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.
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?
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