Dog's Life: Travel
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
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.
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
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.”
Dog's Life: Travel
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Dog's Life: Travel
A rookie musher in Alaska’s White Mountains
I’ve always considered myself a cat person, but the prospect was irresistible: three days on a dogsled, mushing in the wilds of Alaska. To ice the cake, the invitation came from my old college roommate, Brian O’Donoghue. Once a Russian history major, Brian somehow morphed into a bearded Alaska salt who has run both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, and whose books about his misadventures (My Lead Dog Was a Lesbian, and Honest Dogs) would make Jack London blow his whiskey out his nose.
“Here’s the Number One Rule,” Brian tells me as we assemble our gear outside his spacious log cabin in Two Rivers, south of Fox. “If you get thrown, don’t let go. No matter what it takes, hang on to the sled. Your safety, your gear, your gloves, your hat—take care of these AFTER the sled stops, and you’ve anchored it down with the hook.”
We hit the icy road carrying 11 Huskies from his relatively modest kennel. They’re tough, but sweet. The “dog box” that slides onto the bed of Brian’s pick-up has eight small dens, each one matted with straw. Our sleds are tied on top. The three remaining dogs ride in the cab with us, their quick breath layering the windows with dog-breath frost.
Our 48-mile trip begins at Mile 57 on the Elliott Highway, some 60 miles north of Fairbanks. The trailhead will lead us into the White Mountains National Recreation Area, a crisp Alaskan wilderness with 250 miles of mushing and snowmobiling trails, and a dozen remote public cabins that can be reserved in advance.
We pull on our Carhartts (full-length, insulated mushing suits), and hook the dogs to their pull lines. Five for me, six for Brian. The instant we harness them, the dogs go half mad, howling, leaping into the air like Russian acrobats in their hard-wired desire to pull. It’s over the top. The beginning, I’ve been warned, is the scariest part. Your ears ring with riotous barking, your bloodstream pounds with adrenaline, there’s a tightening in your gut and numbness in your fingers. I feel half insane, myself.
“This is what we’ll do!” Brian shouts. “I’m going to put my lead dog on. Then I’ll put yours on. Then I’ll run back to my sled, pull my hook, and take off. You follow right behind.”
Brian clips the dogs on, and he’s off like a shot. I wait 15 seconds, and wobble out my snow hook. The instant it’s free, my dogs charge after him. We fly down the trail, tearing up the snow at a giddy 10 miles an hour.
Brian has put the fear of God in me with a litany of worst-case scenarios: I’m caught on the sled hook, and dragged through the trees; the dogs escape, and disappear into the woods; the sled tips over, smacks into a stump, and shatters; I lose control on a downhill and run over my own dogs.
Nobody bothered to tell me how plain gorgeous it was going to be. The trail stretches out before us, white and silky, the road to Heaven. The only sound is the shush of my runners on hard-packed snow, and the cold air tastes like diamonds.
I do as Brian instructed, using the drag- and the claw-brakes to keep the team from “bunching up.” To my surprise, riding the sled is almost intuitive; if I keep my balance, and remember to use the drag brake on the downhills, I move along at a good clip. With an unskilled musher, though, the hounds need constant encouragement. If I’m silent for more than 30 seconds, they veer gleefully into the snow banks and tangle their lines into knots. And so, for the duration of the ride, I’m compelled to provide a ceaseless monologue of praise.
“Go ahead, Atigan! Go ahead, Milo! Good boy, Fig! Good boy, Woody! Good dogs! Go, Rick! Go ahead, Fig! Good dog, Atigan! Good boy, Milo! Go ahead, Woody! Good dog, Rick! Good dog, Fig! Good boy, Atigan! Good dog, Milo! Good dog, Woody. Go ahead! Good boy, Fig! Good dogs! Good dogs!”
After two hours of this, I have the voice of a penguin. The whole deal is harder work than I’d expected; more like kayaking, or skateboarding than hitchhiking. My Huskies pull like mad—for the first 15 minutes. After that it’s all about coaxing, hollering and leaping off the runners to help push the sled on the uphill slopes.
“It’s a team effort,” Brian told me. Indeed it is. We’re a pack, and I’m top dog. At our best moments, we sail together through open tundra with glorious views of the mountains, or pitch down twisting trails that have me holding on for dear life. Dogs love variety, and whenever anything new comes up—a hairpin turn, for example—they race ahead hell bent for leather, jetting around S-curves and onto bridges so narrow that steering my sled between the rails is like threading a needle—on a roller coaster.
We’re out two nights, and spend both in classic log cabins maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. There are foam mattresses, Coleman ranges and lanterns, and wood-burning stoves. Firewood is stacked outside; before we leave, we’ll replace what we’ve used. Each cabin has a well-thumbed journal, filled in with tales of peril and victory by past mushers and snowmobilers. People leave other things, as well: magazines, Scrabble, a packet of freeze-dried macaroni and cheese. At the Colorado Creek cabin, we strike it rich: The last tenants bequeathed us a pan of Jiffy Pop.
Cooking is another surprise; it takes an avalanche of snow to produce a quart of water. I tackle this Sisyphean task while Brian makes a warm meal for the dogs. They eat noisily, and howl their approval.
The sun sets slowly, skirting the edge of the Earth. We spend the rest of the evening telling stories, catching up on our lives, and solving that classic backwoods riddle: What do you get when you cross two know-it-alls with a wood burning stove? (Answer: A cold, smoky cabin.)
Above the Arctic, the Aurora Borealis drapes a shimmering green veil across Orion’s shoulders. We climb a nearby hill to watch the show. When we return, the thermometer reads 25 below. Our Huskies, unperturbed, curl up in the snow and snooze peacefully, frost on their snouts. I watch them with admiration, awed by the eternal bond between human and canine. The truth dawns on me abruptly: I wouldn’t have been pulled here by cats.
It took some effort, but Brian has done the impossible. He’s made a dog man out of me.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.
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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.
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