Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A dog-camp pro tells us what to look for
Summer is here and it’s time for camp! Are you considering your first trip to dog camp, yet wondering if your dog is ready? Here are five skills and traits your dog should have to get the most out of the camp experience.
1. Coming reliably when called is high on the list for Annie Brody, creator and director of Camp Unleashed in Massachusetts. “This is a biggie, especially for hiking off-leash. We ask people to practice this in safe ways prior to camp if they don’t feel their dog’s recall is totally reliable. It’s also important for heavy-duty play, so you can safely control energy that might get too high.” Your nearby off-leash park is the perfect place to practice this one.
2. Good socialization. Young dogs should understand verbal cues from other dogs asking them to curb their enthusiasm, while older dogs should tolerate being jostled and bumped by frolicking youngsters, who often move like crashing waves through groups of people and dogs as they play. Little dogs should not be afraid of playful or sniffing big dogs. “Dogs must play well or at least be neutral with other dogs of all kinds and sizes,” says Brody. Your dog park is a great place to practice this skill, too.
3. Sharing. The most popular camp dog is willing to share toys—no hoarding that favorite squeaker toy!—as well as cabin space. A lack of jealousy when other dogs greet you or accept treats from you is also important. Share the love!
4. Napping. “They should be able to rest quietly in your cabin or in a crate without incessant barking,” says Brody. Just like toddlers, dogs get ramped up at camp. A nap each day helps them maintain their composure and manners while you enjoy meals with the group—or your own nap.
5. Patience. With you, when you ask him to wear a silly costume or show off his tricks for a camp contest, or when you take endless photos of him at various camp locations and activities. With the other humans, who constantly want to meet and touch him. With the canine co-camper who insists on sniffing, frequently and closely. And, finally, with having his usual day-to-day routine disrupted in such a wonderfully exciting way.
Dog's Life: Travel
Jenny Collins of Portland, Ore., is a dog nut with a big heart. She and her yellow Lab, Patience, a certified therapy dog, have spent years together in Reading with Rover programs at prisons on family visiting days and with children at Ronald McDonald House.
So, when she and her friend Amy, who works with a Beagle rescue group, began planning a Hawaiian vacation, they naturally wondered if they could incorporate helping a shelter into their time in the islands. When they discovered the Maui Humane Society (MHS) website and its Beach Buddies program, their first thoughts were “Perfect! Awesome!” And when they shared their plans with friends, the usual reaction was, “Of course you are!”
Shelter dogs everywhere benefit from a break in routine. Even in the best facilities, even in Hawaii, shelter life is stressful for most dogs. Getting outdoors, exercising and interacting with the world does wonders for their emotional health, which ultimately makes them more adoptable. MHS’s Beach Buddies program gives its dogs a day of fun away from the shelter, hanging with a vacationer who’s primed to go out and explore.
Beach Buddies started in April 2015 and required a leap of faith, according to Jerleen Bryant, the society’s CEO. “The shelter on Kauai had started a program called Shelter Dogs on Field Trips, and it had been going about a year; they had great success and limited problems.
We held off another year, asking lots of questions, [then launched] our own program.” In the few months it has been active, it has proven to be a big hit.
For Bryant, the overriding factor in determining whether to go with the Beach Buddies program was, How does the program benefit the animals? She knew that socializing and exposure would improve adoptions, and indeed, adoption rates are better because of the Beach Buddies dogs, according to Bryant. “Some people adopt the dog they took out for the day,” she says. (Kauai Humane Society’s website notes that they adopt out four dogs each month to people participating in Shelter Dogs on Field Trips.)
So far, MHS staff and volunteers— not to mention the dogs—love the program, which has grown from one day a week to twice weekly (currently, Wednesday and Friday) with five or more “Beach Buddies–approved” dogs available each day. “We choose rocksolid, no-red-flags dogs,” says Bryant. “Once the dogs are selected, people who sign up can choose among them, firstcome first-served.
“People are calling all the time to participate. The program is now always fully booked, but if people book a time far enough ahead, they’ll get in.” Bryant hopes that, with more resources, they can add more days per week to meet demand, which would be a plus for dogs and vacationers alike.
The program is run by a volunteer coordinator, who matches dogs with vacationers who have signed up online. The shelter has five staging areas, where, among other things, the lucky dogs chosen to participate are bathed before meeting their vacationer and heading out the door.
Both small and big dogs are available. They go out with special “Adopt me!” harnesses and leashes, a backpack with supplies for the day (towel, water, bowl, poop bags, treats, emergency contact info) and a list of suggested places to visit. Participants are encouraged to record their outing, and the shelter shares their videos and photos on its Facebook page.
Arriving at MHS for their Beach Buddies day, Jenny and Amy went through a short orientation, during which they were instructed to keep the dogs on-leash at all times and to not leave them alone in a car. Since they both wanted a dog for the day, they had asked for dogs who were compatible, and were assigned two who had been surrendered to the shelter together: Jax, a two-year-old Lab mix, and Zane, a hound/Corgi mix. As Jenny recalls, “Both connected to us pretty quickly. Dogs are so accepting; they roll with change.”
Jenny and Amy took their charges to a beach, but quickly realized that the pups weren’t into the ocean scene, so they went on a hike in an experimental forest (“It felt like Oregon,” Jenny says). Afterward, they went to more populated places, including a Starbucks, where they sat with the dogs on a patio. A couple of people came up to meet Jax and Zane, and Jenny and Amy happily handed out the bio cards the shelter had provided; the cards also supplied MHS’s contact information and a “wish list” of items the shelter can always use. Postouting, MHS asks participants to provide a write-up of their experience for potential adopters, and Jenny and Amy were happy to do so; it gave them another way to help the shelter and its dogs.
Come Fly with Me
Wings of Aloha, another MHS program, was born out of desperation, according to Bryant. On Maui, there are far more dogs than homes able to take them in. The island has a population of roughly 140,000, and the shelter takes in 8,000 animals each year, one-third of them dogs. (The shelter is working hard to control the island’s population of homeless animals. With grants from PetSmart Charities, they’ve started M*A*S*H [Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital] clinics, high-volume sterilization clinics that earlier this year provided free spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, microchipping and licensing to 712 cats and 338 dogs over a nine-day period. Nine more M*A*S*H clinics are scheduled through 2016.)
Given that there are a finite number of homes able to adopt, and that it’s especially hard for renters to do so, the shelter staff asked themselves what MHS could do to address the imbalance. The answer? Fly some of the dogs to the mainland, where partner shelters help find them homes. Thus, Wings of Aloha was born.
When Wings launched in 2012, Bryant was the shelter’s director of development. Before moving to Maui, she had run a rescue organization in Oregon, often pulling up to 40 dogs at a time from shelters if their lives were at risk. Moving large numbers of dogs didn’t faze her. However, the cost to do so was an obstacle.
Fueled by donor money, Wings of Aloha began by purchasing airline tickets and crates to transport the dogs stateside, also paying to return the crates, which turned out to be cheaper than buying new ones. Eventually, the shelter forged partnerships with Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines; the airlines agreed to attach a shelter dog to a passenger’s —any passenger’s—ticket, significantly reducing the cost of transportation.
During their Beach Buddies orientation, Jenny and Amy learned about Wings of Aloha, and signed up. As luck would have it, Jax and Zane were two of the dogs scheduled to go on the women’s flight back to Portland. They and three other dogs were all attached to Amy’s ticket, reducing the price per dog to $100 and saving the shelter approximately $1,000 in fees.
“The shelter people had everything ready,” says Jenny. “They know all the rules. TSA took each dog out of the crate, checked the crate and the food in the bag taped on top, and zip-tied the crate door closed after the inspection.” Even though they weren’t obligated to, at the airport, Jenny and Amy stayed with the dogs until they were taken behind the check-in counter on their way to being loaded on the airplane.
Upon arrival in Portland, in another act of generosity, the women waited with the still-crated, off-loaded dogs until volunteers from a nearby Vancouver, Wash., shelter arrived to whisk them off to their new temporary home. Both women felt a strong connection to these dogs and wanted to be sure they made it to their final destination. “The Alaska Airlines people were willing to cut the zip ties for us in Portland, but we didn’t have leashes, so we asked them not to,” Jenny says. Jenny was impressed with how seamlessly the whole process worked.
In addition to financial resources, Wings of Aloha requires a significant effort from MHS staff and volunteers. Two lead volunteers field calls from people willing to share their airline tickets, and coordinate with mainland shelters accepting the transported dogs. They create a weekly list of dogs to transport, including a bio, pictures and why they’re good candidates for transfer: they’re too stressed in their current environment, or they’ve been there too long and need a change of scenery. “We have plenty of awesome dogs,” Bryant says, noting that as we spoke, 13 dogs were being prepped for transfer the following week. Since the program’s start in 2012, MHS has shipped some 740 dogs to the mainland.
“It’s amazing to have so many people [willing to] attach dogs to their tickets,” Bryant says. “We get pictures of people with the dogs in their crates at check-in and post them to our Facebook page so everyone can feel good about these dogs and the wonderful opportunity they have to start over in the Pacific Northwest. [People are] doing their part to save a life.”
Jenny’s vacation experience with MHS and their dogs didn’t end when she waved good-bye to Jax, Zane and the others heading off to the Vancouver shelter. “Our Beach Buddies outing occurred on May 1; our flight to Portland was May 5. On May 8, I received an email from MHS saying that Jax and Zane had been adopted into forever homes. It was totally meant to be!” says Jenny, who couldn’t be happier about the outcome and her role in it.
Jenny remains on the MHS email list, getting updates on the shelter’s animals and programs. “I wanted to buy one of their T-shirts, but they insisted I take it as a gift, saying I’d done so much. [She and Amy purchased several items on the shelter’s wish list at the local Target and Petco stores and made a donation.] I cried!” Asked if she would participate again in either program, Jenny says, “In a heartbeat. The experience did so much for me. It was the highlight and best memory of my vacation!”
Dog's Life: Travel
Village dogs understand communal space.
This morning, on my daily run, I came upon a black-and-tan puppy sitting at the edge of the Thu Bồn River. I’ve seen him before, but never in this spot. Upon my approach, the puppy scampered back to his front yard, which is separated from the Thu Bồn by a small lane, traveled by motorbikes and pedestrians, and the occasional car.
It is my fourth week here in Hội An, Vietnam. When I first arrived, this same puppy hovered close to his house. While I didn’t notice anyone keeping an eye out for him, it was clear which house he considered home. Then, the puppy was young enough that his eyes were still that indistinct gray-blue color. He was a bit wobbly on his feet, and sported a rounded puppy belly.
Now, his eyes are focused and a clever brown. He is slimmer and a lot quicker, and he is learning, as most dogs here must, to get out of the way of any person or thing barreling in his direction. Soon, he will be able to distinguish between the people and things that will intersect with his trajectory and those that will not. He will learn to ignore the latter. He must, else he will be one tired puppy, as Hội An is a popular tourist destination for foreigners and Vietnamese alike.
Most puppies in Hội An are raised without leashes or fences. The entire time I’ve been here, I’ve seen only two dogs walked on leash, and one appeared to be visiting from elsewhere (the dog’s people were revolving as they walked, in an attempt to take in a panoramic view).
As a dog trainer in the United States, I’ve had clients who insisted on trying to raise a dog with little to no use of leash or fence. What these clients failed to understand is that it’s not a simple matter of removing restraints. Many factors help shape a puppy into a dog who will not wander from home or family. Among other things, dogs must lead a fulfilling life at home, or they will seek fulfillment elsewhere, whatever “fulfillment” means to a particular dog. And even if home life is fulfilling, dogs will roam if life away from home is equally or more fulfilling. It’s not that different from human behavior. Some of us require quite a bit of enticement to leave the comforts of our own home. Some of us return home only when entirely depleted.
In this area of Hội An, many shopkeepers live behind or above their stores, so their dogs are never alone. The house where I’ve been staying shares a courtyard with a number of other homes. Some of my neighbors disappear off to work at various hours. Others work from home. The dogs who share the courtyard have constant, though rotating, human company. They spend time around a variety of people, making it less likely that they will become hyperattached to a single person.
They also grow up with an understanding of communal space. The whole time I’ve been here, I’ve seen only two canine squabbles, and no one was hurt either time. One altercation involved a leashed dog being walked through a pack of canine friends gathered for their morning social. (An imbalance in freedom often results in confrontation, as does the addition of a newcomer to a close-knit pack, which this clearly was.) The other involved a young and overly exuberant dog who interrupted a group already at play. The interrupter was ostracized, but once he mellowed, he was permitted to join in the fun.
Here, one puppy excepted (a very young one, at a shop on a bustling street), all the puppies I’ve seen have been granted complete freedom. Like the little black-and-tan one I see each morning on my run, the puppies learn from the start that safety is found at home or close to it. In this city, if a dog leaves home, he is soon intruding on another’s turf. Neighbor dogs share common space without issue, but may not appreciate a “stranger” dog passing through.
Some of the more confident dogs will cross streets; their navigation of intersections bustling with motorbikes and pedestrians is a sight to behold. I’ve spent many mornings on the patio of a coffee shop watching the same few dogs travel up and down the road with purpose. Sometimes with great purpose, as when carrying a scavenged treasure. (They seem inclined to retreat a good distance from the site of the discovery, perhaps to keep that site secret.)
Certainly, not every dog survives this amount of freedom unscathed. I have sighted one, maybe two, with a noticeable hitch to their gaits, the hitch likely earned in a collision with a motorbike. At the same time, I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of dogs who live very full lives, exploring their corners of the city at will, socializing and exercising in the early dawn as their humans do, when the air is freshest and the traffic lightest. Some do so in the company of people; others seek out canine friends independently.
While there are many loose dogs and swarms of tourists, I have yet to see a single dog react to a person walking by, no matter how close. And given the heavy foot traffic here, passing happens in tight proximity. Yet, while the dogs have no issue whatsoever with being passed, even brushed, by a pedestrian, a number have no interest in interaction beyond the accidental.
How do I know? I’ve heard them growl, usually when a tourist has been so bold as to reach a hand forward to touch without invitation, or moved in purposefully, camera in hand. The dogs communicated their displeasure quite clearly. Unlike in the U.S., in Hội An, dogs are not punished for their display, even in shops where the owners earn their livelihood by catering to tourists.
While here, I’ve been able to relate more closely to the predicament of dogs who are forbidden to express themselves in this way. There is a restaurant east of the marketplace that is owned by a woman who enjoys employing her English language skills. Since the first time I enjoyed a meal there, the owner has taken to shouting after me every time she sees me. When I am within her reach (she surprised me once rather far from her restaurant), she grasps me tightly in a bear hug. I’m not a terribly demonstrative person, especially with people I barely know. Were it socially acceptable (and I wish it were), I would emit a low growl to make clear my preferences.
I would have no more intention of biting than the growling shop dogs do. It’s clear from their body language: they are not about to get off their haunches and into a messy, tiring altercation by sinking their teeth into someone, especially not while the heat index is well over 100; they have no reason to. They have learned that a single clear communication gets them what they want: a bit of personal space.
Why is it that in the U.S., we consider such a reasonable request to be rude? As in humans, in dogs, bottled-up emotions tend to lead not to dissipation, but rather, to explosion. Imagine if every new person I encountered decided to give me a bear hug. You don’t have to know me personally to guess where this might eventually lead.
Rather than allow a dog to express his discomfort in a given situation, in the U.S., we tend to think it proper to forbid, and even punish, a dog for barking—let alone, horror of horrors, growling—at a person. This is unfortunate, as even children who haven’t been taught proper behavior around dogs understand the meaning of a growl.
As I prepare to sign off, one of the Chihuahuas who lives across from my house is telling an unfamiliar Cavalier mix in no uncertain terms to move it along. The courtyard is buzzing with neighbors newly returned from work. No one is telling the Chihuahua to put a lid on it. People recognize that she has a right to say what she’s saying.
I’ve heard, and read, many a complaint about the treatment of dogs in Asia. Here in Hội An, it’s been a joy to witness so many dogs leading full, wellbalanced lives, including enjoyment of the freedom of expression we hold dearly—for humans, if not canines— in the United States.
Dog's Life: Travel
Travel: Dog Friendly Bozeman, Montana.
Bozeman, MT is the place for the serious outdoorsperson. The town proper is rumored to have over 67 miles of trails and 42 dog bag stations in its parks. The pride of Bozeman’s canine community is a 37-acre off leash dog area at Snowfill Recreation Area. If that weren’t enough, ground was recently broken at Gallatin Regional Park for a new 13-acre dog park with amenities like ponds, diving docks, a dog sports area. The OLA advocacy group, Run Dog Run, is also responsible for developing a series of smaller dog parks throughout the whole area. Gotta hand it to them, they know how to get the job done. Bozeman is also a gateway to every day-trip imaginable with majestic mountains, rivers and lakes in the neighborhood. Much of the world-class trout fishing and clear waterways benefit from Montana’s egalitarian stream access laws, allowing for full public use. Canoeing, kayaking, white water rafting—for water-loving dogs, big sky country is paradise. All that outdoor activity tends to work up a thirst, so a number of breweries (Montana Ale Works, Bozeman Brewing Co.) help satisfy the town’s favorite indoor sport— drinkin’. Most either welcome dogs or hold special pupfriendly promotions. Montanans like their food fresh and wild, so look for some jerky treats made with local game, it will help fuel you and your pup on your adventures. Plus Bozeman is home to West Paw Design, maker of eco-friendly dog beds and toys, and one of the greenest companies anywhere. The new West Paw Dog Park recently opened to the public (WPD helped secure the space and funded improvements) with the support of Run Dog Run. For an insider’s viewpoint on Bozeman’s dog-friendly attitude—go online for tips from the canine-loving staff at West Paw Design: thebark.com/bozeman
Dog's Life: Travel
Bozeman, Montana is home to West Paw Design one of the greenest and socially responsible companies anywhere. West Paw Design are makers of eco-friendly dog beds and exquisitely designed toys that utilize a variety of forward-thinking materials such as hemp, organic cotton and an exclusive eco-fiber made completely from recycled plastic. If you are in the neighborhood, they welcome the public to come into their Bozeman-based manufacturing facility to pick up some toys and get their suggestions about the best places to bring their dogs—including their own West Paw Dog Park at Rocky Creek Farm that’s right down the street from where their facilities. Knowing their dedication to the good (dog) life, we spoke to the West Paw folks recently about some of their favorite canine destinations …
Drinking Horse Hiking Trail: This 2.1 mile loop offers scenic views and welcomes dogs. Located close to town, it offers a great moderate-level hike for canines and owners alike.
Sypes Canyon: Located in the Gallatin National Forest, this 5.8 trail through a shaded forest follows a creek-fed canyon that will quench your dog’s thirst. 2 miles in there’s an overlook with a great view of the Gallatin Valley. Don't be surprised to see horses on the trail.
Hyalite Reservoir: A 30 minute drive from downtown Bozeman, this getaway offers endless opportunities for hiking, breathtaking waterfalls and lakeside camping.
Pete’s Hill: A quick and convenient trail for downtown dwellers.
Cooper Park: Consensus selection of the most dog-friendly park in town, located in a historic residential area.
Bozeman Pond Dog Park: Awesome beach for dogs accompanies the one-acre off-leash area. Plus, an on-leash trail nearby.
Many of the city’s restaurants have outdoor seating in the summer and early fall, allowing dogs to hang with their owners al fresco. A few favorites: Naked Noodle, Plonk, Nova Café and Starky’s.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Honoring a breed that was nearly extinct
We had just toured the Balleek factory in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland and most people had questions about the design and making of the high-quality, handmade porcelain pieces produced there. All I wanted to know was why the Irish Wolfhound has been on the stamps that marked every piece of Balleek pottery since 1863, along with other distinctive Irish symbols such as round towers, Irish harps and shamrocks. The tour guide’s answer was that at the time that the stamp was designed, this treasured breed was nearly extinct, and the owners wanted to pay tribute to this symbol of national pride.
The Irish are not the only group to take a strong interest in a dog breed whose history is strongly linked with their nation. There’s the Saint Bernard, so beloved by the Swiss, the Keeshound which is the national dog of the Netherlands, the Coton du Tulear from Madagascar, the Havanese of Cuba, the Rhodesian Ridgeback originating in Zimbabwe, and the Fila Brasileiro which comes from Brazil, to name just a few.
During the month I spent in Scotland, I met many people who pointed out with pride that their dogs are “proper Scottish dogs!” This description was used to refer to Scotties and Westies, of course, but also to a large number of collies (Border Collies, Smooth Collies, Rough Collies and Bearded Collies) and a variety of terriers (Border Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Skye Terriers and Dandie Dinmont Terriers, which is one of my favorite breed names ever.) Dog breeds are so closely linked to Scotland that virtually no souvenir shop lacks for stuffed fleece dogs to sell to tourists, including my sons. Both chose, for their one souvenir from Scotland, a stuffed Scottish dog—one picked a Westie and the other bought a Scottie.
Are your particularly enamored with a dog breed because of your interest in its country of origin?
With summer in full swing, perhaps you’ve not yet made plans for that special getaway—an escape that both you and your canine co-pilot can enjoy equally. We offer up five of our favorite dog-friendly destinations. Each makes a perfect summer getaway for a week or weekend. In our estimation, these places are special.
Bozeman, Montana not only has unforgettable big sky vistas, but ample space for dog outing recreation. Not only does the city boast of a 37-acre off leash dog area at Snowfill Recreation Area, but the county and a volunteer group, Run Dog Run, have just broken ground at Gallatin Regional Park for a new 13-acre dog park with amenities like ponds, diving docks and a dog sports area. The same group is responsible for developing a series of smaller dog parks throughout the whole area. Kudos to them, they know how to get the job done. Bozeman is the gateway to day-trips that will satisfy every level of outdoorsperson (and dog) ranging from mountain hikes to rafting and canoeing, plus world-class fishing. Montanans love their dogs, and see nothing unusual about including them in just about everything they do—outdoor adventures, dining, socializing—you’ll find dogs at every turn.
Asheville, North Carolina, offers a unique take on southern hospitality—mixing traditional and bohemian cultures into something special. Summertime brings a lively mix of music and arts festivals, a handful of which are dog-friendly. A host of the city’s al fresco dining areas welcome dogs, as do many of the area’s nearly two dozen microbreweries. Even some of its farmers’ markets are canine-friendly. At nearby Pisgah National Forest dogs can be unfettered by leashes as they hike through its thousand of acres and their stunning waterfalls. In the nearby town of Brevard book at stay at DogWoods Retreat surrounded by broadleaf forests and with easy access to the unforgettable Blue Ridge Parkway.
Seattle, Washington offers a little of everything: cultural attractions, great local fare and untrampled wilderness a car (or ferry) ride away, all in a still manageable urban setting. While Seattle’s sometime chilly embrace of strangers known as the infamous “Seattle freeze” survives—they do love dogs. The city’s dog-friendly amenities reflect the statistic that shows that there are more dogs than children according to the recent census. There are 11 official off-leash areas in the city proper, plus Marymoor Park, the 40-acre off-leash paradise with meadows, trails and river access located 20 miles east of the city. Marymoor Park is a must-see to experience how a dedicated dog community can partner with municipal leaders with great success. Seattle claims 45 pet-friendly hotels, 150 pet-friendly restaurants where one can dine outside with a pup, plus loads of special doggie events ranging from ice cream socials to Dogtoberfest plus an outdoor movie series that welcomes dogs. While Seattle’s leash laws are strictly enforced, much of the city is dog-friendly, so whether you are shopping, dining or sightseeing … chances are your pooch can tag along.
Marymoor Off-Leash Area outside of Seattle is one of the finest municipal facilities in the country (left); Sonny, an official Canine Ambassador at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, near Banff, Canada (right).
Minneapolis, Minnesota or the “City of Lakes” has much to offer visitors, and not just those that love the water. It’s vibrant art scene includes the Guthrie Theater and the Walker Art Center, two venerable cultural institutions. Still, the canines in your pack will be more interested in the city’s seven dog parks, our favorite being Minnehaha Falls Dog Park nestled along the Mississippi River with water access and acres of woods to roam. Check out the nearby 53-foot waterfall and surrounding limestone bluffs. For nearby day trips, head in just about any direction to enjoy a canoe or kayak trip with your dog. The nearby Cannon and St. Croix Rivers are scenic and relatively easy, though start early to avoid the tubers. For serious canoers and kayakers, the trek north (4+ hours) to Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will provide you and your co-pilot an outdoor experience of a lifetime.
Banff, nestled in the Canadian Rockies, provides an awe-inspiring outdoor experience with its majestic peaks, dense forests and scattered valleys, rivers and lakes. It is a popular tourist destination, so if you and your pup are seeking solitude … search elsewhere. The first-class amenities do make up for the crowds, and it’s not that difficult to locate an unbeaten path. Dogs are welcome at Banff National Park and nearby Jasper National Park, Canadian National Parks are significantly more canine-friendly than their American counterparts. Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, Lake Minnewanka—all offer incredible views and boating of every kind (even the commercial scenic tours are dog-friendly). As for those first-class accommodations—splurge and stay at the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel, old-style luxury that welcomes four-footed guests.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
No-fee housesitting is a boon for the adventurous animal lover.
Dot, my new roommate, and I just returned from a walk in the woods around the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. While I stumbled over roots, Dot reveled in the fresh smells of a muddy creek bed, hid behind me when approached by a large dog and snuffled with delight through a pile of pine needles.
Dot is a 10-pound Jack Russell named for the single brown splotch on her right hip. I moved into her home two weeks ago, settling in for a six-month stay. Her people—Shari and Mark—are exploring India and I’m occupying their house while they’re away as part of a year-long house-sitting adventure, moving around the country in search of a permanent location.
It’s a no-cash exchange that suits all of us. I get to stay in their lovely home with its wraparound porch and wood-burning stove while becoming more familiar with this part of the country. They can rest easy knowing that their property and companion animals are well cared for. Best of all, Dot and her three feline buddies are able to remain at home in familiar surroundings.
We’re part of the new sharing economy energized by the Internet. Sure, house-swapping has been around for decades, but the Internet allows homeowners and house sitters to connect much more easily. The desire for in-home pet care is the major factor driving the trend.
“The most important thing to most homeowners is that they have happy pets cared for at home,” says Andy Peck, founder of the London-based TrustedHouseSitters.com, one of the websites I’ve used to find assignments. “Eighty percent of the people looking for a house sitter have pets. More and more people don’t want to use kennels.
“It’s a win for both parties. The sitter goes the extra mile—it’s not liking asking a reluctant nephew to do the job. And a lot of people genuinely love looking after pets while having a ‘staycation’ in a great place, a vacation where they can live like a local.”
North Carolina was my third house-sitting assignment in 2014. I spent 10 weeks in the spring in Bethesda, Md., and two months during the summer in Santa Barbara, Cal. After talking with Shari via Skype, I drove from Bethesda to Chapel Hill to meet her and her husband. In-person meetings aren’t necessarily the norm; Peck says that between Skype interviews and reference checks, many homeowners know more about their house sitters than they know about their neighbors. But in my case, the visit sealed the deal, primarily because Dot took to me at once. Within days of my arrival, she was giving me a nightly signal that it was time for us to repair to the bedroom, where she sleeps in a bed next to mine.
References definitely play a part. On TrustedHouseSitters.com, for example, they’re sent directly from the homeowner to the website; the sitter doesn’t have the opportunity to modify them. Some sitters also provide police background checks. However they’re handled, responsibility for checking references belongs solely to the homeowners, and snafus are not unknown. A sitter or homeowner can cancel at the last minute, leaving both parties in the lurch.
Some match-ups are better than others. I read listings carefully, looking for clues to the homeowner’s personality and expectations. One listing, for example, sought a sitter with an “alpha personality” to deal with their dogs. Not me! And sometimes, it’s the homeowners who are unreliable, as a friend discovered when she accepted a month-long assignment and the electricity was turned off for non-payment the first week she was there.
Assignments range from a few days to a few weeks, or as long as a year, and the listings are often mini-biographies that, though brief, reflect the homeowners’ love of their dogs.
“We are in our very early 70s and would like to go to the UK to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with friends and family,” wrote a French couple recently, looking for house sitters for a week. “Both of our dogs are rescue dogs and we are reluctant to place them in kennels. … We live in a large renovated farmhouse with pool. No neighbors, but not isolated.”
Another couple wrote: “We live in Southwest Calgary, about a half hour from the downtown core. We are looking for someone to feed our dogs and give them lots of attention as well as take care of our home, water plants, etc.”
That listing (which, by the way, also mentioned wi-fi, cable television, a home gym and an infrared sauna as well as proximity to ski areas) included pictures of a doleful English bulldog, Ginger, and a very perky Coton de Tulear named Willow. Browsing the pet photos alone is enough to make me smile.
House sitters and homeowners alike tend to be baby boomers who want to indulge their lust for travel, says Peck. These no-fee house-sitting arrangements significantly cut the costs of travel for both, allowing them to fulfill their dreams of traveling during retirement. Not to mention that some assignments involve staying in luxurious properties—sometimes quite decadent luxury.
Ocean-view estates in Costa Rica; country mansions in Great Britain; and apartments in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco are frequently among the thousand-plus listings in 60 countries on TrustedHouseSitters.com and other sites. There are always lots of listings for Australia, New Zealand and Canada; house sitters just have to keep local weather in mind. Australians flee their country during its torrid summers, while Canada has the most listings during the winter months (great if you’re a skier).
Everyone whose home I’ve cared for has introduced me to friends and neighbors. Interacting with locals makes for a more personal experience, sometimes one that’s life-changing.
“We got a letter from a widow who said she decided she could travel on her own as a house sitter because she would have the companionship of the homeowner’s dog,” Peck recalls. “She was out walking the dog and got invited around for coffee with a neighbor—they are now romantic partners. She found love through housesitting.”
Dog's Life: Humane
Partnerships that help alleviate animal suffering in popular resort areas.
Which of these things is not like the others? Sun, surf, sand, fruit drinks, stray dogs. While on the surface, the last is the odd-dog out, the truth is that in many tropical vacation paradises, emaciated, mange-afflicted and lonely canines (and felines) roam the beaches, alleys and streets in heartbreaking numbers.
Among the humane groups that have sprung up to address this situation is Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), whose mission is “to save the lives of stray cats and dogs in Mexico and the Caribbean through spay, neuter, adoption and educational programs, supported and funded by the tourism industry, travelers and pet lovers.”
CANDi was founded by Canadian Darci Galati, an avid traveler and natural-born entrepreneur, who was inspired by her daughters’ concern for the strays they saw while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. The girls would do what they could for the animals they saw wandering the streets and beaches, but knew that when they left, these dogs and cats would once again be on their own. Galati made her daughters a promise that she would do something to make the animals’ situations better, and CANDi was born.
The group has no brick-and-mortar shelters of its own, but rather, enlists what it calls “humane partners,” local rescue groups that have charitable status, a substantial and active volunteer base, and a focus on spay/neuter and other prevention work, as well as documented recordkeeping and administrative capacities.
At first, CANDi sponsored free spay/neuter clinics, which became wildly popular with local dog and cat owners, who would line up early on clinic days to have their pets altered. Galati then decided to kick it up a notch—to find a way to address the larger systemic problems by involving those who benefit financially from the tourist trade: hotels, resorts and airlines.
This was an area Galati knew well. Founder of an interline travel company that went on to become one of the largest in the UK and North America, she knew how the tourism industry worked, and how much it depended on the good will of those who enjoyed it. She was determined to parlay that knowledge into a model that would benefit animals in need.
For example, with the group’s “Make a Difference” program, participating hotels invite guests to add the equivalent of $1 per night to their bill at checkout, with the money going to help CANDi provide clinics and educational programs in the local community. While guests are under no obligation to sign up, CANDi’s research indicates that about 75 percent of them elect to take part in this fund-raising activity.
Finding adoptive homes for animals in need locally is another primary activity, but the group also reaches out to the international community, both as adopters and as travel partners to transport dogs and cats to new homes in Canada and the U.S. Currently, ACTA (the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies), Air Transat, CEO Mexico and RIU Hotels and Resorts are actively working with CANDi in support of its mission.
In her work with CANDi, photographer, volunteer and board member Tracey Buyce has had numerous experiences with local communities, and understands the struggle many have just to feed and house their families. According to Buyce, people tend to be judgmental about the animal situation in, for example, Mexico, assuming that the local people are just neglectful. “The reality is, as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means to care for them.” This is the gap that CANDi helps fill.
Buyce’s introduction to the issue also came during a Cancun sojourn. As she and her husband were taking a moonlit stroll on the beach, they encountered a starving stray and her equally malnourished puppy. Not knowing what else to do, Buyce shared her dessert with the dogs, but the encounter shook her. Once she returned home, she began an online search for animal rescue groups working in the area, and found CANDi.
When asked what individual travelers can do to assist, Buyce had several straightforward suggestions: “As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home. There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico, and it’s very easy to do. Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life. And, of course, volunteer.”
Read more about Tracey Buyce’s experiences in our interview.
Dog's Life: Travel
Go west, and take your dog along.
Hankering for a taste of the Old West? Want to take your canine companion along on a fun-filled and unique summer vacation? Consider a dog-friendly dude ranch. More dude ranches—or guest ranches, as most are now called—are catering to those of us who can’t imagine a vacation without our dogs. Each has different rules and expectations for dogs, so contact any ranch you’re considering visiting and speak to them about the specifics of their dog-friendly policy before setting out, and ask about extra fees. Make sure you and your dog will enjoy the setting; you want a fun, yet safe, stay.
There’s something so elemental and special about heading down a trail on horseback, your dog happily trotting alongside. If your dog is fit and well-behaved, and won’t chase the horses or wildlife, he or she is the perfect dude ranch candidate. Even the older, more retiring canine can still enjoy these ranches, staying behind while you ride, joining you later for a swim or stroll, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Don’t ride horses? That’s fine; most guest ranches offer a multitude of activities, from fly fishing and rock climbing to hiking or hanging out by the lake or pool. You might even learn to square dance! And don’t forget the down-home, family-style meals.
Flying U Guest Ranch Situated in British Columbia’s gorgeous Cariboo region, the Flying U is the only guest ranch in North America that allows unsupervised riding on 40,000 acres of aspen-dotted forests and meadows. Well-mannered dogs are welcome, off leash, in the cabin and lodge area as well as on your rides. This rustic yet comfortable resort also offers canoeing, swimming and fishing. Recently purchased by Mauritz and Enka from South Africa, the dog-friendly policy will continue. (Read about the author’s 2004 visit here.)
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch At this relaxed high-country getaway, set at 8,000 feet near Red Feather Lakes, Colo., canine guests may be off-leash as long as they get along with kids, horses, goats, sheep and other dogs. While trail rides here are supervised, owner Ellen Morin says, “We’re not a nose-to-tail outfit. Groups are small—no more than five riders per wrangler,” so each group rides at its own best pace. Is your dog a little pokey? Borrow a crate and let him snooze safely in your room while you’re riding.
The Resort at Paws Up If you and your canine companion are looking for a few days of pampering, this is the place. Located in the Clearwater Valley outside of Missoula, Mont., this resort offers wilderness rides, fly fishing, rafting and mountain biking. Try glamping—glamorous camping—featuring five-star amenities in a huge canvas tent! Dogs inspired the resort’s name, so of course they’re welcome, indulged with the “last best doggie bed” and their own stylish Paws Up collar and leash.
At the end of your dude ranch stay, all of your cheeks will be sore—those on your butt from bouncing in the saddle, and those on your face from grinning ear to ear as you watch your dog have the time of her life.
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