Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The how [and why] of teaching dogs to carry packs
In Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, a spirited young Buddhist named Japhy takes his domesticated friends for a crash course in what he calls “mountain smashing.” While it sounds destructive, mountain smashing is really just a colorful euphemism for climbing to the summit. It’s choosing to spend a day outdoors instead of glued to the television, and Japhy makes it his life’s work to share such choices as a better way of living. He teaches his friends about the roar of the wilderness, the stillness of forests, and how a few miles on your boots and some basic camp food can convince you that you’re the luckiest person alive. Though I don’t have my own personal beatniks to take me outside and teach me to pay attention, I have even better guides: dogs.
With their red and blue packs, my dogs look like mountain smashers. They no longer resemble the goofy and good-natured Siberians who take my spot on the couch during movie snack breaks—they look like kind wolves, my personal escorts into the wilderness. Though dogs aren’t wild animals, they are not as foreign to the forest as we humans are. They’re the perfect link between the worlds, and with their packs on, they seem like my own personal sherpas—experienced guides showing me the world of wolves bubbling in their Husky blood.
The packs they wear are light, extensions of themselves; in them, they carry extra water, wool sweaters, biscuits and trail mix. They sport them proudly as they leap over fallen trees and dash after the smells of deer and porcupines. Having saddlebags on the backs of the dogs is convenient, too. I can access things I need quickly, instead of stopping to wrestle off my own backpack and root through it. The whole experience of dog packing makes our time outside together richer.
I adopted both of my trail-mates as adults when they were four years old; neither had carried a pack before they met me, but the training came quickly and easily. The trick was two-fold: First, making sure I had packs engineered for canine athletes that fit them perfectly. Second (and perhaps the secret to pack training), making sure those packs were only slipped onto their fluffy backs if we were going to have fun. When I first purchased Jazz and Annie’s packs, I’d lash them on for every trip to the dog park or walk around the block. The idea was to associate that weird new harness with action and adventure, even if it was only put on to chase a ball around the yard. Within short order, they associated the light panniers with time spent with me outdoors. Incidentally, so did I.
Over the next few weekends, I slowly added gear and distance to their pack walks. Soon, they were joining me on jaunts to the local co-op for some light grocery shopping. I’d secure them outside in the shade with water and take their packs inside as my eco-friendly shopping bags. When I returned with the heavier loads, I’d harness them up and we’d walk home together, all three of us smiling. They were getting exercise and smelling busy sidewalks, and I was saving myself a car trip for milk and eggs. It feels good to know you’ve done this good work together.
Within two months, the dogs and I were hiking the trails, and by the end of that first summer, the dogs were carrying all of our supplies for an entire day trip. When it was time for a meal, we’d find a clearing by a stream or a lake and have a grand picnic. Liver treats and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich never tasted better (they got the treats, I got the pb&j). I’d pull a tattered old paperback out of Annie’s pack and the dogs would snooze in the sun. I cannot imagine being in the wilderness without them. They’re my Dharma bums, and as a team, we smash mountains with the best of them. I think Japhy would approve.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Home Works: Smart Solutions
Ringware Dog Bowls
People Towels for Pet Lovers
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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Vetstreet identifies naming themes over the past 12 years
Pet names can tell you a lot about a person’s personality. Some people follow themes around favorite things. I love Pixar movies so I named all of my pups after characters from the movies. Others have a preference for sweet sounding names or tough sounding names. And as more people consider their pets a part of the family, more dogs are getting names traditionally set aside for humans.
In 2011, the most popular dog names were Max, Buddy, Bella, and Daisy. (Funny enough, I don’t know any dogs that go by those names!) Max, which has held the top spot for several years, may be the most popular, but apparently it’s not the most trendy.
Pet care website, Vetstreet, searched their records and determined the top 10 names that have been trending over the past 12 years. The names that came up include Lola, Stella, Bentley and Diesel.
In its research, Vetstreet found a resurgence in short, old-fashioned nicknames, like Lulu and Milo; endearing, cozy-sounding names, like Lulu and Zoey; traditional human names, like Stella and Cooper; and names from pop culture, like Marley from the book and movie Marley and Me and Nala, the female cub in The Lion King. The website expects the name of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s new puppy, Lupo, will be very popular next year.
Vetstreet believes that these themes reflect the personal attachment that we have with our pets these days. And I also think it shows how obsessed with are with pop culture!
Have you noticed any popular or trendy names in your neighborhood?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A trainer talks about her “heart dog”
I love dogs. I love stories. And I love love. It stands to reason that I would love stories about the love of dogs, and, in fact, I do. Recently, I read this one about trainer Kathy Sdao and her dog Effie, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime dog whose entrance into someone’s life changes it forever. Whether we call such dogs the loves of our lives, our heart dogs, or our soulmates, they remind us that love is for every day, not just Valentine’s Day, and their love makes life richer, better, sweeter.
Kathy shares the experience of having her second husband leave her on September 10, 2001 for another woman, much as her first husband had done many years earlier. She would have been shattered even without facing what the following day brought, and it was Effie who helped her resist the temptation to take her own life.
Many dogs have saved people’s lives, thankfully, and there is something especially powerful about Effie having done this for Kathy by fostering her will to live. Kathy writes, “I gradually realized, with genuine surprise, that just having her close by, I felt a tiny ribbon of relief deep inside. It turns out that this simple pleasure of her presence, at a time when nothing else brought comfort, was the first steppingstone on my path back to wholeness and happiness.”
Describing Effie as her “joy-coach,” Kathy says, “She knows what's important: playing daily, experiencing the nowness of every moment, speaking volumes without using words, surrounding herself with dear friends.”
It’s been more than a decade now since Effie saved her life, and that time has given her a delightful new perspective, which is “I may not know how to pick men, but I sure as hell know how to pick a dog!”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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We love Spindrift’s Safety Collar for keeping our pups safe and visible during our twilight walks. This one-inch wide webbed collar can be seen on the thickest coats and is trimmed on both sides with bright 3M reflective piping. Its Neoprene lining ups the comfort factor while maintaining the collar’s durability and functionality.
News: Guest Posts
Dogs are great icebreakers and matchmakers
I’m pretty caught up in the pre-Valentine’s Day media swirl. I try to ignore it but I love reading true-life love stories, especially if they feature a dog—and a surprising number of them do. That may be because dogs are pretty great matchmakers.
Nine out of ten people in the UK say they were more likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger if the stranger had a dog, according to a Dogs Trust survey reported in today’s Daily Express. Sometimes these meetings turn into lasting relationships.
So with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I’d love to hear your stories of falling in love because of a dog.
Culture: Stories & Lit
I’ve always been kind of a cat man.
I didn’t have pets as a child because I suffered from Responsibility Deficit Disorder, but I started having cats in college, soigné creatures with names like Odalisque and Mrs. Miniver. I had a long-term cat relationship when I first moved to New York: a brother-and-sister pair of tiger stripes, Queenie and Spike. They lived forever (I swear Queenie had dementia), and then they died. And after they died, I never got a pet again. I just never wanted to be bothered with food, litter and death again. For that matter, my life had embraced an instability that could barely sustain me, much less lower life forms. And then there’s the whole thing about smaller creatures depending on you. I don’t know how people with children do it. I mean: there are days when I resent my plants.
Once, there was a fly in my room, over a month, maybe two, and I kind of started to think of him as a pet. I didn’t name him or anything. But I’d say hello when I came home. And I’d let him know when there were orange peels in the wastebasket. I told myself I was nurturing a Buddhist respect for all forms of life, but really, I just couldn’t afford therapy.
The good thing about having a fly for a pet was that I didn’t talk about it to anyone, didn’t tell any stories about it at work. People always tell stories about their pets at work. But no one wants to hear about flies. Which was fine with me. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to sound like a Pet Person. I didn’t want to stand around the water cooler telling stories that started out reasonably enough and then suddenly veered into the most cloying sentimentality. And then, of course, you get those people on Facebook who not only talk about their pets but as their pets. That sort of thing gives me the chills.
Now, I like other people’s pets. I’m a pet sitter. And I like pet sitting. I like being the fun uncle who doesn’t mind if you get fur on his sweater. I like the limited responsibility, the promiscuity of pet sitting. The affection is all the sweeter, the cute-kitty moments all the more piquant, knowing it’ll be over at the end of the week.
It started innocently enough with a friend’s cat—Thomas, a super-cute gray-and-white, most of whose nine lives have been plus-sizes. For years, I stayed with him when Ann went out of town, and even lived with him for a while when I moved in with her after losing my apartment. Then a lesbian couple down in the Village with a cat named Junior started using me regularly. Junior and I really get along, and the couple tells me I’m the primary male influence in his life. Which is great, I guess. I always wanted to be a role model. I just never thought it would be for a cat.
I had an Upper West Side job with a cat named Mittens, a name I refused to call the animal. A couple of nights into it, I suddenly realized I had no idea where he was and, while I knew he hadn’t gotten out, I really wanted visual confirmation. But when I opened my mouth to call him, I found it refused to form the requisite syllables. I couldn’t, as an adult, walk around an apartment calling, “Mittens!” I finally settled on calling out (softly) “Kitten!” figuring that, as a lower vertebrate, he could be easily duped by assonance. I was wrong: he had no sense of poetry at all. I didn’t see him until breakfast the next day. And next week I have a meet-and-greet in Chelsea with Taylor, a cat I’ll be staying with for a couple of weeks in January.
So: mostly cats. I don’t do a lot of dogs. They’re so needy. It’s always feed me-walk me-feed me, just me-me-me-me, 24/7; it’s exhausting. And speaking of me, I have to watch out for myself as well. Neediness is a two-way street, and dogs and humans have co-dependence issues that go back to prehistory. Dogs were first domesticated about 15,000 years ago, and they quickly made themselves indispensible to humans—hunting, herding and so forth—in exchange, of course, for food. It was in part the stability they provided that allowed humans to finally settle down, establishing villages and, eventually, cities. In short, without dogs, there’d be no New York; you have to wonder if instinctively they knew it would be a great place to shit.
And I’ve never really liked little dogs. The little-dog thing is an aspect of my homosexuality I’d never explored. I certainly have any number of gay friends with little dogs, and have, in a jolly, avuncular way, shared their joys. In a less jolly but no less avuncular way, I’ve also shared their sorrows and moments of doubt: I remember helping a close friend transition from Shih Tzus to Terriers. But there are doors in gay men it seems only little dogs can open. In days of a simpler psychology, gay people’s relationships with their animals were seen as a neurotic transference of affection for the children we would never have. But now that we’ve figured out ways of obtaining human infants, the ardent devotion gayboys lavish on their little mammals has gone from being a symptom to just another color in the rainbow. The transference thing was so bogus anyway. I mean, I had two cats, and yes, when they were kittens, I thought they were adorable. But it’s not like I lactated or anything. And little dogs didn’t make me feel transfer-y at all.
So when I got the email—a couple in Chelsea; friends of a friend—asking if I was available to stay with their Pug for a week, I kind of made a face (kind of a pug face, come to think of it). But I hadn’t done a dog in a while, it was summer, their apartment was five minutes from work. I thought, why not.
I was surprised when I first met him, when I went to pick up the keys. He was bigger than I’d expected. And cuter. We took to each other right away. He jumped up onto the couch, into my lap, kissed me: cute. And the apartment was gorgeous, muted olives and rusts, with lighting that just got more fabulous the farther in you went. By the time you hit the bedroom, you looked like you were in your early 30s.
So I took the keys, wished them a bon voyage, and showed up a few days later with a briefcase of work and a duffle bag of clothes I thought would go with the apartment (I leaned toward green, figuring it’d play into the olive but make the rust pop). I kind of expected the Pug to come running, barking, as soon as I got in the door—he was so exuberant when we met—but he was nowhere to be seen. But when I went into the living room, I saw him on the back of a low easy chair (olive), obviously just coming out of a nap. When he’d shaken off his stupor and saw it wasn’t his daddies, that it was someone new, that it was me, the guy from the other night, he gave three full-throated barks, jumped from the chair to the ottoman, from the ottoman to the rug (rust tones in some of the stripes), chased his tail in a circle, chased it the other way, jumped on the couch, jumped on me and licked me into dermabrasion.
I have to admit, the face did take some getting used to. Head-on, a Pug can look like he’s just run into a wall, but at certain angles he’s adorable. I once had a boyfriend like that: he had a strange cast to his face, but if you caught it at the right angle, he was really cute. He never noticed that I always faced him on the diagonal. What’s amazing about a Pug, though, is the moment—early on; somewhere in the first 10 minutes; somewhere in the first belly rub—when you suddenly shift from thinking that he’s kind of ugly to thinking he’s just the cutest thing in the whole wide world. It’s a nearly imperceptible movement, a moment’s sudden grace, transformative, pure. I thought, This must be what it’s like to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior. The world is transcended; Pugs are cute.
Yet the evolutionary drama still had to be reenacted: The dog had to establish an immediate, intense bond with me so that I would feed him, and the surest way of establishing that bond was by doing something immediately and intensely cute.
The dog was a leaner. He wouldn’t just sit next to you when he wanted attention, he’d lean into you, pushing into the petting hand until he flipped upside down across your lap, his head lolling back in full-body-rub ecstasy. After I’d unpacked and settled in, I decided to meditate a little before I got to work. I sat on the floor, my legs in a faux-lotus, and as I focused on my breathing, the dog came and nestled against me, leaning into my ankles. For an astounding moment, there was nothing but my breath, the warmth of the dog and the sound of the rain on the air conditioner. Then I suddenly sneezed, and before I’d even pulled out of it, the dog was up on his hind legs, paws on my shoulders, licking me a god-bless-you. Thus the pact was sealed in dog breath. Maybe I was there to feed him, but he had me eating out of his hand.
His name doesn’t matter, since I rarely called him by it. I called him Pugsy, Pugster, My Little Pug-Pug, Pup-Pup, Puppy and Dog. He didn’t care what I called him. I was just there to rub him. I could call him Mittens for all he cared. From then on we were inseparable: he followed me wherever I went, sat at my feet as I worked at the computer, waited outside the shower for me in the morning. Before bed we’d watch some TV together, and he’d bark at animal noises and sirens in the shows.
Something I googled said Pugs can be “yappy,” and My Little Pug-Pug had a pretty good vocabulary: a throaty moan when he wanted a treat; a gurgly growl when he was playing with his ball; and a what-in-god’s-name-are-you-doing-out-there-in-the-hallway yip. He also had exquisite diction. The first night, he was snuggled up alongside me in bed and I was just about to fall asleep when he heard something in the hallway. He jumped up, leaned over the edge of the bed and said, quite distinctly, “Woof!” (The articulation of the “w” was extraordinary.) I said to him, “Did you hear what you just said?” He also had a good ruff-ruff, a ruff-ruff-ruff and a pretty good arf as well.
While my affection for the animal grew stronger by the minute, it was a feeling I entertained as a fully cognizant Homo sapiens. I felt very clear on the relationship. I never saw the dog as a replacement for a child, though he was a perfectly good replacement for a boyfriend. There’s much to be said for being wildly adored by something really cute. OK, you have to pick up its shit, but anyone who thinks being in a relationship doesn’t entail picking up someone’s shit has no sense of metaphor at all. And, properly trained, boyfriends make heartwarming companions. I once had a boyfriend I taught to play fetch. (He rolled over pretty well, too.) Women, it’s said, can be feline. But men are definitely dogs.
And drawn to other dogs. Pugster’s daddies had told me he was a man magnet, and they were right. Puppy has an intense cuteness aura, and the leash connected me to the very heart of it. A lot of guys talked to me who, sans chien, I imagine would have regarded me, if at all, with the Chelsea Chill. But I didn’t care. For the nonce, I was perfectly happy to bask in canine glory. For a week, I was a gay man in Chelsea with a little dog. I had a Pug and I was proud.
The day I left, he knew something was up when I put the duffle bag on the bed. He sat outside the bedroom door and watched me as I packed. When I came out of the room, I told him it had been fun, and that his daddies were coming back. I tried to sound excited. I threw him a handful of kibble and locked the door behind me.
* * *
I’m back home now, in my room. My roommate’s cat really likes me, and is sitting by me as I write this. I call her Purr-Pot. Or Chicken. She’s purring as I pet her absently, my gaze drifting out the window, drifting south, downtown, to Chelsea. My fingers run over her black fur, she purrs and pushes against them, and I wonder if she can feel the distance in me, if she can tell that part of me is elsewhere. But then, how could she possibly tell, possibly know, possibly understand?
She’s a cat.
This essay originally appeared in The Morning News.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs get a spot at the table
Decorative Pup Plates
Custom Portrait Plates
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs come together in a new model for dog rescue and care
Last March, when Animal Care & Control of New York City took in 14 Pit Bulls (including a mother and four newborn puppies) who had been found in alive in a burned-out Bronx apartment, the dogs’ prospects weren’t great. “It’s 99 percent Pit Bulls that are being put down every day,” says Emily Tanen, at the time a coordinator for ACC’s New Hope program, which helps get animals out of the shelter by placing them with rescue groups. “There are more Pit Bulls coming in [than other breeds] and fewer people wanting them, because of the image surrounding them.” Plus, the Bronx Fire Pit Bulls, as advocates dubbed them (facebook.com/BronxFirePitBulls), faced another challenge: they were under police hold, so New Hope had to find rescues willing to foster them without actually assuming ownership. “Not many groups want to do that, because [then] they are just housing the dogs for us,” Tanen says. “We could take them back at any time, and if the dog has any medical problems, we’re probably not going to pay for that, because we have no money.” Tanen worried particularly about the puppies going into the shelter environment and getting sick. “I spent hours trying to place the mom and the puppies that night before I left work, and [finally] Dog Habitat took them.”
Tanen singles out the two-year-old Brooklyn rescue facility—which cared for the five Pit Bulls for “a really long time” before ACC could officially transfer ownership—both for being among a shortlist of outfits willing to accept Pit Bulls at all and for the obvious care they take with the dogs they do rescue. “They were really open about how the dogs were, and they sent us update pictures,” she says. “Not a lot of groups do that, and when you are working in such a stressful environment like a shelter, it’s really nice to see that the work that you put into saving a dog paid off.”
Tanen may have realized that Dog Habitat (doghabitat.org) stood out from the crowd, but her under-siege post at ACC didn’t allow her the luxury of seeing just how special an operation it really is. Dog Habitat shares space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with Unleash, a daycare-and-boarding business (unleashbrooklyn.blogspot.com), and its rescue dogs live just like the pampered “clients” they romp with during the day. At night, rescues and boarders alike stay in their own four-by-four-foot pens, checked on by a staff member who sleeps on-site. They dine on organic food supplied by sponsor Stella & Chewy’s. “There is no reason a rescue dog should be treated as lesser than any other,” says Rob Maher, who got the idea to start a rescue after his and wife Bea Boado’s pet-supply shop, District Dog, became a magnet for dogs found in the neighborhood.
Once the plan took root, the couple recruited Jay Lombard, an educational fundraiser and customer with a Lab/Border Collie mix named Skyler, to serve as director of the operation. “My dog passed away the month we opened,” says Lombard, who has Skyler’s name permanently inked on his shoulder above a tattoo of the heart-shaped Dog Habitat logo. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be in Greenpoint—I had to find an apartment that had a backyard—and I wouldn’t have met Rob and Bea. Because of him, I wanted to have a rescue.”
In the beginning, Unleash wasn’t even on the agenda. “As we created the nonprofit, we wondered, ‘How are we going to pay the rent? How are we going to cover the costs?’” Lombard recalls. “Our lawyer recommended the daycare and boarding [business], because our whole philosophy was having an open rescue.” It took almost a year for the group to find their 7,000-square-foot location on Franklin Street, now the neighborhood’s main cultural drag. Unleash, which provides space to Dog Habitat as a tax write-off, also has a staff of 14 handlers who can oversee all of the dogs simultaneously. (Rescues are not allowed to mingle with clients until they have been medically cleared and their behavior has been established.) The facility, which the website describes as a “holistic loft,” features weathered lumber repurposed from local factories and bright-green rubber floors made from recycled tires. Unleash offers pickup services in a hybrid SUV and purchases wind power through Con Edison. (Lombard and Maher would eventually like to install solar panels on the roof.) In fact, customers seem more familiar with Unleash’s sustainable practices than with the rescue program, at least initially. “Not a lot of people know about the rescue until they come here,” Lombard says. “Then they learn about it and feel good about their dog being part of the rehabilitation.”
And when it comes to rehabilitation, there are some distinct advantages to the Dog Habitat model. “Having a space where the animals can socialize is a real benefit, versus having an animal stuck in a cage 22 hours a day and only getting walked once or twice,” says Diane Gauld, who works for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a nonprofit network created to help New York City become a no-kill community by 2015. “The environment you’re giving them is more like what life is. That’s the real benefit to what [Dog Habitat] is able to do.” Dogs who need it also get plenty of special treatment, be it medication, human interaction or plain old leash training. “The luxury we give them here is time,” Lombard says. Maher cites a dog he and Boado pulled from ACC last year. “We didn’t even know what Sasha was, but her entire back was bald and scabby,” he says. “She was going to be put down because she had mange, which is curable, but it takes a long time, so they can’t get adopted out. When she came in, she was so nervous. It took eight months before she was ready to be adopted, to walk with people. Even then, it was another four or five months before her mange went away.” Sasha, who turned out to be a petite blue Pit Bull with enormous prick ears, is now a daycare client.
That kind of commitment is what keeps volunteer Donna Marsh coming back to walk, bathe and handle the rescues. “There’s one right now I’m very fond of, named Buddy,” she says. “He was found wandering the streets in a snowstorm and he’s very nervous. He has a scar on his side—nobody knows how he got that. We just connected on some level. I take him to the park, and I’ve had him at my house with my dog so he’ll be able to adjust more easily to a home environment. He’s having cranial-release therapy, which is something they’re doing there that I’m totally impressed with. He’s improving. He seems more mellow now, and he walks better on the leash. It just takes time, but I get as much out of it as he does.”
Eager to spread the word about pet overpopulation, Dog Habitat invites kids to come to the facility, either with parents or teachers. Last spring, Christa Flores’s eighth-grade science students at the School at Columbia University chose to explore animal welfare for their Social Action Project. The group did research about puppy mills, visited the 110th Street location of ACC (where they saw three individuals surrender their dogs in a span of 20 minutes), interviewed Lombard about what Dog Habitat does to help and attended a Mayor’s Alliance adoption event in which Dog Habitat participated. “I think it will be one of those things that sticks with them forever,” Flores says. “They’ll never be able to see a purebred or go to a puppy store and feel the same way they might have a year ago.”
So far, Dog Habitat has found homes for about 200 rescues. While the focus is on New York City, the group does take in rescues from elsewhere, such as the 32 small-breed dogs that the Humane Society pulled from a puppy mill in Virginia last winter. “It was the perfect time,” Maher says. “Had it been any other month than January, I don’t think we could have done it. There are fewer dogs boarding after the holidays.” On an average day, Unleash hosts 70 dogs, a combination of daycare, boarders and rescues. “We try and stay at around 12 rescues so that we can focus on them, but we fluctuate,” Maher says.
Dog Habitat’s most recent initiative, the Nanny Dog Project, puts Pit Bull pups through a year’s worth of basic-obedience classes with no less an agenda than restoring the breed’s good name. Maher plans to train exceptionally calm pups as special-needs dogs to be placed with children and adults with disabilities. To date, there have been eight Nanny Dog Project graduates, including the Bronx fire puppies—Stavros, Notty, Squishy and Nugget—who’ve all been adopted. Mom Phoenix, who Lombard says “still smelled like smoke” that first night when she stayed at his apartment, was waiting to find her home at press time.
“These have been the best two years of my professional life,” Lombard says. “I’ve worked every day, seven days a week, 12 hours a day. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. And I’ve never been so tired, but there’s an intrinsic value. Knowing that a dog who was on the euthanasia list now has a doorman … that’s really gratifying.”
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