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Dog's Life: Travel
Destinations: San Francisco’s Presidio
Dog-friendly beaches and heavenly hikes.
Romping at Crissy Field

Few places rival the Presidio for its breathtaking hiking atmosphere —the spicy fragrances of eucalyptus and pine, dense drifts of fog, Andy Goldsworthy’s celebrated environmental art — and the sheer beauty of its vistas, from the sweep of the Pacific Ocean to the City skyline. Situated on 1,491 acres of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, the Presidio was previously a military post — first under Spanish rule, then Mexican, then American — for more than two centuries before it was folded into the National Park Service in the early 1990s. It also happens to be a favorite among West Coast dog people.

The Inn at the Presidio
Cited as the nation’s largest historicpreservation project, the Presidio now boasts a new dream destination for canine visitors: the Inn at the Presidio. The 22-room luxury hotel occupies the newly renovated Pershing Hall, a 1904 Colonial Revival building at the center of the Presidio’s Main Post. The inn, which is set to open on April 1, features two communal front porches where dogs are free to socialize. And inside, canine guests are treated like top brass — each room’s outfitted with a dog bed, bowls and welcome goodie bags. On those crisp, cool San Francisco days, dogs can curl up next to the gas fireplace standard in each suite.

Want to get up and go? Just step outside the hotel doors onto the (onleash) Ecology Trail and follow it through the Presidio’s largest watershed, Tennessee Hollow, then — if you’re feeling adventurous — on to Inspiration Point. The inn has a twodog maximum per reservation, but no size limit per pet. They charge a onetime cleaning fee of $40 when you visit with your dog(s).
innatthepresidio.com

Presidio Area Walks
Palace of Fine Arts + Wave Organ A visual marvel designed by renowned architect Bernard Maybeck and built on land reclaimed from the Bay, the Palace of Fine Arts is a striking rotunda dating back to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The nearby Exploratorium, a favorite interactive kids’ science museum, includes a hidden gem well worth a visit too — continue north from the museum and turn right at the parking lot; follow the gravel road to the waterfront jetty and you can hear the Exploratorium Wave Organ, an awe-inspiring set of 25 waveactivated organ pipes, sing its subtle watery song.
exploratorium.edu

Crissy Field + Pet Cemetery
Boasting beautiful panoramic views, this former army airfield stretches from Fort Point National Historic Site and the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marina’s St. Francis Yacht Club; most of its beach areas are famed off-leash havens for pups. On the trails, however, dogs must be onleash for the safety of runners, walkers and migrating birds that nest nearby. After any number of long hikes in the Presidio, you can rest up, with visits to the Warming Huts, on both ends of Crissy Field. These cafés serve organic treats for dogs and people. Travel just above Crissy Field to McDowell Avenue and Cowles Street, and you’ll find the Presidio pet cemetery, with memorials not only to dogs and cats, but also macaws, goldfish, even the occasional pigeon. Though it is located under the Doyle Drive overpass, the sweet spot is still a top stop.

Marina Green + Fort Mason
Dogs will love the Marina Green, a gorgeous grassy expanse that bustles with health nuts, tourists and leashed dogs. Continue along Marina Boulevard and follow the path above Buchanan Street to upper Fort Mason. Visit the Great Meadow with its statue of Phillip Burton, the congressman whose legislation created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, or go see the nineteenth-century cannons in place at Black Point Battery, a former Civil War fortification.

Baker Beach
When you’re looking to get some exercise, try the lengthy hike that extends along the Coastal Trail for 1.5 miles from the bridge past three batteries to Baker Beach, a mile-long strand that is relatively sheltered from the winds and has breathtaking views (speaking of views, be aware that local nudists often occupy the north end of the beach, especially when the weather’s warm).

Sutro Baths + Lands End Trail
The ruins of the Sutro Baths, a former pool complex built in 1896, sit at the farthest northwestern waterfront corner of San Francisco. A jungle gym of crumbling concrete structures with stairways leading off cliffs, the bath ruins are also where you can pick up the trail to hike along Lands End. This trek is for adventurers who like their landscape rocky and their breezes brisk. Cypress trees line the well-maintained trail, formerly unused railroad tracks, as do many benches and inviting little coves for picnic destinations. Dogs are welcome on-leash.

For more about the Presidio of San Francisco and its attractions, visit the Presidio Trust at presidio.gov, or the National Park Service at nps.gov/prsf. To download a map of Presidio hiking trails, go to presidio.gov.

News: Guest Posts
Dog Camp Wonders

Whenever you mix dogs, people and the freedom to play in nature, you get something special.

In 2002 I created Maian Meadows Dog Camp in Washington State, an environment for safe, off-leash play for dogs and people who rarely get to experience it. I feel like an alchemist, stirring just the right ingredients to create a weekend full of fresh air, forest and lake, dog-centered activities, comfort food and—most importantly—the shared unconditional love of several happy dogs all together in one place. The end product is often magical.

Over the years, I’ve befriended lots of wonderful people and dogs. All have back stories, some quite extraordinary.

Two years ago, a mother and her early-twenties daughter attended. Observing them, I realized the daughter had some cognitive challenges. I couldn’t put my finger of just what sort. She was bubbly and outgoing, but her social skills were a tad off. She mixed well with the other campers and her little Chihuahua was delightful.

Saturday evening, the mother took me aside. “I don’t know if you noticed, but my daughter has Aspergers,” she said. “This is the first activity we’ve found that has kept her interested and engaged for an entire weekend. Thank you.”

While I get many heartfelt thanks for hosting camp, that one remains the most special.

The magic happened again at last weekend’s session of dog camp.

Anita arrives with her dog Toby, a certified therapy dog. His skills came in handy. After attending camp in 2010, Anita had to skip June 2011 because she was undergoing chemo for cancer. In September 2011 she and Toby spent a few hours in camp, Anita bald and beautiful, but clearly exhausted. Toby stayed close by. This year, Anita—sporting new hair—and Toby spent the entire weekend in camp, hiking both mornings and participating in all the activities. Anita’s cancer is in remission, and at 66, she’s going strong. So is Toby, by her side.

New campers Adrian and Hana bring their two year old Golden Retriever Jasper. Adrian, an Irishman and statistician of about 50, has spent his entire life afraid of dogs. With Hana’s encouragement, they add Jasper to their family. Adrian no longer fears any dogs, and delights in being around all the dogs at camp.

Dogs heal all sorts of hurts

Stick with me for one more back story. It’s a good one.

Two weeks before camp, I receive an email asking if there is still space for one person and one dog. It’s signed “Tracie and Daisy.” I reply that there is. The registration form arrives, with a very unusual first name; Tracie is a nickname. I worry that my assumption that this camper is female—and can share a cabin with another female—is wrong. I Google the full name. All hits refer to the Dean’s List at a nearby college. Intriguing, but I still don’t know if the camper is male or female, or how old.  I decide to proceed as if she is female. If a male shows up, well, there is an extra cabin.

Friday afternoon I welcome campers and their dogs as they trickle in from all over—Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and even Alberta. Just before dinner, a camper arrives with a dog meeting Daisy’s description: black lab/hound mix. Daisy bounds from the car and gleefully romps with the other dogs. Tracie gets out and introduces herself. She is a very petite young woman of twenty. She has chin length brown hair, wire-rim glasses and a huge welcoming smile showing charmingly crooked teeth. She’s wearing a daisy print blouse. Daisy’s collar has daisies on it. Already I like Tracie. She’s going to fit right in at dog camp.

And she does. I’ve never seen someone so young possess such confidence and outgoing friendliness among so many strangers, most of whom are much older. Daisy is just like Tracie, young (two years old), full of energy and enthusiasm. Throughout the weekend, Tracie frequently has to coax Daisy out of the lake. Daisy loves to swim. And Tracie loves Daisy. Their bond is strong and touching to observe. I determine to learn Tracie’s back story.

Later, during a meal, I overhear tidbits as Tracie shares her story with other campers at her table. I hear words familiar to me in my work as an attorney advocating children’s best interests in the legal system: foster care; Child Protective Services; aging out of the system. The next day, as Tracie throws the ball into the lake for Daisy to retrieve, I ask her to share her story with me. She does, without any sense of embarrassment or shame—another sign of her amazing maturity.

Tracie’s birth mother has mental health issues. She often chose, and married, violent men. Tracie suffered abuse at the hands of one step-father who broke her shoulder. Her mother kicked him out (because CPS required it), but Tracie discovered that the next man her mother brought home was a registered sex offender. Tracie, only 13, took action, standing up for herself and her younger siblings by telling a counselor. This time her mother chose the sex offender. Tracie was removed from the home and placed into foster care. This separated her from her siblings, whom she’d raised; they were placed elsewhere. Over the next several years, Tracie bounced from foster care to her mother’s and back to foster care, a sad and all too common experience for older kids in the system.

As Tracie neared age 18, the foster family she was with had a pregnant black lab. Pup number four (of fourteen!) had a big head and became stuck; Tracie helped bring that pup into the world. The foster family gave Tracie the puppy to commemorate becoming an adult—aging out of the system—and starting a new life. Tracie finally had a family of her own: Daisy.

Tracie chose the name Daisy because the symbolism associated with the flower is purity, innocence, loyal love, beauty, patience and simplicity.

While still in high school, Tracie accumulated two years of college credit. The week before dog camp, at age 20, she graduated with a four year college degree. She’s now enrolled in graduate school. She wants to become a social worker. She wants to help kids in the foster care system. She wants to get Daisy certified as a therapy dog so that they can work with kids as a team. And as soon as she’s 21, Tracie wants to become a foster parent herself. If she does, then she and Daisy will help heal children scarred by a system that often doesn’t care very much about them. I’m confident that Tracie, with Daisy by her side, will accomplish all her goals.

I had no idea, over a decade ago, that creating and directing a dog camp would provide a space for people to heal what hurts them, or gather strength to meet their next challenge. But I should have. Anything involving playful, free-roaming dogs just has to promote joy and healing.

 

 

 

Dog's Life: Travel
On the Road Again
Travel tips and tricks
Traveling Dog

When packing for a trip with my dog, I load his bag first. Then, I set it on top of his travel bed right next to the front door, where, without fail, he’s waiting. “You’re going!” I say. He wags his tail madly, but it’s hard to tell which one of us is more excited.

I’ll admit that taking dogs along on trips has its challenges—fur in your travel mug, for one. It also requires research to find accommodations and attractions that welcome them. But the joys of a having a canine co-pilot outweigh these minor inconveniences.

Chief among the aforementioned joys is dogs’ enthusiasm for the smallest things; they have the right mindset for adventure and can teach us a thing or two about enjoying the moment. Plus, dogs require pit stops, and with each one, there’s an opportunity to explore places you might otherwise have passed by. And it’s not just the landscape that opens up under a pup’s scrutiny; people do, too. Dogs are the world’s best icebreakers.

If you are traveling to join friends and family during the holidays, make special note of the special social settings that accompany festive get- togethers—front doors and gates opening and closing, plates of food left unattended, rambunctious children, an overload of sights and sounds that can confuse even the best trained dog. Some spot training (of dog and people) may be useful, and extra caution required in you preparation.

As you plan, keep a few things in mind.

Remember that “dog-friendly” is relative. It may take a little digging to determine if a hotel, inn, B&B or condo is more than “dog-tolerant.” Special pet packages and amenities, a canine mascot, and websites with photos of dogs are good signs. A phone conversation with the front desk will also help you get a bead on the extent of their dog love. Be sure to ask about size and/or breed restrictions as well as extra fees and rules, such as a prohibition on leaving dogs in your room.

Do your research. It pays to know if your destination comes with special canine concerns, such as deer, frozen bodies of water, sensitive wildlife and the like. You want to be prepared for the unexpected, so it’s good idea to do a little advance work on identifying local veterinary services and emergency care—let’s hope they are not needed, but if they are, you’ll be glad to have done your homework.

Pack smart. In addition to your pup’s regular gear, remember to take a canine first-aid kit, grooming supplies, and an extra collar and leash. Travel with extra blankets and coats in the winter and plenty of water all year round.

Make and carry a “dog file.” It should include your dog’s vital info, (vaccinations, medications, allergies and health conditions) as well as a photo in case she goes missing while you’re on the road. Some travelers keep this material in their car’s glove compartment in an envelope marked DOG INFO so it’s easy to find in case of an accident. If you’re a tech type, load the records and photos on a small USB drive and attach it to your keychain.

Make sure your dog has proper identification. If she becomes lost in an unfamiliar place, a tag and a microchip could be key to getting her back. Since time is of the essence, be sure to provide your own contact number and that of a reliable friend or relative as a backup.

Restrain your dog. If you’re traveling by car, find a comfortable way to transport her safely. A harness seat belt or secured crate keeps a dog from moving around the vehicle and becoming a dangerous distraction, as well as potentially reduces injuries to both of you in case of an accident. If your dog is not used to wearing a seatbelt or traveling in a crate, take a few pre-trip practice runs before embarking on any long hauls.

Be a good guest. Make your friends and family thrilled that your dog joined the festivities by being considerate of all guests and insuring that your dog is on his/her best behavior. Make your dog feel at home and safe by bringing along some extra gear—your dog’s favorite bowl and kibble, a familiar bed, even a doggie gate. Reward hoteliers, restaurateurs and shop owners who roll out the canine red carpet by following the rules; traveling with your own dog sheet, towel and lint rollers; and spreading the word about good dog service.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Seattle’s Innovative Marymoor Park Pet Garden
One of the nation’s finest dog parks

Marymoor Park east of Seattle, Wash., is a Disneyland for dogs, a place where people and their pooches can romp and run over 40 acres of off-leash play space. Now, Marymoor is also a place where people can celebrate and commemorate their beloved living, lost or deceased pets. “The Stephen King/Pet Sematary references were unavoidable, but this is not what this place is about,” says Jesse Israel, with King County Parks.

The newly dedicated Marymoor Park Pet Garden is a one-acre space next to the off-leash area, where people can reflect on the good times they had with their dogs at the park. It’s the first publicly funded memorial pet garden in the Pacific Northwest, and likely, the entire country.

The garden was designed to meet two needs: those of dog owners who wanted to honor their canine friends, and those of a park system in need of entrepreneurial ideas to stay afloat financially. Pet owners can donate money to the garden in exchange for trees, inscribed paving bricks, benches and trees. State and federal urban forestry grants helped fund the garden, along with donations from local businesses. Volunteers maintain the manicured lawns and islands of perennial plants as well as a stone fountain and kiosk where people can post poems and stories about their pets.

“I was blown away that government could be so innovative,” says Judy Trockel, head of Serve Our Dog Areas (SODA), the official stewardship group for Marymoor. “It’s a recognition of and respect for the role pet owners play from an economic and political standpoint.” For more information, visit www.metrokc.gov/parks/petgarden/

 

News: Guest Posts
Summer Fun: Dog-Friendly Gondolas
Crystal Mountain, Washington

There is nothing quite like the crisp, exposed atmosphere of alpine mountains. Unfortunately, reaching these elevations can be a pretty big job. So last fall, I happily headed to Crystal Mountain Ski Area, in the Cascade Mountains about an hour and a half southeast of Seattle where I live, to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain.

In the summer, the Mount Rainier Gondola welcomes dogs. I figured Renzo, my Husky-Border Collie mix, and I would ride in style, taking in the fantastic views during the 2,500-foot climb to the summit and there enjoy, without so much as a bead of sweat on my brow, the lens-popping view of the snow-covered dome of Mount Rainier. Weather-permitting. Then we’d hike down leisurely with gravity on our side, weaving through fir, hemlock and cedar forests, skirting deep blue alpine lakes and crossing lush meadows loaded with sunflowers, columbine, lupine, Indian paintbrush and more.

Ah, the best intentions. The gondola operators were ready and eager. As was I. Renzo had other ideas. The strange, swinging gondola cars careening noisily into the loading station alarmed him. When I could get him to approach, coaxed by treats, the fact that the gondola never fully stopped seemed to be a deal-breaker. My dog is an anxious one so I wasn’t willing to carry him aboard for a 20-minute ride from hell.

We hung around and watched two dogs hop aboard without hesitation before turning boots and paws upland. I was bent on seeing that summit view, which is often socked in when I ski there, even if we had to do it the hard way. It was a longer and more exhausting day than I had planned but the real point was just getting out together in this beautiful place. I was glad it was just the two of us, with no one disappointed by the change of plans.

Trail past small lake, the "view" of Rainier on Sept. 17, 2011

Still I do think gondolas offer a wonderful chance for access to backcountry views for families with younger children, grandparents and a senior dog or too—always with the caveat that things may not go as planned.

The Mount Rainier Gondola runs every day from June 17–September 19, and then weekends-only through October 2. If you live near or plan to travel to a ski area with a gondola, check to see if it’s dog-friendly. I hear the views are often fabulous.

Dog's Life: Travel
Napa Valley
Putting on the dog in California’s Wine Country

Don’t be surprised if Charlie or Tosca greet you at RustRidge Ranch and Winery in St. Helena. Charlie might even lick your hand, if you offer it. “They’re the true hosts,” Susan Meyer said of the two yellow Labrador Retrievers.

Tosca, named after the opera by Giacomo Puccini, and Charlie live on 442 acres that include the winery and a bed and breakfast. They aren’t the only dogs allowed here, however. When you visit, your dog can come, too—even in RustRidge’s tasting room.

“A lot of people have brought their dogs here through the years, so it’s not really an issue,” said Meyer, who owns the winery with her husband, Jim Fresquez. “Our dogs are excited to see them.”

And I was excited to hear that my dog could join me. When I recently visited Northern California’s wine country, I was determined to find places that would welcome my 3-year-old Golden Retriever/Chow Chow mix, Bailey. What I found were Napa Valley vintners and boutique inns that cater to dogs as much as to their owners.

Dogs are a fixture at several wineries. Take Harley, the resident black Lab mix at Casa Nuestra Winery & Vineyards, an artisan winery in St. Helena that produces 1,500 cases annually. While human visitors enjoy tastings offered in a yellow farmhouse, Harley leads what owner Eugene Kirkham calls the Canine Tour. “She’s willing to show other dogs around to all of the place she likes,” said Stephanie Trotter-Zacharia, the apprentice winemaker.

Other vintners, such as Dutch Henry Winery near Calistoga, allow dogs on the grounds but not in the tasting room. Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery, owned by Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, permits leashed dogs outside but forbids them inside its Inglenook Chateau, which includes tasting rooms and stone cellars. The chateau’s Centennial Museum contains memorabilia from Coppola’s films, including Vito Corleone’s desk from The Godfather and costumes from 1992’s Bram Stoker's Dracula.

A nice place to pause from wine tasting is the roadside town of St. Helena, bisected by Highway 29, the main artery through wine country. An upscale pet boutique on Main Street called Fideaux caught my eye and proved to be a treasure trove of specialty items and gifts that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. I loved the dog-faced clocks, but defied temptation. Yet I couldn’t resist a book about communicating with your dog.

Sleeping Dogs Lie in Napa
Sometimes finding a place that both Bailey and I like can be difficult. Not all places allow pets. And I don’t like to sacrifice creature comforts just because I’m traveling with a critter. Fortunately, several A-list inns in the city of Napa welcome well-behaved canine companions.

Visitors who want to stay in one of Napa’s fanciful historic mansions should consider the Beazley House, a pet-friendly bed and breakfast on First Street, a district that was home to many of the city’s most wealthy families in the early 1900s. The house was built in 1905 for Dr. Adolph Kahn, a surgeon. It later was owned by Joan Hitchcock, a flamboyant San Francisco socialite who had six husbands and who claimed she had an affair with John F. Kennedy. (She died in 1982 at age 49.) One room particularly worth requesting is the spacious “Enchanted Rose” in the carriage house. It includes a fireplace, two-person spa and an adjacent private garden.

The Napa Inn, a bed and breakfast in two Victorian houses, also allows dogs in two rooms, the Garden Cottage and Angelina’s Garden Room. The Garden Cottage has French doors that lead to a private garden. Angelina’s Garden Room has a private garden as well as a private patio and a whirlpool.

Travelers who prefer hotels to B&Bs might enjoy the Napa River Inn, one of the newest pet-friendly options. Opened in 2000, the inn hints of a bygone era during which the Napa Valley was famous for wheat. When Napa was founded in 1847, farmers sent wheat to San Francisco on schooners that came up the Napa River. This 66-room boutique hotel is in a restored 1884 mill and warehouse that, from the outside, retains the look of a mill. Guests with dogs receive a basket that includes a wine-colored dog blanket and Char-Dog-Nay Biscuits made with cabernet sauvignon.

Fetching Sights
Staying someplace historic is appropriate in Napa because much of the downtown looks as though it belongs in another era. In fact, Napa claims to have more structures built before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake than any other Bay Area city.

Efforts to save older buildings took hold in the 1970s, after preservationists became alarmed by the demolition of several historic buildings to develop modern shopping strips, epitomized in Napa by Clocktower Plaza. Now, the city boasts that its redevelopment programs strive to “preserve the Victorian charm and historic character” of the city.

Downtown Napa proved easy to explore with a dog because I could walk almost everywhere. For $2, the Napa Valley Conference and Visitor Bureau sells the 28-page Historic Walking Tours of Napa, an architectural guide to the city. It contains intriguing historical tidbits, such as the fact that some of the businesses built over Napa Creek in the 1860s had trap doors, which allowed merchants to fish while working.

The self-guided tour starts near the Napa Valley Opera House, an Italianate theater built in 1879 and reopened in 2003 after being dark for 89 years. The opera house, which had become an eyesore, was rescued by volunteers, who formed a non-profit group to raise money for its restoration. Now the exterior looks much as it did when John Philip Sousa’s band played here.

Not far from the Opera House stands another handsome Italian design, the Winship Building, distinguished by ornate suns in its pediment. But my favorite spot was a little off the main route. The First Presbyterian Church on Third Street, opened in 1874, is an unmistakable example of Victorian Gothic architecture.

On the other side of the Napa River stands Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, designed by New York architect James Stewart Polshek, whose work includes Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Arkansas. Bailey napped outside while I explored the three-year-old center’s edible gardens and exhibits that include everything from Julia Child’s copper pots to PEZ dispensers. I also sampled regional wines and gourmet chocolates after lunch at Julia’s Kitchen, a restaurant named for the masterful cooking instructor who served as an honorary trustee until her death in August 2004.

After sniffing around downtown, I sensed Bailey’s desire to frolic. We drove to Alston Park, which has a three-acre off-leash dog park called Canine Commons. Dogs also can walk off-leash in the 26-acre Cherry Orchard section in the southwest corner of Alston Park and leash elsewhere among the hills of the 157-acre open space on Dry Creek Road.

Bailey loved romping around the dog park. When it was time to leave, I tempered Bailey’s disappointment with a reward—a dog treat shaped like a wine bottle. Bailey wagged his tail and licked my cheek. I didn’t need my book to know that he was telling me that he was happy to be with me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
 

Dog's Life: Travel
Vocation Vacation
Find out if a job with the dogs is right for you

Ever fantasize about trading your laptop in for a chucker, or your commute for a daily spin around the agility course? Here’s your chance to live the dream of hanging out with dogs and getting paid for it.

Five years ago, Brian Kurth was an ambitious marketing executive at Ameritech, a phone company in the Midwest, when he hit a career rough patch. “I was doing the corporate grind, working my way up and all that, but I was just unfulfilled,” he says. During long commutes along the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, he killed time thinking about what he’d rather be doing. One of the fantasy careers that kept surfacing in the glow of brake lights was dog trainer.

Not satisfied with what-ifs, Kurth decided to pursue his daydreams without giving up his day job. He convinced a local dog trainer to let him shadow her and learn the ropes. “My question to her was: What did it take for you to do this? She said, ‘I put all my savings and my house up for collateral,’” Kurth remembers. “It’s stuff like that I needed to know.”

He didn’t chuck it all to become a dog trainer, but word got around about his experience lining up a mentor for that and his other dream careers (wine-making and tourism), and soon he was helping friends find mentors for their most heartfelt ambitions. Out of that experience, a job layoff and a cross-country move, Vocation Vacations was born. By the end of 2005, Kurth’s Portland-based company was offering more than 200 dream-job holidays—a chance to spend a day (or longer) experiencing the nitty-gritty of an occupation under the tutelage of an inspiring tutor.

Through Vocation Vacations, people pay anywhere between $349 and $3,500 to walk in the shoes, boots or loafers of their professional idols in 30 states and the United Kingdom. They can talk hops with a Long Island brewmaster, take bids in the style of a Bozeman auctioneer, do color commentary for a Fort Worth Cats baseball game, create a signature fragrance with a Nantucket perfumer, and on and on.

“It’s the kind of stuff that people say they want to be when they grow up. Well, now they’re grown up and they’re not really doing it,” the 39-year-old Kurth says. “So we’ve brought them the opportunity to see if it’s really something they want to pursue. It’s that first baby step; it’s not the cure-all. But it breaks down the barriers. It breaks down the fear factor.”

The stuff of dream jobs, in Kurth’s experience, falls into five basic categories—food, fashion, sports, entertainment and animals, particularly dogs. The latter category is especially dear to Kurth (who might be clicker-training Retrievers right now had fate not intervened) and his entire dog-crazed staff. Vocation Vacations currently offers 15 dog-related immersion opportunities, including shadowing an animal shelter director in Ridgefield, Conn.; splashing through suds at a Denver-based pet supply and dog wash; and observing surgery at a veterinary hospital in Orange, Calif.

When Chris Macey, who does oil and gas mapping for a geospatial company in Denver, Colo., started thinking about a career change, his thoughts turned to animals. The 36-year-old grew up in a house filled with pets—everything except snakes. And he fondly remembers helping raise and train German Shepherds as a teenager.

On the strength of that happy past and some recent experience house- and pet-sitting, Macey plunked down nearly $1,000 ($349 for the Vocations Vacations fee plus airfare, food and lodging) for the privilege of seeing the inside works at Schroeder’s Den Doggy Daycare in Hillsboro, Ore., last October.

The 12 hour-learning experience included plenty of time romping with more than 40 dogs in the indoor off-leash areas. Macey said it totally lived up to his fantasy of hanging out with dogs all day. But owner-operators Pam and Wayne Pearson also provided nuts-and-bolts information on sanitation and safety, billing systems, segregating the dogs, evaluating dog temperament, vendor relations, finding the right employees, dealing with local zoning ordinances—the millions of details that have nothing to do with tossing a Kong.

“It is a lot of work, and that’s kind of what’s holding me back right now,” Macey says. Since he returned home, he’s scouted daycare locations and worked to raise capital in his free time. He also stays in touch with the Pearsons, who continue to be helpful and supportive.

“Being in the middle of it, it seems overwhelming,” Macey says about his dual-life. “It’s like this will never happen. But Pam had a corporate job and Wayne had a corporate job, so it is possible.” When he thinks back on the work holiday, Macey’s biggest takeaway has nothing to do with start-up costs or customer relations.

“You can make a living and you can be doing what you want to do,” Macey says. “I think that’s the purpose of Vocation Vacations: to show you that yes it is possible. If you want to do it, you can do it.”

The inspiration impact is key. Kurth and his colleagues are proactive in searching out excellent mentors, and they frequently turn away people who aren’t a good fit. Not just anyone will do, Kurth says. He wants to help people “change their lives,” which means finding mentors who will inspire “vocationers.”

That often translates into finding mentors who themselves took a mid-life leap of faith like Kurth. Lisa Collins is a classic example. For several years, the 32-year-old Chicagoan worked in finance by day, but her nights were all about dogs. She began as a volunteer in the dog adoption room at the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago, and quickly advanced to a dog-training apprenticeship and leading classes herself.

Dabbling in training turned serious when she was laid off from her day job about three years ago. “I got the kick in the butt to go and try the dog stuff full-time,” Collins says. Soon after, she launched Collins Canine, which offers a variety of positive-reinforcement behavioral and obedience training geared to average dog owners.

When Brian Kurth approached her about a mentorship late last year, she knew she had something to offer. “I get about one email a week asking how I became a dog trainer,” Collins says. She signed on with the company because an immersion-holiday seemed like the best way to answer that question.

Vocation Vacations is always adding new canine-centric opportunities. Last October, the company launched an experience with a pet detective, Kat Albrecht of Pet Hunters International based in Fresno, Calif. Albrecht uses many of the tools of traditional law enforcement to find lost pets (including snakes). The two-day mentorship costs $999 (plus airfare, lodging and food), but includes working with specially trained detection dogs, developing leads and interviewing witnesses, participating in mini-stakeouts, and much of the on-the-job training required for certifying Missing Animal Response Technicians.

In January, Vocation Vacations launched a mentoring opportunity at the Paw House Inn in Rutland, Vt. This 1786 farmhouse oozes rustic charm and dog-loving details that routinely fuel retirement fantasies in guests. The eight-bedroom bed-and-breakfast is tricked out for pups, with dog beds in every room, an off-leash park with an agility course, and an indoor dog daycare center so owners can enjoy nearby fun (like skiing at Killington or Okemo Mountain) guilt-free.

The mentors for this dream-job holiday are innkeepers Jen Fredreck, 34, and Mitch Frankenberg, 38. Five years ago, they didn’t have the benefit of Vocation Vacations when they made their leap. Fredreck was an attorney working at a law school and Frankenberg was a financial analyst when they decided to trade in their fast-track New York existence for a wholesale life-change.

Though Frankenberg took an online innkeeper class, “there was a lot of trial and error. We learned from our mistakes,” Fredreck says.

“It’s not the glorified, romantic ideal,” she admits. “Until you actually own an inn, you’re not going to know what it’s like.” The $899, three-day mentorship offers an owner’s-eye view of the business, covering everything from how to prep gourmet breakfasts day-in/day-out to dealing with dogs of different temperaments. The overriding theme is hard work and plenty of it.

Still, there are times, Fredreck says, when she’ll be out in the snow playing with the dogs, her husband and their 18-month-old son, and she’ll pause to appreciate the special life she’s been able to create. “It’s a fantastic family business,” she says. “We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

People take Vocation Vacations for two reasons, Kurth says. For many, like Macey, it’s a window into a passion they hope to pursue. For others, it’s a one-time deal—a lark or a chance to gain insight into an industry but not a catalyst for change. The majority of vocationers come from a few high-burnout professions including the law, information technology, accounting and financial services. They range in age from 18 to 70, but the baby boomers and upper-end Gen X’ers looking for a second or third career—and usually a dramatic lifestyle shift—comprise the bulk of his clients.

David Ryan fits squarely into this demographic. The 43-year-old Ryan was an international banker. He worked for the world’s third largest bank for 17 years and in eight countries. Early in his career, he and his wife adopted a “stray mutt” in Taiwan, who went everywhere the couple until she passed away at the ripe-old age of 14. They decided to wait until they settled down before finding another dog.

“I tried living without a dog for a couple of years, and absolutely hated it,” Ryan says. “When we moved back to the states, I couldn’t get a dog fast enough.” It was that deep affinity that put thoughts of a dog-centered second career in Ryan’s head.

After reading a Wall Street Journal article about Vocation Vacations on an airplane, of course, he signed up for two dream-job holidays.

He spent a couple days working with Heather Stass at K9 Capers Doggy Daycare in Agawam, Mass., where he learned a very important lesson. “There is too much poop involved in this for me,” he recalled thinking.

Still he developed enormous respect for Stass specifically and dog daycare in general. Talking with clients at “go-home” time, he discovered the enormous and important difference the service made in the lives of the people and their dogs. Stass helped plug Ryan into her network of daycare owners and she stays in touch as a friend and resource.

In his second dream-job vacation, Ryan spent a few days with Kirsten Nielsen, a dog trainer in Portland, Ore., and one of the earliest Vocation Vacation mentors. “Kirsten was incredible at not just letting me see her business and shadowing her for a day, but she has been an ongoing contact for me and a mentor in terms of thinking about dog training,” Ryan says.

The two experiences turned his world upside down. He retired from banking, sold his New York apartment, and enrolled in The Tom Rose School for professional dog trainers in St. Louis, commuting back to his family in New Hampshire on weekends.

“Kirsten and Heather made me realize that there are people out there who make their living with their love for dogs,” Ryan says. “And that realization gave me the courage to make the move from my banking world to my animal world.”

Today, he is launching two businesses simultaneously. He is a trainer under the name Beyond Dog Training, and he works as a consultant to dog businesses in six states (so far). “I learned there are an awful lot of incredibly talented dog trainers and groomers and daycare owners and kennel owners, all sorts of people, but their main strength and interest is not in running a business,” he says. Ironically, the “mentoree” has become the mentor.

Vocation Vacations founder Brian Kurth says this is typical. Vocationers who make the change to a second or third career often discover their previous experience takes on new importance in the new role.

“It looks to people like I’m working harder now than I did as a banker, but it doesn’t feel like work,” Kurth says. In fact, plans to begin taking blood pressure medicine during his last year in banking have proven unnecessary. “It’s marvelous to be working in the interest of something I really love. I have to remind myself [that] every once in awhile, you’re supposed to take a couple days off.”

The transformative power of Vocation Vacations is Kurth’s mission, but for Ryan, the mid-life job switch has had a second unexpected bonus. Suddenly, his kids think he’s cool.

Recently, he was walking a friend’s dog with his children. “One of my kids saw one of his friends, and yelled, ‘Hey Schyler, this is my dad, he’s a dog trainer!’ They’re much more thrilled about having a dog trainer for a dad than a hot-shot banker.”

Vocation Vacations

 

Dog's Life: Travel
Have Dog, Will Travel: Southern Comfort
Nashville

Country music is the big draw in Nashville—home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, honky-tonks, and pickin’ parties. But there’s more. Think southern hospitality with a hip vibe and a pup-loving beat. AAA ranked Nashville among the top ten cities to visit with a dog, and one reason is the Hermitage Hotel, where pups merrily pad in the footsteps of six presidents, Bette Davis and even Gene Autry’s equine co-star Champion. The whole scene is deluxe—from the Beaux-Arts lobby with its sienna marble, stained-glass ceiling and overstuffed furniture (perfect for afternoon tea) to down-right indulgence with luxurious pet beds, dog walking and a room service pet menu prepared in the Capitol Grille kitchen. (These same five-star chefs cook up delicious farm-to-table meals for folks on the other end of the leash, featuring produce from a landmark organic garden.) The carefully restored, 100-year-old inn is an Historic Hotel of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the hotel is located in East Nashville among lovely, old antebellum homes that can best be appreciated during languid dog strolls. There are no breed or size restrictions, but there is a $50 fee per pet, per night.

The Hermitage Hotel, 231 Sixth Avenue North, Nashville, TN, 37219
thehermitagehotel.com, 888.888.9414

 

HIKE Trek in the footsteps of Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians along the Old Natchez Trace trail—a prehistoric footpath that connects Nashville to Natchez, Miss. nps.gov/natt

WANDER Window-shop eclectic boutiques in 12South, an up-and-coming neighborhood, where smart, young locals hang with their co-pilots. 12south.org

EAT & DRINK Dog-friendly patios abound in the 12South neighborhood, including 12 South Taproom and Grille and Rumours Wine Bar. A patch of sidewalk in front of tiny Las Paletas is the place to savor Mexican popsicles made from old family recipes, such as hibiscus or avocado.
12southtaproom.com
rumourswinebar.com

PARTY Lawn chairs, blankets and laid-back pups are part of the scene at Full Moon Pickin’ Parties (May–Oct.). These informal bluegrass evenings raise funds for flood mitigation in the parks and programs for inner city kids. friendsofwarnerparks.com

GROOVE In late summer, Live on the Green, a free, six-week concert series at Public Square Park, highlights Music City musicians and eco-awareness, and welcomes leashed dogs. liveonthegreen.net

PLAY Nashville has three off-leash parks, including Centennial Dog Park on the West End near Vanderbilt University and Shelby Dog Park closer to the Hermitage Hotel. Take note: Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes are, unfortunately, not permitted in city dog parks. nashville.gov/parks

Dog's Life: Travel
Airstream Dreamin’
On the road with Kristiana Spaulding and Osa

This is how our story began. Five years ago, I thought I would go crazy if I spent another day without a dog—and without Greg, whom I had been dating long distance for three-and-a-half years. So I packed up my apartment in San Francisco and drove two hours east to Lotus, Calif. It took me three trips to move—who knew a studio apartment could hold so much stuff?

 

I used my 1969 GMC pickup for the move. “Why does a city girl have a pickup with an 8-foot bed?” you might ask. Because three years ago, while in grad school, I caught “aluminum fever.” My MFA thesis focused on room settings in miniature— places I’ve lived throughout my life replicated in small scale and displayed in vintage make-up travel cases. I exhibited my thesis in an equally vintage Airstream I had remodeled for the project. I kept both the 24-foot trailer and the pickup truck in storage in Petaluma, Calif., 45 minutes away. It made for a nice road trip.

 

After Greg and I settled into our little starter rental shack in Lotus, I waited until we were on friendly terms with our landlord and then approached him with my request. “So, Chuck,” I said gingerly. “I was thinking how great it would be to have a dog.” I knew Chuck was a dog lover—he had a yellow Lab named Sammy who went to work with him every day. “Yeah, sorry, Kristiana,” he said, looking at the ground, “I really can’t allow that because of insurance.” I stared at him with my mouth wide open. “Sorry,” he said, and walked back to his truck. I stood there in shock. No dog? What?

 

I had been missing dogs since my childhood pet, Rusty, a scrappy Dachshund/ Beagle mix, had died 17 years prior. My dog urge was strong. But it looked as if—even though my move to the country was partly inspired by the thought of a having a pup of my own—my canine pal would have to wait. My spirits were deflated.

 

Months passed. Then I heard about Petfinder.com through a fellow dog-loving friend. I logged on and never logged off, spending hours on end looking at dog after dog—seriously, we had dial-up and it took about six minutes to load each dog’s photo. But it was worth every minute. Why was I punishing myself by looking at dogs I was forbidden to have? I still had hope and I would not give up. Then I found Osa. I did a search for “lab/ female/young/nationwide” and there she was, her head huge and her body tiny in the web photo. It was love at first sight.

 

During the next big storm, a piece of the roof actually came off our house. I went over to see Chuck and told him,“ A piece of our roof just blew off!” At last I had him where I wanted. I added, “And we’re getting a dog!” Chuck, the kindly landlord, agreed.

 

Osa was four months old when we got her, but seemed as though she’d been part of our home since she was born. Five years and six trailers later, we’re still happy as can be and Osa is often my copilot when I tow my trailer, a 1960 Airstream that I named “Little Lotus,” to vintage trailer rallies.

 

The very first rally we went to was in 29 Palms, Calif., near Joshua Tree National Park. Hey, we weren’t afraid of an 18- hour drive the first time out. Ten hours into our journey, we stopped at a rest area and snoozed in the Airstream together. It was a chilly night and we snuggled up tight. Back on the road, we didn’t stop until we reached Joshua Tree—just in time for sunrise. Spectacular. I had never seen anything like it, and neither had Osa. We looked at each other and then back at the landscape in awe.

 

We had a lot of photo ops early that morning, and then decided to get in a nap before we headed into 29 Palms for the rally. Content, we snuggled up again to recover from the long road trip. About two hours later, I woke up and peeked out the window. Snow? Whaaaa? Beautiful! Amazing! Then I said to Osa, “I hope my old truck can get us out of here!”

 

We had a rousing time driving through the snow with Little Lotus in tow. We finally made it to the gate, where the ranger was waiting for us in his booth. I was wound up by the adventure, and my words came out in short bursts. “Oh— my—goodness—I didn’t know if we would make it.” Just then I looked up to see him smiling, and also saw the sunny landscape just beyond the gate. “Oh.” I said. No snow. We had definitely been in our own little microclimate in the park.

 

Airstream rallies are a lot of fun. A Saturday-night potluck is standard at most of them, and this one was no exception.“ No dogs” at the potluck was also a rule, no exceptions. Darn. Knowing that Osa, a.k.a. “Houdini,” would no doubt try to bust out of the Airstream, I barricaded the inside, locked the door and barricaded the outside (after leaving her treats and fluffing up the bed covers, of course).

 

Fifteen minutes into the potluck (which was sited clear across the campground), a man named Paul who was also attending the rally came up to me and said, “Does this dog look familiar?” It was Osa. Paul told me he took one look at Osa’s dog tag and knew she was part of the Airstream group, so he brought her to the potluck and found me. I had never been so glad to be a jewelry designer who also makes Airstream style and dog jewelry!

 

Osa didn’t leave my sight that whole trip. She is the greatest co-pilot a girl could hope for. Super snuggler, she’s also good at giving strangers the “stink eye” at 2 AM service-station fill-ups. I love her dearly. We are planning our next road trip soon. Looks like it may involve beaches with lots of room to run.

 

Look for us on the road … happy travels!

 

Dog's Life: Travel
The Simple Life: Camping—The Ultimate Dog-Friendly Vacation

I’m fairly certain there are few experiences that compare to a campfire, a good guitar, close friends and a great dog. A clear night with wood smoke circling up into the trees while your dog lies at your feet beats Walden Pond any day, hands down. Getting away from the office and streetlights and spending a few days as nomads under the Milky Way grants us dog owners a perfect summer vacation option — a chance to slow down and spend a lot of time with our favorite animals.

Camping is the original dog-friendly vacation. Unlike hotels and busy sightseeing jaunts, the great outdoors always provides respite for people who want to get away and bring the dog as well. Camping is also inexpensive, relatively close to home, and with a little planning can be pulled off without a hitch. Most owners used to traveling with their dogs are already hard-wired for the sort of preparations needed to jump into the wild. But there are some extra precautions one should take before letting Lucy off the leash.

First, make sure you can let Lucy off the leash. Some campers are shocked to discover that the dog-friendly campground they found online doesn’t allow their 15-year-old Golden Retriever off-leash, ever. It doesn’t matter if he’s a CGC-toting therapy dog or Cujo’s succubus — all dogs must be on leash at all times. If you planned on letting your dog leap off the docks into the lake, chase balls on a beach or sprawl in front of the campfire, you may end up with a pouting Les Miserables extra on a time out. So call ahead and make sure the park or property’s idea of camping with dogs matches your own.

Second, be aware that while some parks and campgrounds may not mention any prerequisites for canine reservations on their land, they may make certain demands when you show up. Make sure you have proof of rabies vaccination (vet documentation, not just tags) and any other paperwork that proves your animals are sound. Some parks demand it and will turn you away without it.
Third, keep in mind that even though you are staying in the wilderness for a few days, certain civilities still apply. When it comes to cleaning up after your dog, a good rule to follow is the public bathroom rule: If you are expected to use a toilet, then your dog is expected to have a plastic bag. If there hasn’t been a bathroom in sight for three days on a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail, the Ziplocs can probably stay in your pack.

Most of all, enjoy this time with your dog. You may not realize it in your nature-loving haze, but by choosing to camp you’re giving your dog the gift of you. He can be around you all day—hitting the trails or cooking dinner back at HQ. The constant quality time, undistracted by cell phones and Facebook, will be savored by your companion. I have a hunch it will be savored by you as well. A little escape is good for the soul and great for your dog. After all, nothing comes between you and that tennis ball now. 

 

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