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News: Guest Posts
Couch Surfing for Dogs
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
Dog-Friendly Lodges
Summer Adventure Planner
Dog Friendly Accommodations - Chico Springs

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
Missing Our Dogs
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
More Pet Airline Drama
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
Risky Business
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?”

Law Review

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.

 

Safety Tips

• 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.)

 

Fast Facts

• 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
Have Dog, Will Travel: Sun, Dialed In
Palm Springs

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.

 

Explore

“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.

 

Shmooze

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.

 

Chill

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).

 

Mingle

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
Dognapper in the Desert

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.

News: Guest Posts
Village Dogs
What are the rules of engagement when traveling?

I recently returned from a trip to Kenya, where stray and feral dogs are the norm and pampered pets very much the exception. I came to know a few of the former sort quite well.

For about a week, my sister and I camped in a rural area on the grounds of a school that is under construction. Along with us, were the school’s founder, also from the U.S., and 45 high school girls, a cooking crew and a construction crew—all from Kenya.

By dinner on the first night, the camp had attracted three or four skittish pups. They were classic “village dogs,” small mixed-breed pups with short coats. Some were very skinny; others seemed to have figured out a fairly steady source for food.

I’ve traveled in other developing countries and usually give dogs on the street a wide berth. But these dogs were around all day. I got to know their habits, and watched them pluck treats from the garbage burn pile and make stealthy raids on the outdoor kitchen. During the heat of the day, they’d crawl under our table for shade.

Two dogs, whom we named Einstein and Boots (below), adopted our corner of the campground. I felt comforted by their presence. I’d been away from my own dog for almost three weeks, which made these dogs pretty irresistible. I violated the warnings of my good sense and the travel clinic nurse, and found myself scraping leftovers onto the ground and petting their heads. They responded to food and touch by moaning, rolling over on their backs and snuggling against our legs. Pretty much all the Kenyans with us thought we were crazy.

We established a fairly peaceable routine around the camp until the second to the last night: a graduation celebration with a big goat feast. As the aroma of roasting goat wafted over the fields, the population of scavenging dogs doubled. By suppertime, an ad hoc pack had created a tight circle around a table of girls. They swatted and kicked the dogs, but the strays were not dissuaded. Then we heard growling and sniping. We couldn’t see exactly what was happening in the light of the kerosene lantern but from the sound of it, the situation had turned dangerous. We learned in the morning that the girls had been tossing their bones on the ground, and the dogs were fighting over them.

I asked Tinyao, one of the Maasai warriors who had been teaching the girls and helping out in the camp, to disperse the dogs. The possibility of a dog bite was just too great. He grabbed a stick and some rocks and moved quickly in the dark. Then came the yelps and yipes. It was terrible. I’d helped to make the dogs feel safe among us and welcome to human food; and now I sent someone after them for the same reason.

The next morning, Einstein and Boots returned and settled under our table again. Even after what had happened, we were still the best bet around.

I worry about them now. I gave them bad, even dangerous information. And I can’t help feeling sad to think of them trotting into camp to discover the kitchen shut down, the shade tables packed away and only the construction workers, with their own rocks and sticks and impatience with dogs, left in camp.

 

 

Dog's Life: Travel
Home Sit, Stay or Swap
The offbeat, budget-smart frontier of dog-friendly travel

When Barrie and Tod duBois traveled to France earlier this year, their dog Abbie joined them. The well-mannered Fox Terrier went nearly everywhere with them, including a weeklong sailing trip in Corsica. When they dined out, Abbie was there, under the table and out of servers’ way like a native chien. Almost always, someone brought a water bowl without being asked, and one night in Provence, Abbie was served an entire steak and a meaty lamb bone. It helps that she bears a strong resemblance to Milou, sidekick to the hero of The Adventures of Tintin, a beloved French comic book series.

The previous year, the California-based couple left Abbie behind during a trip to Germany and missed her terribly. “We just didn’t feel that our family was complete without her,” Barrie duBois says. “Having her [in France] to cuddle with in the evening, watching her chase squirrels and lizards … was awesome.”

During their four months in France, the couple stayed free of charge in a succession of private homes while the homes’ regular occupants traveled to the U.S. and stayed for free in one of the duBoises’ two residences (one in Campbell and another on a lake in the Sierras). Listed on as many as 10 home-exchange sites, including HomeLink International (homelink.org/usa), HomeExchange.com, 1stHomeExchange.com and the Vacation Exchange Network (thevacationexchange.com), the duBoises are deeply ensconced in the world of dog-friendly home swaps.

Fueled by a multitude of websites and apps, travelers with dogs or those keen to find a pup at their destination are enthusiastically embracing alternatives to hotels, motels and inns. Among these alternative are house swaps, house-sitting and short-term rentals.

“I like being able to wander into the kitchen for coffee in the morning in my pajamas,” says Barrie, who got her fill of hotels while traveling for her job as an organization-effectiveness consultant. In addition to the low cost of swapping, private homes offer distinct advantages for those with dogs. Many have fenced yards and are located in residential areas well suited for walking. Plus, a house can be a more comfortable environment for dogs unaccustomed to the circumscribed environment of a hotel.

Most home-exchange services charge a membership fee, and the exchange itself can be simultaneous, non-simultaneous or even hosted (with residents on the premises during a stay). Some include resident pets in the deal. Using HomeLink and Intervac-HomeExchange.com, Betty and Bob Shiffman of Frankfort, Ky., have swapped homes during trips to Sweden, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. Bob is retired and Betty teaches at a community college. Generally, they board their dogs—a Labradoodle named Howdy (as in Howdy Doodle) and Daisy, a Cockapoo—during these vacations.

“When we go to Europe, we miss having our dogs with us,” Betty Shiffman says. So they were excited about a recent exchange in Norway that included swapping dog-sitting duties. For the Shiffmans, it meant looking after Cassie, a Golden Retriever who’d been rescued from her plight as a breeder dog in an Eastern European puppy mill.

“Cassie became my shadow,” Betty says. “She even followed me into the bathroom.” The Shiffmans fell in love with Cassie, who went almost everywhere with them. “It was fun to be able to take her so many places,” Bob Shiffman says.

It wasn’t until Cassie bolted during a walk along the beach that Betty started to have second thoughts. Cassie ran home safely, but the experience made the Shiffmans more aware of the responsibility. “I’m not sure we’d leave our dogs during a home exchange again,” Betty says.

For all of his 16 years, Ed Kushins’ Lab Nelson was never boarded. When the Kushins traveled, which was frequently, Nelson stayed at their Hermosa Beach, Calif., home and was cared for by home exchange guests—it was simply part of the deal. For the Kushins’ swap, guests had to want to take care of a dog.

“Even from the very beginning, we always had in the application if pet care was required, right up front. That’s because of me,” says Kushins, who is the founder and president of HomeExchange.com. He says around 20 percent of the site’s more than 40,000 listings specify some sort of pet care, and many are dog-friendly.

On the other hand, not everyone has a home to swap, and for years, frugal adventurers have long known how to parlay house-sitting into a way to see the world on a shoestring. Today, many websites connect homeowners and house-sitters, among them, HouseSittersAmerica.com, HouseCarers.com and MindMyHouse.com.

“A large proportion of our sitters are retired couples who, after a lifetime of work, have decided to pick up sticks and travel the world,” says Lisa Logan, a spokesperson for TrustedHousesitters.com. Two years ago, the UK-based company launched its website to connect homeowners with responsible travelers looking for a place to stay, usually free of charge.

In many cases, pets are part of the equation. “Lots of people love pets but can’t have their own for various reasons, so a break away with a dog or cat to look after is the perfect holiday,” Logan says.

Busy schedules and their grandchildren’s needs have kept TrustedHousesitters.com members Dan and Lyn Reece from having pets of their own, and the couple misses the companionship. Several of their best house-sitting experiences during the last three years included a resident pet.

“In each case, exercising the dog brought instant recognition from the neighbors, and led to making quick friends who could direct us to ‘must-see’ attractions in the area, and great restaurants that weren’t on the map,” says Dan Reece, a security consultant whose skills include fixing leaking pipes and scratching dog bellies.

Like other industry sites, TrustedHousesitters.com runs a “police check” on prospective house-sitters. They currently have 500 individuals from 36 different countries—including 70 from the U.S.

Short-term private home rentals can’t compete with free, but they do offer a way to cut costs (cooking at home, no-fee parking and so forth), plus a break from cookie-cutter hotel chains.

Many dog parents swear by VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner), including the Shiffmans, who rely on it to rent getaways for family reunions that can include up to as many as six dogs. VRBO.com boasts an inventory of around 165,000 properties, most of which are in the U.S. Of these, more than 41,000 are pet-friendly, including the duBoises’ lakefront house. HomeAway.com, which is VRBO.com’s slightly larger parent site, has more international coverage in its 260,000 vacation rentals, 73,250 of which are specifically pet-friendly.

Founded in 2008, Airbnb.com is a hip, new player on the block and is growing fast, with more than 100,000 listings for homes, apartments, houseboats, lofts and cottages as well as individual rooms, floors or suites. The service is available in more than 19,000 cities and 190 countries in a wide range of prices. More than 6,000 of the listings are pet-friendly.

Unlike VRBO.com, Airbnb.com includes many hosted opportunities, such as rooms in homes or apartments in houses, with the residents on the premises and part of the experience. Many times, this includes pets, which can mean playdates if you’re cleared to bring your dog or, if you’re traveling without your pet, a little fur therapy to fight off loneliness.

Layla, a lovable brown dog, offers canine hospitality to guests of a shabby-chic tree house in Burlingame, Calif., available through Airbnb.com. “As we present our ‘Treehouse Overlooking SF Bay’ experience to potential guests, we discuss openly that we are animal lovers,” says Doug Studebaker, treehouse builder and host. In addition to Layla, ten laying hens free range in the yard (which may be one reason guest dogs are not permitted). “This attracts other animal lovers from around the world. Funny how animals seem to speak that international language about love and kindness.”

Advocates of sitting, swapping or renting often mention that staying in someone’s home takes them outside the tourist bubble and helps them forge a deeper connection to a community and place. Include dogs in the mix and the experience deepens even more. As Studebaker says, “Animals have a way of creating heartfelt conversation.”

Dog's Life: Travel
Spotted in Aspen
Doggie adventures on and off the the slopes.

We were overdue for a vacation when my fourth-grader pleaded that we go away for Thanksgiving break.“Anywhere. Even somewhere cold,” Jacob tendered as a concession, knowing that our Dalmatian, Sketch, and I preferred brisk air, whereas he, a southern California native, tended to chill when the mercury dipped below 70. I had barely felt like getting out of bed, let alone town, since the blistering day months earlier that JP, Sketch’s father, shed his last hair in the parking lot of a Palm Springs veterinary clinic.

In the three years since I’d adopted Jacob, he had grown to love my dogs, and especially JP, almost as much as I did. “I miss him, too. But he’s gone,” he said in the resilient tenor of a boy who had endured more heartache in his 10 years than I in my 40.“Far away.”He looked up to the heavens, and I realized that it was not only grief that had numbed my nomadic nature, but also guilt at the thought of leaving behind the spirit of my spotted traveling companion of 14 years.

* * * * *

Heavy flurries were blanketing the mountainside’s majestic evergreens and slender, white-barked poplars when we arrived in Aspen, Colo., a getaway our family had always found to be welcoming to dogs and kids—and surprisingly affordable for passers-through—despite its ritzy reputation. Sketch bounded out of the car and over a snow bank to greet an elderly Schnauzer,who was exiting the lobby of our hotel, the Limelight Lodge, and nipping at the soft flakes falling all around her. She made an obliging,wobbly effort at meeting Sketch’s playful advances lunge-for-lunge. “Getting old is tough on them,” said her owner, a young-looking, middle-aged woman, wincing at the obvious discomfort the activity caused her pet.

Tougher on us humans, I thought.Sketch still had the temperament and energy of a puppy, and was seemingly not prone to his breed’s hip dysplasia or hyperthyroid conditions. But he was going on nine, and I was determined that he would be the third and last dog I would love … and outlive.

* * * * *

The following morning dawned bright and frosty, and Jacob’s and my sights were set on the powdery slopes. There was no shortage of dog-walkers-for-hire or canine activities at Sketch’s disposal— dog trails, off-leash parks, dog-watching in the pedestrian mall, even an après-ski wine-and-cheese “yappy hour” for dogs and their people at a neighborhood tavern— but I was intrigued by the hotel manager’s recommendation of a day of pampering at Aspen Wags to Riches. The proceeds of the pet salon sustain its adjacent no-kill shelter, which rescues dogs and cats from around the country.

We were greeted by Bo, the shelter’s cheerful, 13-year-old mascot, a retired sled dog. One of his floppy ears stood straight up and he sniffed the air, but he appeared otherwise indifferent to Sketch’s faux alpha posturing and close inspection of his stomping ground, particularly the glass-walled cat room in the reception area. The latter is a zoo-like haven that houses a dozen or so adoptable felines, some playing with toys or comrades, others napping on lush cat beds or window seats … and all, like Bo, unfazed by our assertive dog’s probing nose.

* * * * *

Seth, the shelter’s director, gave us a tour of the facilities and suggested that we take one of the many itinerant (and immaculately groomed) dogs for a walk along the hillside that flanked the play yard while Sketch was introduced to the pack. The shelter encourages prospective adopters—as well as local volunteers, and even visitors who needed a dog-fix—to check residents out of the kennel for leisure time. Jacob chose Lola, a very old Malamute/Lab mix. She was timid, but her eyes twinkled as hopefully as those of her mates.

Once outside, Lola eagerly led us up a steep, unshoveled path. Like Bo, she had worked many thankless years as a sled dog, hauling tourists across the snow, but still had a zest for life on the mountain. She took in the cold, thin air with a more grateful and less winded pant than ours, all the while casting proud glances back down at the fenced-in dogs.Among them was our youthful Sketch, as content in his captivity as Lola was in her few moments of independence.

* * * * *

Later, on Snowmass Mountain, we soared for several petrifying minutes down the practically vertical,double-black-diamond trail that I’d inadvertently steered us to …off the more apt, blue-square intermediate route.

“Yes!” Jacob shouted, as he came to an impressive parallel stop. “We’re alive!” He thrust a clenched fist into the air, exhilarated by his newfound ability.

“For now,” I said tentatively.We were at a fork that would allow us to veer onto a single-black-diamond slope, which I prayed would lead us to a beginner’s green circle!

“Now is all that matters,” he whispered to himself invincibly, propelling his skis toward the white abyss. “Don’t worry. Just…I don’t know…try to think like a dog or something,” he said to me.

Okay…now! I gathered my wits, and plunged.

“But later,” he called back. “Can we adopt one of those old dogs?”

Maybe, I thought.

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