Home
travel
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Holidays mean visiting dogs
Let the adventures begin

Lucy and Baxter, a pair of Border Collie mixes, will not be traveling across the country with their guardians over the holidays. Instead, they traveled across town to stay with us, starting two days ago. As I write this, they are lying on the floor—one under the table and one next to me—and I am enjoying their peaceful company. (Earlier in the day, I was enjoying their energetic playfulness, but I’m pleased they are having a snooze now.)

Lucy and Baxter will stay with us a little over a week, and during that time, we will be among the many households whose dog population has grown. Just as people move around and go visiting at this time of year, so do dogs.

Some dogs go with their guardians during holiday visits, and others go to dog sitters. Either way, many dogs find themselves in new situations with unfamiliar surroundings. These changes sometimes lead to unexpected little incidents.

Many families have stories of dogs who have eaten holiday dinners either before they were served or right off the dining room table. Others tell of a dog shooting out the front door and going on a little jaunt through the neighborhood when a niece or nephew left the door wide open. There are dogs who have unwrapped all the presents while the humans were attending church, and dogs who ate the treats that were intended for Santa and his reindeer.

A client told me about the time her dog locked himself in the bathroom at her grandma’s house, which was a real problem since it was the only one in the house and 7 people were staying there for the weekend. One friend can hardly speak for laughing when she tells how her dog uncharacteristically lifted his leg on a very mean uncle who nobody had ever stood up to. He left in a huff and everyone was really appreciative.

I love stories of visiting dogs and the things they do. Of course I am mindful that eating many holiday offerings or escaping the house are among the dangers facing dogs at this time of year, and it’s important to do our best to protect dogs. A combination of training dogs and managing situations to prevent trouble are essential, but things have a way of happening over the holidays.

We have yet to have an incident with Lucy and Baxter worthy of a story, unless you count me taking a truly spectacular (but non-injurious) fall when I tripped over their dog bed in the dark. Thankfully they were not on it at the time.

If you are you caring for extra dogs this holiday season or hosting people with dogs, has anything memorable happened yet?

News: Editors
Are Emotional Support Dogs on Planes Causing a Backlash?

There is a front page story today in the New York Times about emotional support dogs on planes, and how many people seem to be gaming the system. It is obviously a very touchy subject for dog lovers. But one that needs serious addressing. Should rules regarding emotional support dogs (different from assistance/service dogs for blind or physically disabled people) be re-examined? This article dealt specifically with plane travel, which allows emotional support animals to fly free. Those animals (not just dogs) are not restricted to a crate and are even allowed to sit on their guardian’s lap, unlike other animals who must fit under-the-seat in a carrier, and for which a fee is charged on most airlines.

Robert Farr of the Pacific A.D.A. Center explained that, “The Air Carrier Access Act allowed for emotional support animals to be taken on planes, broadening the American Disabilities Act, which recognized service animals in public places.” Little (or no) proof of their status is required. And as the article points out, there seem to be many who are flaunting the guidelines.

Is this a problem? According to Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week, it is becoming a big one.

“I’ve seen people bring on pets and try to pass them off as an emotional support or service dog. It’s not appropriate and it’s not safe.”

Ms. Davis, who uses a wheelchair, flies about once a month, along with a service dog, for her job as a health and human services consultant.

She goes on to note:

“Honestly, I understand that there’s some value that people need an emotional assistance dog. But I think a lot of this is that people love their dogs and think they feel like if you have your dog, why can’t I have mine?” Airline workers echo Ms. Davis’s view. “It’s out of control,” said an American Airlines flight attendant, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.

Not only are there psychotherapists who provide the necessary “prescriptive” paperwork, but online stores that sell service dog vests to anyone. Like one in Southern California who the Times spoke with who is willing to offer certification papers for a one-hour $99 phone/Skype call.

I know a few people without legitimate issues who do this as well, like a couple with two 70 lb. dogs who wear such vests. Their dogs are extremely well trained but, to me, that isn’t the issue. They simply prefer that their dogs fly in the cabin with them and not in the cargo, an understandable sentiment, but one that doesn’t give consideration to other passengers, including those with service animals or those with animal allergies.

The comments to this article are interesting, especially when addressing the needs of those with severe allergies. Unfortunately their rightful concerns could also impact other guide/service animals—with stale cabin air being recycled, it is hard not to take into consideration the pet dander allergy issue. One commenter suggested that those with severe allergies should also be accorded “ADA” status, warranting special consideration too.

But there is also the fact that airlines are charging more and more for things that use to be standard for the cost of a plane tickets, baggage, roomier seating, snacks etc., so it was suggested that if they started to charge for emotional support dogs (like they do with “carry-on” dogs), perhaps they would see a reversal in the popularity of misusing the system. Or as another commenter noted,

“When airlines are able to provide a more humane way for our pets to travel on an airplane, i.e. a secured heated in winter/air conditioned in summer section in the cargo area, where the crates are also secured and not dumped in with luggage, etc., when airlines stop asking vets to sign waivers that say if your pet comes out the other end of the flight like a frozen Popsicle or overheated Pizza Pocket and not breathing, when pets do not escape due to negligence on the part of the airline employees, who are not specifically trained to handle animals, are trained properly to do so and in fact have dedicated jobs for only this function, than I would love to be able to relinquish my beloved dog to the airline and get on the plane! with some level of peace of mind.”

Are there really that many people who are abusing the system who, in turn, are making it more difficult for others to bring their service dogs with them? Perhaps an example of how this might be affecting the attitude of crewmembers too comes from a story reported yesterday in the New York Post about a blind man, Albert Rizzi and his guide dog Doxy, who were booted off a US Airways plane by TSA guards.  As the story goes:

“The 9-year-old Lab was under his seat, Rizzi said, but the loving pooch got restless as the plane sat for 90 minutes on the runway before the scheduled hour-long flight at 8:30 p.m.

“My dog had been under the seat for an hour and a half, and he needed to be near me, touch me,” Rizzi told The Post. “This is the relationship between a guide dog and his handler.”

But there is great twist to this story when other passengers voiced their support to Rizzi.

 “After he [Rizzi] was removed, people on board began to voice their opinion,” said passenger Carl Beiner, a 43-year-old construction manager. “Everyone was saying, ‘You’re 100-percent wrong.’ There was not a single person backing the stewardess. Every single person on that flight was behind the blind guy.”

“When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem. What is going on?’ ” Passenger Frank Ohlhorst told Philadelphia TV stations. “The captain came out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft.”

Obviously, one hopes that is an extreme example on how easy it is to fray nerves while sitting in a plane for hours on a runway, and one that the management of US Airways agrees was a severe overreaction by the crew.

As for the broader issue of support dogs being accorded the same status as guide dogs, and how this leads to misusing the system, is this perhaps an example of a good idea gone bad? Is it time to reexamine the certification process? Is more accountability in order? We would love to get your thoughts.

 

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Car Restraints
Center for Pet Safety tests products

Lindsey Wolko knew that dogs are safer in cars if restrained, which is why her cocker spaniel Maggie was in a safety harness the day Wolko braked hard to avoid an accident. Despite that, Maggie was seriously injured and very scared when she slammed into the driver’s seat and her legs became tangled in the harness. She has since fully recovered from the damage to her spine and hips, but many dogs sustain even more serious injuries and not all of them recover.

Since then, Wolko has learned that all too few of the products that are sold to insure dog’s safety actually do what they are supposed to do, in part because they are not properly tested. She is determined to change that in order to keep dogs safer and prevent injuries to them. That’s why she founded the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety.

Preparing to test products involving designing canine crash test dummies in three different sizes. There are model dogs of 25 pounds, 45 pounds, and 75 pounds. All of the crash test dummies have a steel frame and accurately recreate the true center of mass and weight distributions of dogs.

In a recent series of tests that made up the 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study, most of the canine restraints experienced catastrophic failure. That means that either the restraint allowed the dog to become a projectile or it released the test dog from the restraint. Only one product, the Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility Harness, consistently performed successfully, offering protection to the dog and to other passengers in the car by keeping the dog from leaving the seat.

Has your dog been injured in a car accident despite being restrained with a product that was supposed to offer protection?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Therapy Dogs Make Flying Better
“Pups and Planes” program launched

Therapy dogs have long been helping people who are staying in hospitals, students taking finals, those individuals who have recently experienced trauma and those who suffer from generalized anxiety. All of these people feel better after their contact with a friendly canine, and now that same benefit is available for people about to fly or who have just landed.

The San Antonio International Airport has teamed up with Therapy Dogs, Inc, and Delta Pet Partners of San Antonio to create another facet of their ambassador program. “Pups and Planes” launched last Monday and now offers travelers the services of volunteer handlers and their dogs. This program has five dogs participating right now, though more are expected to join. All of the dogs are trained therapy dogs.

Passengers are given the opportunity to interact with the dogs, petting them and spending time with them before they board their planes or just after they land. The goal is to reduce tension and anxiety in passengers and create a calm environment in the airport. The dogs cheer people up, giving them a break from the most common negative emotions of travelers—boredom and stress.

News: Guest Posts
Pet Travel Safety Tips

For most, car trips are the preferred method of travel with our dogs, from running errands and trips to the dog park to longer excursions to visit family/friends or enjoying a dog-friendly destination—dogs are our co-pilots. The amount of time dog owners spend in the car with their dogs is growing—not really surprising considering how much dogs have become part of our daily lives. With the increase of outwardly mobile dogs comes the responsibility to keep them (and all passengers) safe. According to the AAA/Kurgo Pet Passenger Safety Study, many drivers practice a host of behaviors prompted by their dogs — from petting to restricting a dog’s movement — that expose potentially dangerous consequences. As much as we love our dogs, the excitement of a road trip and the visual and audio stimulation of a drive can produce a variety of behavior in them that is best dealt with when not behind the wheel. Distracted drivers are unsafe drivers, which can lead to accidents and serious injury.

In order to ensure the safety of yourself and your charges, these basic safety tips are recommended.

Leash Your Dog Before Opening the Car Door to Exit

Every year hundreds of pets are lost or injured as they dart out of cars uncontrolled. Be sure to collar, id tag, and leash your dog before opening the car door to let them out. When in a strange and busy environment, pets can be frightened and run off into traffic or to places that are difficult to find. Maintain control of your dog(s) at all times.

Keep Heads, Arms, & Legs Inside the Car

Many dogs love to put their head out of the window or ride in the back of a truck. But if it isn’t safe for children, then it isn’t safe for a pet. Not only are there risks of being hit by other traffic or roadside objects, the ASPCA reports that dogs can also get debris in their eyes and lungs leading to illness. Some dogs have been known to jump out of car windows while driving or stopped, running into traffic or getting lost.

Keep Pets Out of the Front Seat

Increasingly, accidents are being caused by distracted driving. 30% of people admit to being distracted by their dog while driving, according to the AAA/Kurgo Study.

Pets should not be in the front seat of the car while driving and never positioned on your lap. Dogs should be in the back seat or the cargo area. If you have a hard time keeping your dogs in the back seat, there are a number of products that can contain them—Backseat Barriers that fit between the two front seats are effective at keeping pets in the backseat. Innovative products, such as the Auto Grass, sit on a car console and deter Fido from taking a step forward and into the front seat.

Restrain Pets for Safety

Restricting your pet’s movement and access to the front seat can be achieved by utilizing a crate or harness to restrain them. Many people prefer to crate their pet in the backseat or in the cargo area. Be sure that the crate is secure by using a pet carrier restraint attached to the car’s seatbelt system.

If your pet requires a little more freedom, you can use a dog harness and seat belt tether to give them lead to sit or lay down but still protect them in case of a crash. If your dog insists on more movement, you can also connect a dog harness to a zipline that goes the width of the backseat allowing them to walk back and forth. This is not as safe as a seat belt tether, but it will keep them out of the front seat.

Hydration

Make sure your pets have plenty of water to drink in the car or stop frequently to re-hydrate. A dogs’ panting may increase significantly in the car making hydration even more essential. A dog travel bowl is essential gear for car trips of any length.

Never Leave Your Dog Alone

Hopefully, it goes without saying that dogs should never be left alone in a car regardless of the weather. The obvious danger is heat, even in moderate temperatures. On an 85-degree day, within 10 minutes the car inside temperature can rise to 120, even with the windows cracked open. The other danger is that your pet may attract thieves.

 

These tips were provided by Kurgo, which is the leading manufacturer of pet travel safety products. With over 10 years of experience developing innovative products, Kurgo’s mission is to help pets and their owners get out and enjoy the world together, safely.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Stray Dogs in Restaurants
Cultural differences to ponder

There were stray dogs in the restaurant with us, and this was a high quality restaurant. The Buddha Café in Tortuguero Village, Costa Rica is a lovely chic place to dine with a cool vibe where you can be seated with views of the water from the veranda. It’s no greasy spoon, and yet dogs were wandering in off the street. Charmingly, nobody seemed to mind.

Dogs are certainly allowed in some restaurants in the United States, most often at outdoor cafes or in especially hip, progressive cities, but those are generally well-groomed dogs who are attended to by caring guardians. The dogs I saw while eating out last week were stray dogs living in a humid tropical jungle climate. Some looked healthy, while others looked decidedly unwell, and none could honestly be described as clean.

People weren’t just tolerating them out of a sense that it was hopeless to shoo them out of this open-air restaurant. They behaved genuinely warmly to them, feeding them a few leftovers and happily watching them lying around on the floor or begging at tables. I had no problem with the dogs being there, although I did tell my kids not to pet them. Normally I’m happy for my kids to interact with the various friendly dogs we meet, but I don’t want them to touch dirty or sick stray dogs while eating—call me overprotective.

I’m used to eating in places where dogs are allowed, but eating where stray dogs in all conditions are welcomed without hesitation is new to me. Have you had this experience while traveling or at home? How do you feel about it?

Dog's Life: Travel
Superior Autumn
Revisiting Minnesota’s Highway 61.
Tamarac Lake in the Chippewa National Forest

Lake Superior, northernmost of the Great Lakes, is the largest body of freshwater in the world. While its Minnesota North Shore beckons adventure-seekers and their dogs year-round, fall is a particularly spectacular time to visit. Rocky cliffs, cobblestone beaches, rolling hills, spectacular waterfalls and ridges covered in boreal forest make it a perfect spot for leaf-peeping and dog fun.

DULUTH
Birthplace of Bob Dylan and runner-up in Outside magazine’s “World’s Best Adventure Hub” contest, Duluth puts on quite a show in autumn. The best way to see its hardwood-forest sparkle is to take a drive along the Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway and revel in the multicolored vistas. Crossing the parkway, the 298-mile-long Superior Hiking Trail and shorter city trails provide ample opportunities to explore nature with your dog. (Trail maps are available from the Superior Hiking Trail Association.)

Lake Superior Magazine’s list of premium parkway overlooks includes Bardon’s Peak, Thompson Hill, Enger Tower and Hawk Ridge. Local dog lovers point out that the area’s many cross-country-ski trails are also great places to walk your well-behaved dog off-leash before winter blows in. For more dog-pal diversions, visit the city-owned dog park at Keene Creek Park or take an urban stroll on the Lakewalk pathway along the shore of Lake Superior. On Lakewalk, dogs need to be on-leash, and you’ll fi nd fountains with pup-level faucets. The city’s Canal Park also has much to offer in the way of shopping and local fl avor. Cathy Kates, one of Duluth’s self-proclaimed “dog fanatics,” tells us that some restaurants—including Green Mill, Caribou, Little Angie’s and Bellisio’s—accommodate diners and their canine companions on the patio.

Pet-friendly accommodations include the historic Fitger’s Inn, a former brewery now a luxury lakefront hotel (happily, when it comes to canine guests, they don’t impose size restrictions or additional fees). As you explore the Fitger’s Brewery Complex mall, keep an eye out for A Place for Fido, which caters to active, outdoorsy dogs. Shop owner Jamie Parent tells us that dogs are allowed in all the shops, not just hers. Pick up some “made in Minnesota” Sojos-brand food and treats at Jamie’s place for your drive up the coast.

NORTH SHORE SCENIC DRIVE
“Scenic” certainly seems to be the operative word in this part of the country. The tour continues northward on what was once called U.S. Hwy 61 (inspiration for Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”) but is now known as the North Shore Scenic Drive. This 154-mile- long route hugs the lake on one side and is bordered by the Sawtooth Mountain Range, with its thousands of acres of pine, aspen and birch, on the other. Just outside Duluth, stop off at the New Scenic Café and sample delicious bakery items on the dog-friendly patio, or get a farm-fresh lunch to go.

On your way to Tofte and Lutsen, you’ll travel through the Superior National Forest, known for its 1-millionacre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and more than 386 miles of trails winding their way through a truly breathtaking landscape. Stay in one of the dog-friendly rooms at the lakeside Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte, or go on to neighboring Lutsen and the Cascade Lodge—log cabins and miles of wild, scenic and accessible shoreline surrounded by one of Minnesota’s finest parks, Cascade River State Park.

GRAND MARAIS
It’s a short drive from Lutsen to the quaint harbor village of Grand Marais, where you and your co-pilot can enjoy delicious seasonal dishes at the dog-friendly Pie Place Café. Owner Mary Lear, a die-hard dog lover, welcomes canine guests to the café’s patio area with water and homemade treats; according to Lear, local dog-folk favorites include Artist Point and the breakwater/lighthouse area, as well as a new dog park along the Gunflint Trail. Want to linger a while? The Harbor Inn has several pet-friendly rooms facing the lake.

If a sense of adventure calls, head into the Northwoods for a stay at the Gunflint Lodge on the shores of one of the area’s numerous lakes—Minnesota is, after all, known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes! The resort was started by a mother/daughter duo, and has been operated by the same family for three generations. Their dog-lover weekends, which are offered throughout the year, include activities and seminars on dog massage, training, communication and pet health. Autumn’s Woofta Ufta and Waggalot weekends are great hits.

HIGH FALLS
Another must-see is Grand Portage State Park on the Grand Portage [Chippewa Band] Reservation. Roughly 36 miles north of Grand Marais on the U.S./Canada border, it features the state’s highest waterfall, the aptly named High Falls. The rushing waters plummet 120 feet into the Pigeon River, and the vistas are equally stunning. The easy, one-half-mile trail to the overlook area is a truly memorable way to cap off “everything down Highway 61.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hope for Puerto Rico’s Strays
Pets Alive works to provide sustainable solutions for Puerto Rico’s “satos”
Revitalized dogs greet guests.

If you’ve been to Puerto Rico, you’ve surely seen them: stray dogs the locals call satos. You can spot them everywhere, trotting in the heat alongside roads from San Juan to Mayagüez and loitering on the periphery of seemingly every beach, parking lot, gas station and cluster of homes. Most are badly malnourished, with protruding hipbones and rib cages; some have coats patchy with mange, and they stagger from illness or injury. All too many are followed by litters of scrawny puppies.

By now, even those who have never visited the 3,500-square-mile island are aware of its teeming population of strays (estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000). Recent news stories, which have exposed the southeastern dumping ground of Playa Lucia—better known as “Dead Dog Beach”—and the 2007 Barceloneta massacre, when 80 dogs were thrown to their deaths from a 50-foot bridge, are myriad and awful.

However, this coverage has had at least one positive consequence: a proliferation of stateside-based organizations dedicated to rescuing satos. At least a half-dozen such groups now exist, and most work in a similar way: they collect as many strays as possible, nurse them back to health on the island, then fly them to mainland U.S. shelters for adoption. Through their efforts, they have given hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dogs new homes.

In the past year, however, a new dog rescue operation, Pets Alive Puerto Rico, has been expanding this conventional approach to the sato problem. As well as rehabilitating strays and sending them north for adoption (through the New York–based headquarters of its parent organization, Pets Alive), this group has launched new on the ground programs: educational outreach in Puerto Rican communities, low-cost spay-and-neuter programs and even a B&B that attracts a steady stream of traveling volunteers. Their aim is to address the issue where it lives.

Pets Alive Puerto Rico (PAPR) has no published address. The six-acre sanctuary sits at the end of a long, unmarked dirt driveway, off the winding main road that snakes through the mountain village of Utuado. On the drive there, banana palms and crimson thatches of bougainvillea line the roadsides; hairpin turns offer sweeping views over the Rio Dos Bocas—a shimmering river far below, bound by jungly-green slopes and low-hanging clouds.

Joy and Ken Carson, who have run the no-kill sanctuary since opening it in April 2012, greet visitors with an apology for the hard-to-follow driving directions. They keep their location under the radar, says Joy, because they try to avoid having locals abandon dogs on the property. It’s tough to stay incognito with up to 50 barking dogs on site, however. The parcel of land, which was purchased with a donation from Rob and Marisol Thomas through their Sidewalk Angels Foundation, was chosen in part for its remoteness.

A tour of the sanctuary reveals a highly shipshape operation. The resident dogs, which range from adoptable adults to week-old orphaned pups who need bottle-feeding every few hours, occupy three separate areas on the property, each with spacious, immaculate kennels protected by sun shades, and containing Kuranda beds and “dogloos” for shelter. It’s important to have separate zones, the Carsons point out, because newly rescued dogs are often in precarious health and must be sequestered from those who aren’t yet vaccinated. (During a recent visit, one set of kennels housed a litter of pups who were slowly recovering from a bout of parvo.) The Carsons’ days are taken up with providing basic care for the dogs—cleaning their enclosures, changing and laundering their bedding, feeding and watering them, giving them medicine.

Not only have they rescued and rehabbed more than 350 dogs in just over a year, they have also managed to do an impressive amount of community outreach in the region around Utuado. By knocking on doors, promoting their work on social media and hosting educational seminars at area schools, they are establishing PAPR as a trusted resource for locals concerned about the satos’ welfare. (Area residents often tip off the couple about dogs in need.) They have also launched a pilot spay/neuter-release program, which, once it’s funded, will help ensure that even unadoptable strays won’t continue to reproduce.

The efforts the Carsons are most proud of, however, have been the partnerships PAPR has formed with local veterinarians to offer the community low-cost spay/neuter programs. After months of engaging with locals, they realized that—contrary to popular belief—many Puerto Ricans were perfectly willing to sterilize their dogs (and even neighborhood street dogs) as long as they could do so affordably. With the help of charitable foundations (including Cold Noses and the Humane Society International), they arranged for a veterinary clinic in the nearby coastal town of Arecibo to offer spay/neuter procedures at a greatly reduced cost ($50 rather than the usual $150 to $250).

These efforts culminated with PAPR’s participation last February in World Spay Day, during which volunteer vets working with the organization spayed and neutered more than 150 dogs in a single week. Since then, Joy says, they have continued to arrange sterilization for between five and 10 local dog owners each week.

While the amount of day-in, day-out work to be done at PAPR is daunting, the Carsons have been able to entice a steady stream of volunteers to help out, largely through what may be their most unusual program of all: offering the extra bedrooms in the sanctuary’s cheerful main building—which also happens to be their house—to paying guests who want to take a do-gooding Puerto Rican B&B holiday. Joy says that since last April, about 35 volunteers have done brief stints (usually about a week) at the property, during which they share not just chores, but meals and nightly happy hour with their everwelcoming hosts (Ken makes a mean rum-and-guava cocktail).

The work is undeniably arduous; there is always poop to be scooped, vet trips to be made, and Sisyphean heaps of dirty towels and blankets to launder. Still, several guests have already made repeat visits.

“It’s the puppy breath!” says Ken, using his favorite all-purpose description of the rewards that come from sanctuary work. Relentless though it may be, the work definitely allows plenty of time for petting, snuggling and playing with swarms of wriggling, grateful dogs. (Volunteers who’ve never before bottle-fed a litter find out pretty quickly just how magical puppy breath really is.)

“It may not be the most relaxing holiday you’ll ever take,” Ken quips. For dog lovers, though, it might easily be one of the most gratifying.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs and Traffic
Terrifying and dangerous

Living temporarily in the urban area of San Ramón, Costa Rica, I have seen far too many near misses between cars and dogs. (There are a ton of strays as well as many dogs who wander all day even though they have a home.) A fatal accident can happen so fast, and I have felt very fearful watching dogs in the roads. It’s especially frightening here, where cars have the right of way, and pedestrians of both the human and canine variety are taking a risk every time they step off the curb to cross a street.

There are people who hurry across in front of zooming cars, taxis and trucks in situations in which I wouldn’t dare try to make it in time, and some dogs do the same. Just yesterday, I watched the same dog twice disappear from view alarmingly close to cars and felt enormous relief both times when I saw him reappear on the other side. I really thought that he hadn’t made it. A man walking near me said, “No va a llegar al edad,” which means, roughly translated, “He’s not going to reach old age,” and I worry that he spoke the truth. Presumably, dogs who lack the skills to safely navigate the city streets don’t last very long.

Perhaps that’s why most of the dogs I see wandering freely, whether they have a family to return to at night or not, seem to understand that cars are to be avoided. Either they learn that early on, or they don’t survive. Many watch and cross when people do, taking a followers approach to street safety. Others cross after watching for a break between cars. The majority of the dogs are playing it safe.

Still, I have a bad feeling that before the end of our four months here, I may see an accident with a bad ending. Have you ever had the misfortune to see a dog hit by a vehicle?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Understanding Dogs
Unexpected help with cultural adjustment

I am so grateful for the help a couple of dogs recently gave me in the middle of a period of cultural adjustment. This week, my family traveled to Costa Rica, where we will spend the next four months. I love this country, having spent close to a year here over the course of five previous trips. I speak Spanish, but it does not feel at all like using my native language of English, which is effortless and easy. (Hopefully no editors who have ever worked with me will be surprised to read that I consider myself so proficient in English, but that’s a whole different issue.) After 36 hours of speaking Spanish and translating for my husband and kids who are learning Spanish but remain less comfortable with the language, I was exhausted.

We were outside speaking with our neighbor Eduardo when I realized my bilingual brain needed a break. Just then, a couple of dogs from the neighborhood started to play together, and we all paused to watch them. They are small dogs of about 15 pounds, very peppy and extremely playful. They were leaping on one another, playing chase, taking turns in their roles, pausing frequently, performing plenty of play bows and using other play signals, all while maintaining a low and constant level of arousal. It was the kind of beautifully appropriate play session that anyone who has ever taught a puppy class would be ecstatic to observe.

When the dogs came over to me, I was able to interact with them just as I do with dogs anywhere. They responded to the way my body leaned, the tone of my voice, my posture, my energy level, and the direction I moved. The familiarity and lack of uncertainty were exhilarating. I always enjoy meeting friendly new dogs, but in this case, there was an extra perk. I understood what was going on and it was easy to observe and react appropriately. My brain was not translating, and I was not guessing or using context to fill in gaps. I was simply interacting with some new friends.

I’m fond of saying that I understand dogs, but that “canine” is definitely not my first language, which simply means that I’m aware that only dogs can understand dogs as native speakers. And yet, in that moment, I felt more comfortable with the ease of communication with canines than with people in a language other than English. It was such a joy to be with dogs, with whom I am so comfortable and so familiar. It was a surprising gift that these dogs gave to me as I adjust to life in a foreign country. I often find that when I am tired, I am only truly able to converse with ease in my native language, but dog “language” is apparently an exception. Hallelujah for that!

Sometimes we know when dogs will help us feel better and we even expect it: When we are heartbroken but we know that they still love us. When we have a bad day at work and we get to come home to them. When we head out to walk them because it’s the right thing to do, but being out does us every bit as much good. Yet the unexpected times that dogs give us a little lift are some of the best simply because they blindside us. How have dogs unexpectedly helped make you feel better?

Pages