comes to kicking back with canines. Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden not only provides a leash-free area, it also makes a sausage just for dogs. At Dog House Drinkery, dogs are welcome to congregate with their people in the bar area or run off some energy in one of the Drinkery’s fenced OLAs. Wet your whistle under a shady tree at the Yard Bar’s off-leash dog park while your dog goes nuts on the agility course; the bar’s full-meal menu includes two “Dog Food” entries: Bones and Co sliders and house-made ice cream.
Beth notes that on Amplify Austin day, Tito’s Handmade Vodka does its part to raise money for local charities by creating a special cocktail served at participating watering holes.
On May 12, The Bark had the pleasure of hosting author W. Bruce Cameron for a special Q&A on Facebook. Cameron is a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestselling author with several books to his credit, including A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey. His newest book, A Dog’s Way Home (Forge Books), was released in early May, and Cameron shared his thoughts on his new work as well as on one of his favorite subjects: dogs.
Bark: Tell us about A Dog’s Way Home …
W. Bruce Cameron: A Dog’s Way Home is a story of utter devotion, of a bond between a person and a dog, a bond so powerful that the dog will do literally anything to be with her human family. Bella is a rescue and Lucas, a young man, is her whole world. When Bella is banned from the city in which they are living (she is a Pit mix) and relocated hundreds of miles away, she decides a mistake has been made and sets off on a multi-year trek through the Rocky Mountain wilderness to find Lucas.
Bark: Is it fair to say it’s a little different than your previous books?
W. Bruce Cameron: I’m told that A Dog’s Way Home is rapidly turning into a reader favorite. I think it has to do with the lack of fantastical elements! In the “A Dog’s Purpose” series, there is the reincarnating dog; in Emory’s Gift, there is a bear who may or may not be real. In the “Repo” series, a man has the voice of a ghost in his head. But A Dog’s Way Home is a very realistic story about a dog separated from her people who needs to find her way back to them. Could happen—in fact, DOES happen—all the time.
Bark: For us dog people, the fear of being separated from our dogs is always at the back of our minds, isn’t it?
W. Bruce Cameron: I once had a dog—her name was Chinook—who was lost for seven days. She hopped the fence in a thunderstorm. She was eventually found by a farmer, who called in response to my newspaper ad. She was 50 MILES away.
Bark: What inspired you to write about this particular subject? Do you have a special interest in breed-ban laws and the work canines do with veterans? Is there a story behind the canine character being a Pit Bull?
W. Bruce Cameron: My dog Tucker gave me most of the ideas, or at least, that’s what he’s been telling people. I’m not a political agitator, but I just don’t believe Americans want their government telling them what kind of dogs they can own, especially when the law is about how dogs look, not how they behave. It is as ludicrous as arresting someone because he looks like a criminal.
I am proud of and grateful to our men and women in uniform—they have made great sacrifices for our country. Some have had experiences that left them with injuries, not all of which are physical. Dogs can be wonderful in helping veterans cope with and recover from trauma.
I have met many Pit Bulls and Pit mixes and generally find them to be among the most gentle and loving of breeds—though, let’s face it, the majority of dogs are gentle, loving and devoted.
Bark: Your books often involve a journey, sometimes of the heart, sometimes a physical journey. In A Dog’s Way Home, a 400-mile trek is at the center of the story. Can you talk about the role journeys play in your storytelling?
W. Bruce Cameron: My novels look at characters who evolve over time and distance. In this new book, Bella is an entirely different animal at the end of the trek than she was when she started out.
Bark: What message do you want people to take from your “A Dog’s Purpose” series?
W. Bruce Cameron: I guess it’s that dogs need us and we need them. That the ones we rescue, rescue us. That without us, they are lost creatures and they need our love, our help and our kindness.
News: Guest Posts
A sport and lifestyle of spotting random dogs
First there was trainspotting, then planespotting, and now…dogspotting! Take an object that interests you – in our case, dogs – and turn it into a hobby by seeking as many different examples as possible, taking photos of them and sharing with other enthusiasts. A Facebook page called Dogspotting has become wildly popular. Members – currently over half a million - post photos of an incredible diversity of dogs in all sorts of situations from around the world. One can easily become lost scrolling through the photos, reading comments, smiling all the while.
There are rules for participating. In a nutshell: no photos of your own dog, or a dog you already know; no photos taken at dog parks, vet clinics or other “low hanging fruit” locations; no service dogs (they’re working, so leave them alone); no posing humans in the frame; and be nice to each other. If you have photos that break the rules but still want to share, there’s a sister page called Dogspotting Society where they’re allowed. There’s also a Dogspotting phone app.
The site has generated its own dogspotting lingo. Some common words include: doggo = dog; sploot = dog lying with all legs splayed; pupper = puppy; floof = especially fluffy dog; cloud = white fluffy dog (usually a Samoyed); mlem = dog’s tongue is licking its muzzle in photo. The lingo and photo descriptions (e.g. describing a bulldog puppy as a giant wrinkle) are half the fun. There’s also a point system, with higher points awarded for spots of unusual dogs or situations, for example a dog carrying its own leash, or a wild canid (fox, coyote, or wolf), “the most noble of all spots.” Links for the rules, the points system, and frequently asked questions are available on the page.
This is a hobby most easily indulged in a city or urban area where seeing “strange” dogs on streets or in cafes is common and photographing them easy. For those of us living in the country, spotting a wild canid is a challenge worth embracing. Visit the page, but be warned, it’s a time sink! It’s difficult to avoid scrolling through the photos and reading a few comments for each. Initially, that’s time well-invested before posting your first spot as you’ll see site administrators chiming in on rule-violating posts, gently reminding the poster that sister site Dogspotting Society is the appropriate place for their photo.
The wide variety of dogs and settings in the photos and the accompanying comments are wonderful antidotes to life’s daily stresses. Just don’t forget to take your own dog out for a stroll – maybe a stranger will post a photo of her on Dogspotting.
Dog's Life: Travel
Why would a 57-year-old professional photographer set out on a road trip from Maine to the Arctic Ocean with only her two dogs for company? Was she on a hunt for the perfect image? Or, in packing up her suburban dogs and driving off into the Alaskan wilderness, was she just impossibly naïve?
Linda Griffith’s journey to the north in 2008 with Hugger and Comfort might most accurately be called a spiritual migration, one that began long before the trip actually started and never really came to an end. After returning home in 2009, it took her five years to narrow down the 20,000 photographs she took to the 75 she would include in a book and exhibit she called The Secret Life of Light.
Even then, Griffith’s journey was not complete; she would come to find it unbearable to have her work viewed only as beautiful photos. Her passionate assertion that Arctic light itself is endowed with conscious awareness, caught through the lens of her camera, is as intriguing as her photographs.
But none of that was in play when Griffith was struck with the idea for the trip in 2003 following the unexpected deaths of her grandmother, mother and a long-time mentor. Though Griffith grieved, she had a focus, a way to deal with her sorrow.
Sixteen years earlier, she had occasion to meet a Lenni Lenape Clan Mother at an Allentown, Pa., museum when she took a bag full of oddly shaped stones that she thought might be Native American artifacts to be evaluated. The Clan Mother, respectfully titled “Grandmother,” took Griffith under her wing, teaching her the Lenni Lenape worldview in the same way she would teach a granddaughter.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t like my culture and wanted to try on somebody else’s,” Griffith said candidly. “It was that I picked up these rocks and they led me to this place, through a path that was uniquely mine.”
By the time the three matriarchs in Griffith’s life passed in 2003, she had developed a different sensitivity.
“I had an awareness of how directions [affect] my life,” she explained. In the medicine wheel, West is the place of dying and transformation, while North represents wisdom and clarity. “It just naturally occurred to me that I should be going North to integrate the loss of these people, and to understand where I am in my life now.”
Griffith spent four years getting ready for the trip. First, she purchased a used bus and hired a mechanic, who spent a year reconditioning and converting it to four-wheel drive. Over the next three years, she removed seats, laid carpet and installed insulation. She also coated its exterior with a special paint developed by NASA to help protect spacecraft from intense heat and cold. (As it turned out, during her August stay in Deadhorse, Alaska, the temperature was 15 degrees; the extra insulation turned out to be time and energy well spent.)
Then, there was the matter of communication. “The concern was, what do I do if I get in trouble? It’s not like you can walk back to town,” Griffith pointed out. She came up with an ingenious solution: a few days before departure, she had the bus outfitted with a military- grade satellite dish, theoretically providing access to the Internet. Upon seeing pictures of the bus before departure, friends dubbed it “Jaw-droppin’ Babe Lucille.”
“With the dish up, it looked like Border Patrol. Nobody ever messed with it,” Griffith said.
Griffith also had some soul-searching to do about her dogs. What would quality of life be like for them inside the bus, where living space had been whittled down to 7 by 14 feet? It would mean that they wouldn’t be able to run loose for a year. “I am not a believer in putting them at risk that way,” she stated emphatically.
Ironically, putting the dogs at risk by taking them with her into the wilderness was a prospect Griffith was more willing to entertain. In the end, her decision to take Hugger and Comfort was influenced by several factors. Not only were both deeply attached to her, Hugger—who at four had already had two cruciate repair surgeries—required regular medication for a kidney issue, and five-year-old Comfort had separation anxiety. Griffith knew she’d refuse to eat if left behind.
Griffith’s own separation anxiety also played a part. “The dogs travel everywhere with me,” she declared. “I decide where I can go and when I can go based on whether or not I can take them. If I can’t take them, I don’t go.”
Unlike Lucille, the dogs needed very little special equipment for the trip. Hugger, a Husky mix, thrived on cold weather, and Comfort, a Terrier mix, wore a thermal shirt for most of the trip (she basked in sunbeams whenever she found them). Other than that, a couple of sleeping bags, an abundant supply of Hugger’s prescriptions and 200 pounds of kibble were all the gear the dogs required. (“We carried way more food than was reasonable in case we got stuck somewhere,“Griffith explained.) And harnesses, of course; for their safety, the dogs wore them full-time so Griffith could quickly leash them up as needed.
On the Road
As it turned out, the satellite dish never worked very well. The first one had to be replaced even before setting out, delaying her start by a week and unintentionally pushing Griffith’s departure date to her late grandmother’s June 6 birthday. The second dish worked great at first, as Griffith made her way from northern Maine into Canada, and continued to work as she traveled back into the U.S. and across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, heading steadily westward.
By the time she reached Montana, however, the software had failed again, requiring a 200-mile detour to the last place that could repair it before she headed into the wilderness. The dish was plagued with technical difficulties for the rest of the trip, and whenever it was cloudy—which most days are in Alaska—it wouldn’t pick up the satellite at all.
In addition, Lucille needed constant attention. “The bus broke down the whole way there and the whole way back. I could tell you about every Ford service station between Fairbanks and Maine,” Griffith said. “But there was no giving up!”
Oblivious to all of that, the dogs settled easily into bus living. In fact, they thrived. Comfort remained alert while they were driving, stationing herself next to Griffith and taking in the scenery. Hugger slept in the back most of the time they were on the move, but developed a passion on walks that surprised Griffith.
“Nothing made her happier than sniffing f lowers! I didn’t know this about her,” Griffith said fondly. As they continued north toward Skagway, stopping at fields of flowers along the way, their bond grew stronger than ever.
“I felt as if the three of us were living on a level that people rarely get to experience because culture is so invasive,” Griffith remembered. “I feel that we’re very equal. My job is to keep them safe, not to oppress them.”
Despite Griffith’s watchful eye, the dogs did get occasionally get into trouble. Take, for example, their stop-off in Haines, Alaska, to photograph the grizzlies. The salmon were running and the bears were feeding. For the most part, birds and bears have a reciprocal arrangement in Alaska: the bears leave salmon remains wherever they happen to be and the birds pick them clean.
That day, however, the dogs beat the birds to a salmon under a bush, and before Griffith realized what was happening, they’d eaten enough rank fish to get sick. It was the kind of thing that could have happened anywhere, but they weren’t just anywhere, they were 130 miles from the nearest veterinarian. By evening, both dogs were vomiting blood.
“I’m used to being able to take my dogs wherever they need to go for whatever care they need. But it didn’t matter what I was willing to do, because there was nobody there to help us. That was the worst night of the trip,” recalled Griffith. There was nothing to do but head up the highway to Whitehorse (Yukon Territory, Canada).
Griffith drove north into the Yukon through the lengthening night, stopping every few minutes to take the dogs out into the thick of grizzly country to be sick. The next morning, having arrived intact at the vet’s office, she got the medication they needed, and they were fine within a couple of days. Griffith stayed in Whitehorse for two more days just to be sure, then drove back to Haines, always in pursuit of that perfect photo.
Still, Hugger and Comfort earned their keep, alerting Griffith to the presence of bears. Their message was clear, and it wasn’t only conveyed by barking; at times, they’d get out of the bus and stop dead. Other times, they’d start backing up. Whenever this happened, Griffith did the same, retreating into the bus and heading on down the road.
“Living with bears present, I was aware that there were things out there that needed to eat me if they could,” said Griffith. “That put me in my place right quick. We had stepped out of this culture that we live in, and were living much closer to the terms of the earth. Yeah, sure, I had a generator, and the bus, and food, so how at risk were we, really? But when we stepped out of the bus, especially at night, we were at risk. That felt very primordial, because I don’t think that human beings were always superior and had power over every other living thing. We used to have a place in the food chain.”
While Griffith was conscientious about the safety of the dogs, when it came to herself, she was absolutely fearless in her hunt for photographs. That drive led her to some remote locations where, had the bus broken down, it was unlikely that help would have arrived before winter set in.
“I was only going to do this once, so I was to see it and photograph it,” Griffith said emphatically. “What I do for my dogs is done for me, I’m just passing it on. I’m part of the instrument for their care and well being. I feel well cared for on this planet; it doesn’t matter where I go. I feel like I belong here, like the planet is designed to support my life, up to a point; past that time, I should just graciously go. I was never frightened of being in the wild, as it were. That wasn’t scary to me, ever.”
They’d been on the road a little over two months when Lucille finally made her way through Fairbanks and rolled across the 66th parallel, leaving behind pretty much every vestige of civilization and putting Griffith within 500 miles of her goal: the Arctic Ocean. Covering that distance on the pot-holed washboard of the Dalton Highway took five days, during which Griffith began to notice a change in Hugger and Comfort’s behavior.
They’d been animated for most of the trip, but as they began crossing the tundra, where signs of wildlife were limited to the sighting of a single crow and one musk ox, the dogs were initially glued to the windows, then settled into a state of tranquility.
“I think an awareness of how barren this place was registered on the dogs, probably on the level of What the hell are we going to eat if this bus breaks down? Or maybe I’m projecting,” Griffith said.
“This is really what I think was going on,” she continued. “The light, and the mist, and the earth itself have a responsiveness that I’ve not experienced anywhere else. It’s as if the earth is aware that you’re there. I think at one point, probably most of the globe was like that and because of all the changes we’ve made, we’ve lost it.
“I had a sense of being someplace sacred—that this was not just about me looking at the land, but that the land and the light were looking at me, too. Dogs are very sensitive to light. I’d be surprised if they didn’t feel that, as well. They certainly grew very peaceful.”
Griffith’s own sense of tranquility merged with the dogs’ as they became immersed in what she would refer to later as “the secret life of light.” Even so, as they neared the Arctic Ocean, she was overcome by a wave of emotion.
“If I had to give a name to it, it was that in that place, I felt very loved,” Griffith said quietly. Her desire to understand where she was in her life and to integrate the loss of her loved ones had been fulfilled.
“Everything in its own way contributes to sustaining life. Even though it may not appear that way at the time, invariably, the turn things take is life-affirming. Even dying is life-affirming,” she continued.
She was grateful to the dogs, not only for their company and protection but also, because she was aware how much her own sense of well being played off them.
“My gratitude for them is greater than it ever could have been without the trip. There were times when it was incredibly lonely and they were such emotional support, so beautifully present and attentive.” Knowing that dogs have an ability to key in on illness in people, Griffith observed how they reacted to her from day to day. Their responses became an important part of what she called their “feedback circle,” sometimes on a barely conscious level.
“We’re not always aware of it, but our dogs are constantly checking on us, watching and being mindful of us. In the bus, that was so obvious,” said Griffith. There was another animal Griffith appreciated having along for most of the trip. “I swear the only reason I got there and back alive was because of the crows.
They would cue me when to stop and where to park for the night. I would just pay attention and hear in the way you hear when you have a dialogue with a dog. As a result, every time we broke down, it was near was somebody who could fix [the problem]. Every single time.”
After much anticipation and five days on the tundra, Lucille delivered the trio to Deadhorse. To Griffith’s intense disappointment, that was as far as the dogs (and Lucille) were allowed to go. A bus owned by the oil company took her to the beach at Prudhoe Bay, where she was permitted to spend only 10 minutes.
“I was pretty surprised to discover that the only way I was going to be able to actually see and touch my destination was by the grace of the oil company. Of course, they limit what you see for a very good reason: what they’re doing there. The amount of destruction of the environment is significant. And there’s nothing worse than a woman with a camera, you know,” said Griffith.
Despite her restricted access, Griffith rejoined Hugger and Comfort feeling electrified by the ocean. She was also honest enough to recognize the part she had played in the incongruity of that day.
“There was an irony in having to confront my own contribution to irresponsible living,” she reflected. After all, she’d driven there in a diesel-fueled bus that got roughly nine miles per gallon, and the final stretch of highway only existed to support the Trans- Alaska Pipeline, which was built to carry oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
“What was I doing to help the environment?” she asked rhetorically. “I was in this place that’s so important to preserve, and yet I was a contributor to its demise. I had to face that truth. It was very troubling.”
It was another nine months before Lucille delivered the pack of three safely back to Maine by way of Tucson, Arizona. They arrived on June 6, 2009, exactly one year after they’d set out. By the time Griffith finalized The Secret Life of Light project in 2014, she realized that the sense of serenity she’d felt above the 66th parallel had stayed with her.
“The opportunity to experience that place was a gift. It came at a time in my life when the questions of death and dying were so primary. I feel as if that experience has paved the way for me to go into the last stage of my life. I’m ready to go, whenever,” Griffith said easily.
“There was a moment when we were very far back,” she remembered. “We were about 150 miles from anybody. It was, you know, If this bus doesn’t start tomorrow morning and if the dish doesn’t work, we could just die here. I did go through the process of okay, what would I do? Night came down as I thought that through, but then the sun came up, the bus started and we went on.”
For more examples of Griffith’s work, go to fineartphotographyoflindagriffith.com.
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