News: JoAnna Lou
United is next in line to discriminate against certain dogs
The United/Continental Airlines merger has been causing quite the stir lately. And because United is a federal contact carrier, any policy changes greatly affect military personnel.
Last month, the airline changed the way they transport pets, dramatically increasing fees flying into countries with certain regulations. United ended up making an exception for military families, but it ruffled a lot of feathers.
Now, United Airlines has jumped on the breed-ban bandwagon and singled out nine breeds they deem dangerous—Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Presa Canarios, Perro de Presa Canarios, Dogo Argentinos, Cane Corsos, Fila Brasileiros, Tosas, and Ca de Bous. Those dogs, and mixes that include those breeds, are not allowed to travel United after the age of six months or after they reach 20 pounds in weight.
After a public outcry, United removed the word “dangerous” to describe the breeds, but they made no change to the ban. This affects countless pet lovers, but also means that military families stationed away from home may not be able to fly back on United with their dogs.
I've said this before, but I wish more governments and companies would realize that a sweeping breed ban will not solve their problem. At a minimum I think they should make an exception for dogs who have demonstrated good manners, like earning the AKC Canine Good Citizen certification or passing a therapy dog test. It's unfair to let a bad reputation affect all dogs of a certain breed.
A petition to persuade United to reverse the ban has been started on Change.org. So far they have over 35,000 signatures.
Bark Likes This
Who said you have to sacrifice style for functionality? Definitely not Kurgo. Kurgo’s sturdy Newport Seat Covers are everything you and your pooch need to travel in clean, comfortable style.
The easy-to-install covers keep your original car seats in perfect condition, while extra storage pockets help to organize all those other travel must-haves. Did we mention that the covers are waterproof and machine washable? Coastside romps here we come! Available for bucket or bench seats, price $40-$50.
News: Guest Posts
Is there anything better than the cool breeze in your fur? Keith Hopkin, an amateur filmmaker living in Brooklyn, NY, captures the joy of co-pilots in this recent video project.
Dogs in Cars from keith on Vimeo.
Please note: While we like what looks like obvious pleasure on the faces of the dogs in this video, we do encourage people to secure their dogs when they are traveling by car—in a crate or with a seat restraint, for the safety of all the passengers! Also, dogs with their heads hanging out of windows do run the risk of getting particles in their eyes.
News: Guest Posts
DogVacay seeks the sweet spot between home and kennel
If you’re planning on leaving your dog behind for a few days, you might want to consider leaving him somewhere he can feel at home. While kennels and “dog hotels” are always an option, what about finding something closer to a substitute home?
Enter DogVacay, a new dog-boarding service that strives to provide dogs with the same comfort and care as they enjoy at home. DogVacay is modeled off of similar services that cater to people looking for one-of-a-kind accommodations on a budget, such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing, but for a dog.
The site gives you complete control over your query, from setting your own rates, to finding a place that caters to your dog’s breed and size. Each host has his or her own page, which provides background on how many years the host has cared for dogs, as well as the amenities offered and whether around-the-clock supervision is included. Meet-n-greets are also available. You can also use DogVacay to find dog walkers, trainers, dog day cares folks with a specialty in canine massage.
DogVacay interviews hosts and checks references before posting host profiles to the site, and takes a 5 to 10 percent of host fees collected. There’s also a money-back guarantee and the service also offers $25,000 insurance in case of veterinary emergencies, provided by VCA-Antech. And soon, DogVacay will introduce packages of property and liability insurance for hosts. Prices start around $20 a night, with certain hosts tacking on extras like a bathing rate or a puppy surcharge.
Husband-and-wife-team Aaron Hirschorn and Karine Nissim Hirschorn run DogVacay. They got the idea after their own unsuccessful run at finding sitters for their own pups, Rocky and Rambo, a Golden Doodle and Maltese mutt. “Our dogs are like members of the family and we hated leaving them at the kennel where they would be stuck in a cage all the time—not to mention the great expense,” Karine says.
They tested the concept of dog boarding in their own home by taking in more than 100 dogs over a nine-month period. “Our clients were so passionate about the quality of care their dogs received, that business was booming,” Karine recalls. “We knew we had to make this solution available on a larger scale, and we’re thrilled to have found hundreds of professional and amazing pet care providers who do the same thing.”
Launched in March 2011, DogVacay was originally limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but now there are more than 20,000 around the country, with higher concentrations around major metropolitan areas including New York, Miami, Dallas, DC, Chicago and Atlanta.
DogVacay hopes to build a national pet services company that is based on trust and positive experiences from its customers. The Hirschorns hope to create a service that both pet-care providers and casual dog lovers can utilize. “We want real dog lovers that have the best intentions for the animals in their lives, whether it’s a guest dog or a dog they grew up with,” Karine says. “It’s thrilling for us to connect with other animals lovers.”
This piece has been edited since originally posted to reflect corrections.
Dog's Life: Travel
Summer Adventure Planner
Open space, quiet mornings filled with bird song, the cozy comfort of pinepaneled walls and rag rugs: something about bunking in a classic lodge or rustic cabin flips the summer-vacation switch in us.
Paradise Valley, Mont.: Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa sounds a lot more posh than it is. In fact, this Old West lodge, nestled in the foothills of the breathtaking Absaroka Mountain Range, is more swinging door than Golden Door, with a down-home hospitality that extends liberally to dogs — plus, it’s hard to argue with natural, mineral-rich hot springs outside your back door. From $55 to $225, plus $20 per pet per stay; chicohotsprings.com
Klamath Falls, Ore.: The 1892 homesteadturned- fishing-lodge-turned-gourmetgetaway Crystalwood Lodge is dogcrazed — from its 133 poison oak–free acres of meadows, marshes, ponds and streamlets and the nearby Fremont-Winema National Forest to amenities such as a grooming hut and lint brushes in the rooms. Take advantage of dog day care for a guilt-free visit to Crater Lake National Park, which is epic but not for dogs. From $95; crystalwoodlodge.com
Lyme, N.H.: Loch Lyme Lodge has no telephones or televisions, no video arcade, no hot tubs, no air conditioning, no microwaves and no bar with nightly entertainment — nothing to come between you, your pup, 120 acres of fields and woodlands, the lake (with a special canine swimming area) and the picturesque Connecticut River Valley. From $130; lochlymelodge.com
Grand Marais, Minn.: You and your dog can sniff around the pristine Northwoods and/or canoe a few of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes from your base in the piney cabins at Gunflint Lodge on the north shore of Lake Superior. Woofta Uffta and Waggalot Dog Lover’s weekends feature K-9 Olympics, dog socials, special presentations on pet health, training, communication and more. From $59, plus $20 per pet per night fee; gunflint.com
Frostburg, Md.: Adorable yellow Labs Koko and Karma welcome their brethren to Savage River Lodge near the Savage River State Forest. The great old-world lodge, with its 700 acres of trees, giant Frisbee field and fresh-baked dog biscuits, is the stuff of canine dreams. From $185, plus $30 per pet per night (dogs in cabins only); savageriverlodge.com
Shenandoah National Park, Va: As national parks go, this one is rare: dogs are allowed on nearly all of its 500 miles of trails. It’s a perfect place for you and your pup to soak up the quintessential American lodge experience at Big Meadows Lodge, which the Civilian Conservation Corps built with stones cut from Massanutten Mountain in the late 1930s. From $109, plus $25 per pet per night (up to two pets); nationalparkreservations.com
News: Karen B. London
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Having just returned from a small conference focusing on applied animal behavior, I’ve had several friends ask, “What do applied animal behaviorists talk about for three whole days?” It may seem like a long time, but it’s barely enough to discuss all that we find fascinating, which ranges from behavior problems, scientific research and shelter programs.
We especially find ourselves short on time because in addition to our professional presentations and discussions, we tell one another all about our own dogs. During a snack break on the second day, one member of the group said, “I miss my dogs. Does anyone else miss theirs?” What followed was an enthusiastic sharing of dog photographs and stories to match. There were print photos, phone photos and piles of adorable images on computers.
Missing dogs is always a challenge during travel, but we were lucky to be surrounded by others who understood perfectly. Is it hard for you to leave your dogs when you travel for work? Do you share photos with your colleagues?
News: JoAnna Lou
United adopts Continental's PetSafe program amid controversy
Until dogs of all sizes can ride in the airplane cabin, air travel will always be a controversial topic among pet lovers. The latest dispute is over United Airlines' new pet policy.
Starting next month, United Airlines is adopting Continental's PetSafe program (the two companies merged in 2010). Now animals will be transported as cargo rather than checked luggage. Both options sound horrible to me, but according to United Airlines, cargo will offer a better experience for pets, with dedicated staff and temperature-controlled vans.
The PetSafe program is considered the best in the airline industry and has won an Award for Excellence from the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.
For the most part, the fees for shipping pets in cargo versus baggage will be similar. The controversy stems from certain countries, including Japan, that require airlines to pay a third-party handler to ship cargo. This could cause the fees to jump from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars to transport an animal.
The shipping change was to have the greatest impact on overseas military personnel, since United is a federal contract carrier. However, amid the uproar, United announced a special exception for military members on PCS orders.
Since the PetSafe program is held in high regard, it's unfortunate that the third party law will make the cost prohibitive for most families traveling or moving abroad. However, I think this issue once again highlights the need for more safe travel options for pets—options that don't include baggage or cargo!
What do you think about United Airline's policy change?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Car travel with an unrestrained dog is unsafe for everyone
Christina Selter cringes when she sees a dog hanging his head out of the window of a moving car or sitting on a driver’s lap. She has the same reaction when she sees someone’s canine companion jumping between the front and back seats. The nationally recognized pet-safety expert is all too familiar with the dangers and distractions posed by dogs who aren’t buckled up when they’re riding in a vehicle.
“Unrestrained pets can cause accidents,” says Selter, founder of the California-based educational group Bark Buckle UP (barkbuckleup.com). “I can think of two accidents in the past year that were caused by [unrestrained] dogs in the front seat. In one, the owner looked over at her dog and, in a split second, hit a driver in another lane.”
The margin for error is indeed very very small. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who take their eyes off the road for just two seconds double their risk of becoming involved in an accident.
Georgia coroner Vernon Collins can’t shake the images of a 2010 headon collision that claimed the lives of two women and a dog. Collins says that one of the drivers, who was apparently distracted by the Chihuahua-mix on her lap, swerved and crashed into a car in the other lane.
A 2011 survey by AAA and Kurgo products reveals that dog owners nationwide are often distracted by their four-legged co-pilots. One in five reported taking his or her hands off the steering wheel to prevent a canine companion from climbing into the front seat. This survey of 1,000 dog owners also uncovered other behaviors that increase a driver’s risk of crashing, including:
• petting a dog (52 percent);
• holding a dog while applying the brakes (23 percent);
• reaching into the back seat to play with a dog (18 percent);
• allowing a dog to sit in their lap (17 percent);
• giving a dog food or treats (13 percent); and
• taking a picture of their dog while driving (3 percent).
Nearly all the dog owners surveyed in the AAA study — a whopping 83 percent — acknowledged that unrestrained dogs in moving vehicles are dangerous. However, only 16 percent said they use a pet restraint.
That statistic worries Katherine Miller, director of applied science and research for the ASPCA. “A large percentage of dogs are traveling unrestrained in cars,” she observes. “Unrestrained pets are hugely distracting, particularly if they’re in the front seat. They can hit the dashboard or the windshield in an accident; if the air bag deploys, a dog in the front seat can be crushed.”
And the risks don’t stop there. “An unrestrained dog can become a projectile during an accident,” says Jim Amormino, public information officer for the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department. “Let’s say you have a dog [unrestrained] in the back seat and you slam on your brakes. The dog is thrown forward into the driver or the windshield. That could cause serious injury to the driver or cause the driver to [lose control and] collide with another car. It’s just dangerous not to buckle up dogs in vehicles.” According to Selter, an unrestrained 60-pound dog is transformed into a 2,700-pound rocket during a 35-mph collision.
Dogs are also at risk in other ways. Captain Linda D’Orsi with the Chula Vista, Calif., Fire Department has seen dogs involved in auto accidents bolt into traffic and be hit by other cars. “A dog handler was in a freeway accident, and she and her dog survived. But the dog was not crated and got out of the car. And he was killed.”
D’Orsi, who is also FEMA-certified as a handler for urban search-andrescue dogs, warns that unrestrained dogs have been known to flee from an accident scene and disappear forever. “A woman got in a traffic accident and was going to be taken away in an ambulance,” she says. “She had [an unrestrained] dog in the car with her, and the dog got out and was running in the road. He was spooked and we could not coax him back.”
Law enforcement officials report that dogs may try to prevent paramedics from treating an injured driver or passengers. “For many dogs, their first duty is to protect their owner,” Amormino says. “If you’re trying to rescue a sick or injured person and the dog is trying to protect [that person], emergency response and treatment can be delayed.”
The key to preventing these problems is to get dogs off drivers’ laps and out of the front seat. Ideally, they should be in the back seat in a safely secured crate or restrained by a seat belt, tether or harness. As Selter notes “We buckle up our kids, we buckle up ourselves and even our groceries. Why are we not buckling up our pets?”
Currently, no federal or state law requires pets to be restrained inside a vehicle, and of the 50 states, only Hawaii prohibits motorists from driving with pets on their laps. At the local government level, Troy, Michigan, passed a “no dogs on drivers’ laps” ordinance that took effect on January 1, 2011.
• Keep dogs in the back seat and make it a habit to restrain them with a pet harness or tether, or in a crate; if using a harness, choose one that’s easy to put on the dog.
• Tether crates to be sure they’re secure, since crates themselves can also become projectiles.
• Make sure the pet restraint you select has been crash-tested in the United States. (Some are tested outside the U.S., so different standards may apply.)
• Pet travel has increased 300 percent since 2005.
• Eighty-four percent of dog owners surveyed in a recent AAA study said they do not restrain their pets in their vehicles, 39 percent said they’d never considered using a restraint and 29 percent said they only take their dogs on short trips.
• In 2009, distracted drivers, including those interacting with their pets, caused accidents that killed 5,474 people and injured 448,000, according to police and government statistics.
Dog's Life: Travel
Whether your tastes run to early-morning rambles among fan palms or poolside martinis and lounge music, Palm Springs satisfies both the dog pack and Rat Pack sides of life. A little more than 100 miles east of Los Angeles, this stylish enclave in the Coachella Valley boasts 354 days of sun a year (January daytime temps reach into the high 70s), an outsized cultural footprint and an even bigger paw print, making it a great winter getaway for you and your pup.
“One of the best things about living in the desert with dogs is that the dogs really can run free and play and explore in so many places,” says former nearby Palm Desert resident Deborah Menduno, now director of operations at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland, Calif. “And you can hike for miles while they do.”
There are 12,050 miles of hiking within an hour’s drive. Veteran hike leader and author of the must-have 140 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs (Big Earth, $22.95), Philip Ferranti suggests hikers with dogs head to Whitewater Canyon for early winter treks (or look for flowers later, in March and April) and the North Fork of the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Jacinto Mountains as things warm up, or just about any trail in the famed Mecca Hills. (His book details 50 dog-friendly routes.) Ferranti’s other advice: Be sure to carry plenty of water, plus tweezers and a comb for extracting cholla cactus thorns from your co-pilot’s fur.
The city’s passion for art and dogs is probably best expressed in the Palm Springs Dog Park (222 Civic Drive North, behind City Hall). At 1.6 acres, this is not the place for large dogs to play hard, but it is a social hub with a jaw-dropper fence. Sacramento sculptor Phill Evans fashioned hot-rolled steel bar into cacti and trees, dogs and, if you look very carefully, a single cat. There’s more al fresco canine sculpture to be had at the new Palm Springs Animal Shelter (4575 Mesquite Avenue), where Monsieur Pompadour, a sparkly fuchsia Poodle by Karen and Tony Barone, stands watch along with Mademoiselle Coco, a very blue Blue Point Siamese.
In Palm Springs, you are where you sleep, and boutique dog-friendly hotels are an excellent way to soak up the town’s authentic Desert Modern roots. A bohemian-sleek reinterpretation of a ’60s-era Howard Johnson hotel, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club is one of several hip, dog-friendly places to crash. Dogs are allowed in patio rooms and everywhere on the premises except the King’s Highway restaurant (artisanal fare in a swankified Denny’s); one dog $25/night, second dog $10/night (701 East Palm Canyon Drive).
Built in 1947 by William F. Cody, the Del Marcos Hotel celebrates local history in its lovingly restored retro rooms designed and named for mid-century architects, icons and ideas (such as the Shaken, Not Stirred). Do you hear the space-age bachelor-pad soundtrack by Esquivel? Canine guests receive a dog bowl, water bottle, treat bag and poop bags; no extra pet fee; 35-pound weight limit (225 West Baristo Road).
Every Thursday night, the shops and galleries on Palm Canyon Drive stay open late as part of Villagefest (6–10 pm, October–May; 7–10 pm, June–September). Live music, arts and handicraft booths, and street food provide a festive atmosphere and training opportunities for pups.
Dogs are welcome at many outdoor eateries around town, but the go-to spot for breakfast and lunch is Cheeky’s. We’re talking lemon buttermilk waffles with homemade lemon curd and raspberries and bacon flights (622 North Palm Canyon Drive, next door to equally chic and dog-friendly pizza lounge, Birba.)
The Palm Springs Art Museum is worth a stop-in sans pup to see Yoshitomo Nara’s delightful Your Dog sculpture and Robb Putnam’s Stray, made of salvaged materials, and, starting in January, a portrait of Jayne Mansfield with her dog (part of Backyard Oasis: Swimming Pool Photography in Southern California 1945–1982, Jan. 21–May 27, 2012).
Culture: Stories & Lit
I didn’t go on a pilgrimage through the holy lands of Israel and Palestine expecting to return as an international dognapper. Yet in the desert east of Bethlehem, just outside of a fourth-century monastery, that’s exactly what I was about to become.
I’d been watching the local boys for 15 minutes. There were three of them, about nine years old, give or take a year. Dressed in dirty jeans and t-shirts, they hung around the small parking lot near the monastery waiting for tourists. They’d approach the foreigners, the tallest boy carrying a puppy, soliciting. What, I couldn’t tell. Money? Candy? Attention? They’d look at the visitors’ cameras, gesture toward their cell phones and talk animatedly in Arabic. No one understood them.
Once the tourists continued on toward the monastery, the tallest boy would toss the puppy to the ground. I’d watched the creature hit the pavement twice. Both times, it yelped, then lay limp. In the week I’d been on the pilgrimage, I’d seen a fair amount of poverty in the West Bank. But I hadn’t seen abuse. And while I may have been misinterpreting the exact situation with the dog, I was having a hard time witnessing it.
I’ve been fond of dogs since I was a kid. As a 34-year-old, I had two of my own back home in Colorado. Or had, up until three months earlier when my divorce was final. My ex and I had decided that both dogs—yellow Labs—would be better off living with him. As a travel writer, I am out of town more often than not. But I missed them terribly. I didn’t want to make another regrettable dog decision, which is how I came to be plotting at a monastery in the Middle East.
I continued to watch. The puppy lay in the sand beside the parking lot, unmoving. It looked too small to have been separated from its mother. I imagined that it was hungry, thirsty, injured. I waited for the boys to become distracted. When a car pulled up and the Arab man inside called them over, I had my chance. I moved quickly, scooped her up and hid her in my sweater. No one seemed to notice. I ducked into the van, which was waiting curbside to take my group to our hotel for the evening. I realized that I now had a new problem: how was I going to explain this to the others?
I didn’t have much time to figure it out. Through the window, I could see that the members of my group—a team of academics—were starting to trickle out of the monastery. This 12-day pilgrimage was part of their work with a nonprofit called the Abraham Path Initiative. They wouldn’t understand. In fact, I was pretty certain they’d find my actions ridiculous, if not insulting, in an “ugly American” sort of way.
Hidden under my sweater, the puppy lay listless in my arms. It was possible no one would notice her, had it not been for the smell. Even after a full day on the trail, I was nowhere near that musty. I watched each of them crawl into the van, catch a whiff, and raise an eyebrow or scrunch a nose. Yunus, executive director of the Abraham Path Initiative and the unofficial head of the group, slid into the seat beside me. He eyed the sweater on my lap. “You know you can’t keep it,” he said.
I kept quiet. Yunus and his ilk were anthropologists and sociologists, trained in international conflict negotiation in situations far more dire than this. I was afraid they would convince me to put her back. But if I didn’t speak, there could be no persuading.
He tried again. “Just what exactly are you planning to do with it?”
I looked at him. Then I looked down at my sweater. I pulled it back a bit so her head was exposed, and tears welled up in my eyes. “It’s a she,” I said, keeping my head lowered.
Yunus tried again, more gently. “Dogs aren’t pets, they’re work animals. It’s a hard life in Palestine—for people and for dogs. But her life is here.”
His logic reminded me of the discussions my ex and I had about where the dogs would live once we divorced. I’d done the right thing, the rational thing, in giving them up. But this time, there was more at stake.
I lifted my chin and stared straight ahead. “Twendi,” I said to the driver. “Let’s go.”
He started the ignition. Yunus exhaled and sat back in his seat. Conversation resumed in hushed tones. I felt like everyone was passing judgment on me, the youngest in the group, the one with the least experience traveling in the Middle East. But I didn’t care. The puppy barely moved in the 20 minutes it took to get to our hotel. In that time, I decided her name would be Amira, which means princess in Arabic.
If the elderly woman running the Arab Women’s Union Guesthouse was surprised that I walked in cradling a puppy, she didn’t show it. Nor did she object when I went to the kitchen to get milk, bread and a small bowl.
Inside my room, I set Amira down in front of the food. She ate slowly, as if she really didn’t have the energy. I wondered how long it had been since she’d eaten. She had sable fur, the color of the sandy desert she came from, highlighted with swatches of white on her muzzle, chest and feet. Her brown eyes were an unusual almond shape that made them appear almost human. She would have been beautiful had she not been so filthy.
I carried her into the bathroom and set her in the sink. I rinsed her fur, lathered her with my shampoo and rinsed her again. I remembered how I had washed Cody Bear in the bathtub at least once a week when he was a pup. Part of it was my new-dog-mom obsession with keeping him clean. Part of it was his penchant for jumping into any body of water he saw, including the tub. He loved the water. Amira didn’t. She squirmed under the spray from the faucet, but was too weak to put up a struggle.
As I toweled her off, she fell asleep. Her breathing was labored. She didn’t stir when I searched out and removed three ticks. When I was done, I joined the others for dinner. Yunus spoke first. “There is a shelter in Jerusalem,” he offered. I told the group that I didn’t know if she’d make it through the night. I couldn’t tell if their eyes were sympathetic or condescending.
Amira opened her eyes when I walked back into the room. Her ears perked when I reached for her. I took her off the bed and let her do her business. She walked to the now-empty food bowl and looked up at me. I hurried back to the kitchen and got her more bread and milk. She ate with considerably more gusto, and then set out to explore the room, sniffing under the bed, in my suitcase, around the trash can. We played tug of war with a sock on the Persian rug at the foot of the bed, and she yipped and pranced like a princess. I felt a surge of hope. When she started wagging her tail, I knew she was going to make it. And if she could make it, I could surely find a way to get her out of Palestine.
I opened my computer to do some sleuthing. In order to bring her back with me, she needed a health certificate from a vet and proof of rabies vaccination at least 30 days prior to her arrival in the U.S. That wouldn’t work. Maybe I could convince Cody Bear’s vet to forge papers, have them faxed to me, and pretend she had been traveling with me from the start. I checked pet regulations on the airline I‘d flown. No dogs allowed. Shoot. Maybe I could buy a ticket on another airline for the return flight. Or I could take her to a shelter in Jerusalem, pay for 30 days’ worth of care and vaccinations, and then have her sent to me on an airline that permitted pets once she was ready. I was so busy scheming that I almost forgot the biggest roadblock: three months earlier, I’d decided that I wasn’t home enough to have a dog.
I turned to look at Amira. She was asleep at the top of the bed, curled up against the pillow. She opened one almond eye at my movement, and I remembered Yunus’ words, her life is here. I knew then that I couldn’t take her with me. Not just for my own good, but also for hers. I thought about her in a shelter, in a crate on an airplane, in my 400-square-foot apartment in Boulder, and none of it seemed right. However much I struggled with the conditions I’d seen in Palestine on this trip, Americanizing Amira was not the answer. I got ready for bed with a heavy heart. I didn’t know how or where I’d leave her, just that I had to let her go.
Amira slept curled beside me on my pillow. I slept little. In the morning, I got my things ready for the day’s trek, and fashioned a pouch for Amira out of a headscarf, like those I’d seen mothers carry their babies in at the Whole Foods store in Boulder. At breakfast, the group looked at me like I was crazy. I did my best to ignore them. On the trail, Amira was a good sport about riding in the pouch. She mostly slept.
An hour into our walk, we came across a family of Bedouins, nomadic shepherds. Typical of Muslim hospitality, they offered us tea and bread, and we accepted. I let Amira out to stretch her legs. As I sipped the sweet black tea, I noticed how she blended in, wagging her tail among the goats and sheep. The Bedouins had their own sheep dog—tall and rangy, with light fur—tied to a tree. I imagined that’s what Amira would look like when she was grown. It was easy to picture a future for her here. She seemed to belong.
When we stood up to leave, I didn’t retrieve her. I thought perhaps she could earn her keep as a sheep dog. She had a better chance with the Bedouins than she did with the boys in the monastery parking lot.
The matriarch of the tribe motioned that I’d forgotten something. I shook my head no. I opened my arms to say, here, here is where she belongs. The old woman nodded. She reached down and touched Amira’s head. I turned so they wouldn't see me cry.
Amira didn’t follow me. And I didn’t turn back for one last look. Instead, I walked at a quicker pace than usual. I felt like I needed to keep my body moving so my mind could rest. The others gave me space, and I hiked alone for the better half of the morning.
Eventually, Yunus caught up with me. I don’t know what I expected—a scolding perhaps, or maybe an I told you so. But he matched my pace and didn’t say a word.
I spoke first. “I’m sorry,” I said.
Yunus slowed down a little. “You know, originally, no one agreed with what you did. But you improved conditions for that puppy, alleviated some bit of suffering.”
I snuck a glance at him. It was true. Amira was better off. I couldn’t guarantee her safety or her health, but I’d done what I could. I’d removed her from a harmful situation. In that moment, I realized how powerless I’d felt on the pilgrimage. Walking through an oppressed and impoverished society can do that to you. The magnitude of issues in the West Bank had made all of us feel that there was nothing one person could do to help.
I slowed my frantic pace and fell into step with Yunus. I’d done something. However small, it was something. “Ultimately, it’s not about what we can’t do. It’s about what we can,” he said.
I realized I was dogless once again. But it didn’t feel quite so terrible this time.
Copyright © 1997-2016 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc