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.
Bark Likes This
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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.
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
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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).
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