Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Gear for you and your dog.
Dogs and bicycles aren’t meant to mix. At least, that is what I thought until I met Zoa, a dog-crazy, bike-loving girl from BC. Somehow our cycling-with-dogs experiment developed into longer rides around town, which developed into weekend excursions, which developed into us quitting our jobs, selling everything we owned, and embarking on an epic 10,000-mile bicycle adventure through Europe.
Along the way we experienced our share of joys and challenges, and learned a few tips to make cycling with dogs fun and safe.
Putting the Paws to the Floor
If your dog is reliable and there is no danger from traffic, then letting your dog run off-leash while you cycle is one possibility. But with an unpredictable dog or where traffic is involved, you will want your dog safely harnessed and leashed to the non-traffic side of your bicycle.
Specialized bike/dog leashes are the safest way to protect your dog from pedals, wheels and traffic. The leashes attach to the seat post or the rear axle of your bicycle leaving your hands free for steering, while coiled springs act as shock absorbers, significantly reducing the force of an unexpected tug. (springeramerica.com, petego.com)
Keep in mind that hot, rough or asphalt roads may be abrasive to paw pads, so start slowly and, where possible, ride on trails or along grassy or sandy shoulders. Also remember that cycling/running can be thirsty work, so carry a good supply of water and a bowl for your dog to drink from. Water bottle carriers that screw into your bike frame can accommodate 20-ounce water bottles or common plastic bottles up to 48 ounces. If you are going off the beaten track or on tour you may want to consider a water bladder (MSR Dromedary) or a water filtration system (Katadyn).
Dogs on Wheels
With a growing interest in sustainable transport, the full potential of the bicycle (and indeed the tricycle) is starting to be realized. Recreational toys are being turned into practical tools, and more and more ways of carrying children, pets and cargo are becoming available. Here are some of the dogfriendly options:
• Baskets and carriers are suitable for carrying smaller dogs, and usually attach to the handlebars or back rack of a regular bicycle. (cynthiastwigs.com, solvitproducts.com)
• Specialized dog trailers are suitable for carrying medium to large dog: Quality, prices, features and weight capacities can vary widely. A good indication of trailer quality is the warranty, which can vary from 30 days to a lifetime. (burley, cycletote.com, doggyride.com)
• Longtail cargo bikes are similar to normal bikes, except the back wheel has been moved back about 15 inches. The extended area behind the seat allows for more storage options, a bigger basket and a bigger dog (up to around 30 lbs.).
• Trikes often have the advantage of a cargo area in front of you, allowing you to keep an eye on your dog. The heavier frames are more suited to flat and undulating terrain. (Bakfiets — available through U.S. dealers)
Which option you choose depends on your budget, where you plan to ride, the terrain you will be riding on and your dog’s size and personality. Some dogs hate the feeling of being confined, while others find it secure and relaxing.
To ease your dog into life with a bicycle, start with short trips somewhere fun. Add a favorite blanket, reward them with treats and make it a positive experience. Harness them in safely, so there is room to move, but without any danger of falling out. Maintain patience and a desire to experiment.
Why Cycle with Dogs?
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
A dog with a job makes the perfect hiking partner
Trying to hitch a ride from Kennedy Meadows to the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead at Sonora Pass in the eastern Sierra, we didn’t see our handsome dog Ely as liability. Who wouldn’t want to pick up a nice couple—freshly showered, with laundered clothes—and their fuzzy, backpack-sporting dog?
Every car that passed, that’s who. Cars sped by, but still, no one stopped.
Finally, a pick-up truck slowed down. Three happy dogs vied for window space. The driver told us to hop in. “Good looking dog,” he said, pointing to Ely.
My husband Tom got in the back with Ely, and I sat up front with the driver and his dogs. It turned out that the driver had picked us up because he liked the look of our dog. So Ely really had been an asset, not just hiking the trails, but also, hitchhiking the highway.
At the Sonora Pass parking lot, I walked to the back of the truck to grab my pack and we started our 80-mile hike home to Tahoe. We continued up the pass, past the snow-patched, volcanic Leavitt Peak and granitic Tower Peak etched into the southern sky. When the trail crested the saddle, we could see aquamarine Wolf Lake nestled in the rocks below; the forested Carson-Iceberg Wilderness stretched beyond. Clouds had already begun to form on the horizon.
At home, Ely barks his head off at any sign of bear, coyote, squirrel or human. If a stranger happens to try to walk up our driveway, Ely springs into protection mode, barking, and eventually, if the warning is not heeded, biting. These are the kinds of things that we see as bad-dog behavior, antisocial problems that have resulted in complaints from neighbors and visits from animal control and even the police. These same behaviors become good-dog behaviors when Ely is on the trail.
Ely would never show aggression to a passing hiker, but once he’s tied up at our campsite, watch out. He stays up all night protecting us from all manner of bear and chipmunk. Though we bring a bear canister, no bear has ever gotten close to our food with Ely around. And strange humans elicit the greatest response, with is fine by me, especially if I’m hiking alone.
Ely was a rescue, formerly known as Buddy. And before that, Yeti. And before that, possibly Cujo. He had cycled through at least three households—places that we have since learned must not have been very nice to him. My husband and I had been trolling Petfinder.com separately, and we each came to the other, saying we thought we may have found “the one.” We showed each other pictures of the same dog, a smiling Chow/Shepherd/Elk Hound. He was scheduled to be at an adoption fair at the Petco in Carson City. “Let’s just go down and check him out,” my husband said. “We need running shoes anyway.”
We both knew that neither of us could just go “check out” a dog without bringing him home, but the people at Petco said this was a very special dog. They said we would have to fill out an application to get on a waiting list, and we wouldn’t be able to take him home right away.
The lady at Petco asked about my elderly dog, Riva, whom we had brought with us to make sure the dogs got along. When she found out that Riva had undergone TPLO on both legs—a $7,000 expense—she told us, “You can take Buddy home!”
“But I thought there was a waiting list.”
“You’re at the top,” she said, looking down at smiling, 14-year-old Riva. “He’s yours. You can take him home now.”
We didn’t buy running shoes that day, but we did end up with a dog.
On the car ride home, the newly named Ely squeezed himself out of the car window. I grabbed his hind legs and dragged him back in as we sped down the highway. Then my husband and I decided to stop at the dog park on the way home. To this day, I am not sure why we did this. With all the trails and open space in Lake Tahoe, there is no real reason to ever visit a dog park. Having a new dog apparently muddled our thinking.
Neither dog seemed interested in socializing with the other dogs. However, Ely trotted over to a seven-foot-tall man in a motorcycle jacket and leather riding chaps. He circled the man, then lifted his leg and peed on him. Proud of his efforts, he did a celebratory after-pee kick, showering the man’s urine-drenched pants with wood chips. We apologized, telling the man that we had just gotten this dog, that we didn’t really know him—he was just barely ours. This did nothing to appease him; he scoffed at us as he tried to wash off in the drinking fountain.
This was just the beginning of Ely helping us make friends.
Ely quickly showed signs of food aggression and guarding, so we fed the dogs separately. Full of wanderlust, Ely taught himself to scale the roof of my two-story A-frame and slide down the other side to the unfenced part of the yard. Once he attained freedom, he took himself for a long walk by the river. When I saw the movie Marley and Me, my first thought was, That’s nothing! Ely makes Marley look like a furry saint. Riva would just look at Ely and shake her head.
But put a pack on Ely, and he is the best hiking companion we could ask for. Ely looks forward to wearing his pack, and once it’s on, he’s all business. Passing hikers exclaim, “He has his own pack. How cute!” but Ely marches by, logging 20 miles a day without complaint. Depending on the terrain, we put his hiking booties on, too, and then he’s a real showstopper. “That dog’s wearing shoes!” people will say. One PCT thru-hiker even said in earnest, “I love your dog. No, really, I love him,” while another thru-hiker whose trail name was Train and who wore a wedding dress (one of the 26 he brought with him on his journey) featured Ely on his blog. While Ely doesn’t exactly love his shoes, and if he wears them too long, he’ll get blisters (like we do), they save his pads on shale and sharp granite.
With his backpack and booties, he’s not only cute, he’s a dog with a job. And as my friend Sandra says, “A dog without a job is a bad dog.” We often forget that dogs are animals. Their affinity for humans has helped them survive on an evolutionary level, but they are still animals with animal instincts. As we have learned from Ely, a questionable puppyhood will hone instincts that clash with household rules. But give a dog a job and those instincts will work for everyone. The behaviors that make Ely a very bad dog—his tirelessness and desire to protect us—make him the perfect hiking partner in the backcountry. Aside from offering us his protection and packing our trash (along with his own food), Ely helps us live in the moment. Backpacking is, after all, a metaphor for life: many miles of slow progression punctuated by moments of excitement and epiphany, beauty and bliss.
We descended into the valley of the East Fork of the Carson River, where we stopped for a splash in one of the many pools along the way and enjoyed a creek-side lunch and nap.
After a few days along the Carson, the trail then climbed again along a wildflower-decorated ridge, offering views of the granitic valley below. In another couple of days, we reached the Ebbetts Pass area, where Kinney Lakes offered good camping. Our route then climbed through another surreal volcanic landscape, craggy cliffs notching the Sierra sky. The trail clung to the edge of this ancient volcanic flow, with its rusty pinnacles hovering above like the spires of gothic cathedrals; Indian paintbrush, pennyroyal and mule ears scattered flashes of orange, purple and yellow across an otherwise rocky landscape.
We followed the trail back into the forest, passing a chain of alpine lakes that we all enjoyed swimming in. At the Forestdale divide, we entered the Mokelumne Wilderness, and leashed Ely to comply with wilderness regulations. We traversed the edge of Elephants Back, catching views of the appropriately named Nipple to the southeast and hulking Round Top Peak ahead. The afternoon sun drained us all, especially Ely, who struggled to find shade in the treeless landscape. There would be no place for a belly soak until we reached the saddle and arrived at Frog Lake, so we took off his pack and Tom carried it. I poured the rest of my drinking water over him, hoping it would help. Still, he didn’t want to get up and hike. Sitting there in the sun wasn’t going to work either.
“Try giving him treats,” I said.
Tom took the treats from Ely’s pack and set them in front of him. He ate a few and looked up at us.
“Give him some more,” I said.
Tom gave him a few more, and Ely ate them and then picked himself up off the ground and continued walking. I was relieved; it is one thing to carry his pack, another thing entirely to carry him. But Ely wasn’t overheated, just low on energy, which happens to us all when we spend the day hiking. Considering the exposed ridge of Elephants Back, we were lucky to have the sun. We would not have been able to safely cross the ridge in a lightning storm.
At the saddle, we stopped for a late lunch and a dip in Frog Lake before continuing across Carson Pass. The trail skirted along the side of Red Lake Peak through granite, aspen, juniper and wildflowers until it reached a small pond. Beyond it, we caught our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe—in Mark Twain’s words, “The fairest picture the whole earth affords.” Seeing the lake made us feel like we were already home. At Meiss Meadow, we turned off the PCT and followed the Tahoe Rim Trail toward Round Lake and Big Meadow.
Every day, we hiked as many miles as we could until the afternoon storms forced us to find shelter. Some days, we found a safe spot in a strand of trees, where we would sit on our packs and wait out the lightning. Once the skies cleared, we’d continue hiking until dusk, locate a campsite, feed Ely, then feed ourselves. Ely slept until we got into our tent and then woke up for his all-night patrol duty.
Each afternoon storm seemed more violent than the one of the day before, but the reprieve that last afternoon made us think that maybe the weather pattern had changed.
We woke up at Round Lake and headed for home, more than 20 miles away, hiking the easy three miles to the highway before breakfast. We crossed Highway 89, ate granola and then started up the grade to Tucker Flat. It was still early, but gray clouds tumbled over the pine-swathed horizon.
I asked Tom if he thought we should keep going.
“What are our choices?” he asked.
“I don’t know … turn around? Call someone to pick us up at the Big Meadow parking lot?”
“No way,” Tom said. “I want to hike home.” Ely seemed to agree.
So we continued up the pass. Clouds laddered the sky, shadowed by the first roll of thunder; white flashes ignited the sky. The rain started, and I said, “We’d better find cover.”
The trail clung to the edge of the ridge, exposed. The distance between thunderclaps and flashes narrowed. The gray sky fell as rain, then hail, soaking and then freezing us.
“Here,” Tom said, pointing to a small outcropping of rocks. We crawled under the granite and sat on our packs. The boulders had fallen down the side of the mountain and leaned against one another, creating a space beneath just big enough for the three of us.
The hail bounced into our small cave, but for the most part, we stayed dry. I looked down at Ely, who saw this as the perfect opportunity for a nap. I wanted to be more like him. We couldn’t do anything other than what we were doing—sitting on our packs in what we thought was the safest spot around—so what good would panicking do? Dogs live in the moment, not fearing the real or imagined dangers of the future. This is probably why we love them so much. They teach us how to be happy where we are, even if where we are is squatting in lightning position, rain and hail soaking our skin and fur.
“Is this safe?” I asked.
“Safest place around,” Tom said.
“But we’re right under that giant red fir,” I pointed. “And what if lightning strikes the granite above us? Won’t we get ground splash?”
“We’re okay,” Tom said. Really, we were in the best place within a terrible set of options—the front had moved in too quickly for us to make it back down the exposed ridge. Hovering under this outcropping of rocks was better than standing out on the trail, but just barely.
Rain seeped into the cracks between the granite and fell in curtains around us. That’s when it occurred to me that the water might dislodge the boulders, which would crush us. I tried to concentrate on the smell of wet minerals and earth, of pine sap and sage, but I could smell only my own fear—a mixture of sweat, salt and insect repellent. I pulled my legs up so I wasn’t touching the ground. I tried to see the situation through Ely’s perspective—we were just taking a nap break. Tom had managed to learn a thing or two from Ely; he too had fallen fast asleep. I took out my journal and began to write.
Tom opened an eye and said, “Does it calm you to write?”
I agreed that it did, even though the rain smeared the ink.
That’s when a clap of thunder accompanied a flash of lightning directly overhead, and I yelled, “Frick. Frick. Frick.” Though frick isn’t what I said.
“Stop yelling,” Tom said. “I thought you said writing calmed you.”
“I am calm. This is as much calm as I can manage.”
“Are you sure we’re safe here?”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do, so you might as well get some sleep,” he said, and nodded off again. Ely adjusted his position under his pack and let out a sleepy sigh.
Water pooled beneath my pack. The hail had turned to rain, blurring out the forest with its gray veil. Even the air held a smell of burning things, of fire and ash.
Nothing reminds you of your own mortality like a lightning storm—a sky cracking open. Unless, of course, you’re a dog. Then life is here in the present tense, where even if there’s imminent danger, there’s no reason not to be happy. I worry so much that I’ve practically reached professional status, and I am here to say that worrying has never saved me from anything, except maybe happiness.
The hail started again and lightning flashed so close that I could see the after-image in the sky. Tom woke up and said, “Another front moving through. We’re probably going to get some close hits.” This is not something anyone hovering under a pile of rocks in a lightning storm wants to hear.
I counted between the flashes and the claps of thunder. Each one less than a second apart. “Frick,” I shouted again.
“Shhh! With love.” I have always hated being told to be quiet, so this is the way we have come up with for Tom to tell me when I’m being too loud. Which is often.
“I can’t help it.”
“Keep writing,” he said.
The creek bubbled with its white noise. The dog remained unbothered, curled in a ball, asleep. Unflappable dog, unflappable husband. Panic-stricken me.
A mosquito landed on my knee, also seemingly unbothered by the storm as she looked for a way to drill into my skin with her proboscis. I admired her fearlessness as I brushed her away.
The worst of the storm rumbled off into the distance. “Let’s go,” Tom said. We got our packs on and climbed the ridge toward Tucker Flat. A soaked chipmunk lay twitching on the trail, had perhaps fallen from a lightning-struck fir. I could not help but think, That could have been me. The blackened trees charted a history of fire and storm. “I think we should pick up the pace,” I said. I am famously slow except when lightning is involved.
Dusk fell, and we followed the yellow spray of our headlamps. The forest hunched over us, and I jumped away from a bullfrog in the path, an animal I had never before seen in Tahoe. I thought of something E.L. Doctorow said: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” This has gotten me through writing books and now it would get me through hiking home at night in the rain. I could see only a few feet in front of me, but I knew that after enough dark steps, I would reach the front door of our house. Ely ambled along, wagging his tail. If Ely could make the choice to be happy, so could I.
“I love hiking with you and Ely,” I told Tom.
“I love hiking with Ely, too. And I love having you in my life.” Rather than to try to decide if this was Tom’s way of getting out of telling me he loved hiking with me, too, I told my mind to Shh! With love, and like Ely, accepted everything for what it was.
Dog's Life: Travel
From Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico—river life with a dog.
Tischer’s travel plans were solidified the moment my feet hit the beach. She had gained more than 10 pounds, spending much of the previous 97 days lying in the sun behind wooden bars, taunted by squirrels on my parents’ deck instead of running, swimming and cuddling with me.
She had been staying with my family because there was no way she’d ever sit still in the back hatch of my sea kayak for 1,200 miles. My 2010 expedition on Lake Superior wasn’t meant for a canoe, and a medium-sized dog wasn’t meant for a sea kayak.
Still, she was jaded, and it showed my first night back when she snubbed me, opting to sleep on my brother’s bed instead of mine. I promised her that on the next big trip, she was coming with me.
The Mississippi River is barely as wide as a 16-foot canoe when it leaves Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota. It was an especially shallow stream in early September 2013 when, for our first two days from the river’s source, I walked, dragged and lugged our heavily loaded canoe over beaver dams and through thick beds of wild rice. Tischer waded inquisitively between the banks, rock hopping and investigating long strands of vegetation curving gently in the soft current. As she explored, she only once looked up as she stood beside me midstream in only four inches of water, to see me sweating and exhausted.
Our goal was the Gulf of Mexico, 2,320 river miles downstream. Between here and there, we would paddle through a cross section of American culture. The river’s volume and use would increase; the distance between her steep, muddy banks would eventually widen; and the occasional bass-fishing boat would give way to barges the length of 5 football fields.
From the moment I started planning this trip, my main focus and concern was Tischer. Her experience would be different than mine. Life on the river was more likely to include long naps, big meals and lots of watching.
In the last of the fall warmth, Tischer eventually settled into the routine of being on the water. After two weeks of eating, sleeping and paddling outside, she began to adjust—or maybe she was just too exhausted to resist the program any longer.
She was my guard dog, instinctively spending her nights sleeping lightly, on alert for threats in the forests where our tent was tucked. Luckily, naptime came often during the many hours of paddling each day.
For the first 500 miles, the river, flanked by homes and docks, was frequently shallow and calm enough for her to wade alongside me. Below the Twin Cities, she found segments of uninhabited, vegetation-thick shoreline, and would run parallel to me, climbing over stumps or briefly swimming around thickets that extended into the river. After St. Louis, when the flow tripled, low water conditions presented miles-long sandbars, perfect for camping and unhindered running.
When hunter’s guns were silent and it wasn’t raining, her favorite spot in the boat was on top of the deck cover, which spanned the width of the bow. She rested here on her personal hammock, watching the changing landscape and feeling the rhythm of my paddle strokes. (She also took an accidental swim from this perch, flopping into the current as the result of an ill-placed paw at the 1,000-mile mark.)
She was normally calm and quiet, so when she started squirming or staring at me, I knew she needed a break from the boat. One time, in a hurry to get ashore, she launched off the bow seat toward the mud, punching a hole through the seat’s cane weave with her paw.
As reward for her tolerance and enthusiasm, whenever I ate out, so did she. At a riverside brewpub in Iowa, an unsympathetic server wouldn’t let me order a cheeseburger from the kid’s menu for her: “If you aren’t ordering it for your kid, then you can’t order it!” I begrudgingly relented and asked for a second burger special. Like the rest of the meals we shared—cheesy hash browns, egg sandwiches, pasta dinners—it was worth it, and it was our way of celebrating our effort together.
Tischer’s surrogate mother and my partner, Natalie, joined us two months into the trip, just before Tischer’s seventh birthday. Natalie’s seat as the bow paddler moved Tischer to the duff position, in the dead center of the boat. It was roomier than the bow and allowed Tischer to curl into the contours of the canoe better, but also meant that Natalie and I constantly had to counter her weight by shifting to the opposite side of the boat.
I cursed the cold and the wind often on this trip. When the waves got big, the barges too close, or I badly needed to use the bushes, so too did I curse Tischer back to the middle of our canoe. More often than I’d like to admit. Maybe extending her head over the side was her way of dealing with my stress. Unfortunately, in those moments, it only created more.
Mostly, though, our time on the Big Muddy was relaxed and full of adventure. Natalie first noticed the scratching, but Tischer was the one who excitedly discovered the stowaway mouse in a coiled rope; the mouse found itself relocated 11 miles downstream. To keep Tischer warm, we cuddled closer as a family in our sleeping bags during the below-freezing nights. Routine also dictated that when we landed on a sandbar to stretch, within seconds, we’d all be peeing side by side. It was river life.
We went through 29 locks and dams, and Tischer’s discomfort with them grew with each passing. The operator at Lock 5 sent down two dog treats, which she gobbled up, but she wouldn’t be seduced so easily. The final lock was the worst, eerily creaking and groaning as we dropped nearly 40 feet within its massive concrete chamber. Not knowing how horrifying it would sound but realizing Tischer’s anxiousness at this point, I had moved my large dry bag and slid her back between my legs for the 30-minute lowering. My closeness didn’t help much, unfortunately.
To boot, the Old River Lock led us away from the Mississippi and into the Atchafalaya River Basin, the largest swamp in the U.S. It was dark and I was suddenly paranoid, worried about alligators lurching out of the shallows at Tischer. Easy domestic prey, I figured.
My fears subsided over the next few days, as the temperatures remained too chilly and cloudy for gators to be active. Three days before we reached the open ocean, however, that changed. Natalie spotted the first one, barely four feet long, sunning itself on the steep bank. I stared, open-mouthed. It was my first gator sighting, and although Tischer didn’t notice it before it slid back into the water, all I could think about was the possible danger to her.
Within 30 minutes, another one—this time bigger—lay camouflaged in leaves and mud. By the time we spotted the next gator (thoroughly dead and longer than our canoe even with its head cut off) my anxiety level was through the roof! Natalie could sense this as, time after time, I suggested we just pee from the canoe instead of stopping on shore. “We can’t not get out of the boat until we reach the Gulf,” she offered, which was hardly reassuring.
The trip’s last days turned out to be gorgeous and gator-free. Finally, the Louisiana weather delivered what we had expected and our skin again felt the sun’s warmth. Passing Morgan City, we had many on-water visitors from other motorized boats, surprised to see a canoe with a dog among ocean-going vessels.
Our last campsite, five miles from the mouth of the river on the only spot of solid land left, was covered in seashells. It was December 18, 102 days since leaving the headwaters. We wrapped a strand of Christmas lights around our paddles and before the battery pack died, I snapped a photo of Tischer sitting in their glow while the sun set on the ocean behind her.
I have no doubt that she enjoyed her time on the river. From sand dunes to winery tours, it was wildly packed with new smells, scenes and people, and allowed her to play unhindered for three months. She became a complete river dog; short of joining a coyote pack, she couldn’t have been freer. More than these things, though, she loved the river life because she was with me. I knew that because I felt the same way about her.
After our brief post-trip time in New Orleans, we hit the road for the winterized northland, Tischer snug on her blanket in the back seat. It was obvious that she was mesmerized by our speed and looking for a gunwale to rest her chin on.
We arrived at a Christmas Eve gathering to the surprise of family and friends. As we walked in, my mother exclaimed to the filled room, “You guys! This dog just canoed the entire Mississippi River!”
Bemused, Natalie and I looked at each other, and then joined in praising Tischer’s accomplishment.
Dog's Life: Travel
Tower Hill Botanic Garden, in Boylston, Mass., has launched their 2014 Tails ’n Trails program, which encourages dog lovers to hike with their leashed dogs on Tower Hill’s splendid woodland trails. Their theme this year is health and wellness and, as Kathy Abbott, executive director, observes, “What better way to experience the outdoors than a walk with your dog?” Their dog-walking trail includes a beautiful one-mile loop past the Wildlife Refuge Pond and Inner Park that features hundreds of species of trees and plants and a variety of birds. For times and dates, see towerhillbg.org.
Dog's Life: Travel
On-the-road advice for a safe Memorial Day weekend.
Memorial Day means warm weather, a weekend getaway and, of course, plenty of driving. If you plan on making the weekend trek with your dog, here are a few important tips to ensure everyone has a safe and happy vacation:
Keep your dog secure. You wouldn’t let a person ride unrestrained in your car, and you shouldn’t let your dog, either. Dogs should ride in the backseat, away from the dashboard and safe from airbags, and there are a few options for keeping them secure: Use a full-body safety harness that attaches to your car’s seatbelt to keep your dog buckled into the backseat. (Do not use a restraint that attaches only to your dog’s collar.) Keep your dog in a well-ventilated crate or carrier—one that’s large enough for your dog to stand up, sit and lie down in. Or use a secured barrier to keep your dog safe in the cargo area—provided that cargo area isn’t an enclosed trunk. Also, if your dog has to ride in the bed of your truck, a crate securely fastened to the bed is your safest option.
Keep heads and ears inside the vehicle. Your pup may love the sensation of wind whipping through her ears. What she won’t love is a piece of gravel hitting her face at 40 mph. Those little bits of road debris can turn into dangerous projectiles at high speeds. Make sure your dog can’t poke her head out the window, and keep those rear windows locked so she can’t lower them by accident.
Bring her ID. Make sure that your dog wears her collar and tags at all times. In addition to a tag with your home contact information, make her a travel tag with your cell phone number, destination phone number and any other relevant contact information, and keep a recent photo of your dog on hand. Also, if you are planning to have your dog microchipped, now would be a good time to do it.
Pack a first aid kit. Cuts and scrapes can happen as easily on vacation as they can in the home. Pack a first aid kit—some companies sell pre-made kits, or you can make your own based on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s checklist—and be sure to keep it somewhere readily accessible (not at the bottom of your suitcase!). Also include any medications that your dog might need on the road, and remember that human medications like ibuprofen can be toxic to dogs. Don’t give your dog any medication without first consulting a veterinarian.
Don’t leave your dog in the car. Never, ever leave your dog unattended in the car. Even with the windows cracked, a car can quickly turn into a furnace on warm days or an icebox on cool days.
Remember to hydrate. Keep water with you on those long car trips (as well as on any hikes or long walks) and make sure your dog takes regular drink breaks. Unfamiliar water may upset your pup’s stomach; bring water from home—or fill up on filtered water at a restaurant—to help prevent tummy troubles.
Bring her vet records. Hotel and campground managers—and even the authorities—may want to see proof of your pup’s vaccinations. Plus, if your dog is injured or falls ill far from home, it will be easier on you and an unfamiliar veterinarian if you have all her records on hand.
Stay leashed. When she’s not in the car, the leash goes on. Remember, your dog is in a strange place with lots of scary and exciting sounds and smells. Even the most well behaved dog can run off and become lost. Staying leashed is a small precaution that ensures you and your dog will be able to enjoy your vacation together.
News: Guest Posts
Bringing Olive Home
Chauncy dog’s fox-red fur adds a touch of warmth to his owner’s New York apartment. In the winter he wears sweaters to keep him warm; African dogs aren’t used to New England winters. On the other side of the world, Boon is exploring the sights and smells of Mumbai, his pointed ears and basenji-inspired form blends in well with the local Indian breeds.
Chauncy and Boon have travelled a long way from their native Burundi. Adopted by diplomats, aid workers and journalists, dogs from developing countries are finding their way around the world at the side of their human companions.
Adopting an East African street dog is a labor of love. East African dogs are remarkably clever animals that do not train easily. Feeding a dog in a place that lacks a culture of animal care, means all meals are hand-cooked. Visiting vets from Uganda or Belgium come to town only occasionally to provide needed check ups, vaccinations and sterilization – though often these surgeries are performed in private homes.
In 2013, I found myself in South Sudan working as a development anthropologist. Juba, the capital city, can be a lonely place full of guarded compounds and ever-running generators. When I saw Olive, a little mess of fur in the street, I knew she needed me as much as I needed her. Despite less-than-ideal living conditions, I brought the pup home.
At eight weeks, Olive was showing signs of malnutrition and her ears were so full of ticks that it took 45 minutes to clean them out. Olive also had bot flies, some of which were so large they obstructed the movements of her joints.
Despite difficult beginnings, Olive grew into a lively and loving dog with lots of energy. She loved to watch over her shoulder as she left muddy paw prints on the tile floors and even learned how to open the front door by herself.
Olive was living a comfortable life in Juba until the security situation changed dramatically. South Sudan seemed to be returning to war and shells and mortar rounds were going off less than a kilometer from our home. Expatriates had to be evacuated—no pets allowed.
Trying to remote-manage the export of a pet from a war zone is no easy feat and it took four, excruciatingly painful months to get Olive out of Juba. South Sudanese friends rallied their support and kept her fed and cared for, but she was lonely and often sat waiting by the gate as though hoping we would come home.
After a herculean effort, Olive made the journey to Nairobi where she is being papered and prepped to fly to Europe to join me. As Chauncy and Boon can attest, there is a special bond between adventure dogs and their humans. It can be difficult to understand why a poorly-paid aid worker or graduate student would go to such lengths to bring their canine companion home, particularly when their lives are built around helping people, not pets. The reality is that Olive, Boon and Chauncey remind us of how connected we are on this planet and the many ways in which protecting the most vulnerable enriches the soul. Raising an East African dog means enlisting the help of everyone around you to ensure quality of life. It introduces the care of animals to those who may otherwise never have experienced the friendship only dogs can give.
When Olive arrives in Paris she will tell a story. She will be a reminder that proves the value of even one little pup—and the impact unconditional love can have on the well being of people, even in the midst of incredible hardship.
In addition to raising funds to bring Olive home, Melyn is raising additional money for the Kenyan SPCA, working to improve the lives of animals across East Africa. Visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bring-adventure-pup-home to read more about her story and what you can do to help.
Dog's Life: Travel
Woman and dog sail the Atlantic Ocean.
Zach didn’t want to go. I was about to embark on the sailing adventure I’d dreamed of for 20 years when the first mate jumped ship.
It was 1991 and we were going from Key West to the Mediterranean by way of Bermuda and the Azores. Departure day was the culmination of weeks of preparation. I had made lists of the lists that had to be finished and things that had to be crossed off. Supplies, new equipment, bottom painted, sails double-stitched, on and on. Finally, it was all done. Friends were on the dock wishing fair winds and bon voyage, but we couldn’t sail because the ship’s dog was on the other side of the marina, dodging the captain’s every effort at capture.
There have been few times in my life that I have been madder at another creature than I was that day at him. This was so unlike Zach—he loved to go sailing, would go into a barking, wiggling, tail-wagging frenzy when the lines were being untied and we were pulling out of the slip. Throughout his whole seven years with me, I had run a charter boat business; he’d been going sailing many times a week since he was a pup.
Finally, he surrendered. I think he finally realized how much trouble he was in. I carried him back to the boat, put him below (not in irons) and closed the hatch. Saying my good-byes, we got underway. It wasn’t until later, when the sails were up, course was set and I had calmed down, that it dawned on me that my crew was saying in the only way he could, “I don’t want to go.”
I’m sure he wasn’t objecting to sailing the Atlantic Ocean. After all, he didn’t know exactly where we were going; he sat on charts, he didn’t read them. It was going offshore—which always happened after this kind of preparation—that he didn’t like. Offshore meant leaving trees, dock pilings and a host of vertical things he could heist his leg on. Zachary did not believe in peeing where he lived. It was, I think, a moral issue with him: You don’t soil your nest. He would hold it into the next day and finally, when he couldn’t stand it any longer, would go stiff and let urine run down his leg. After that, it wasn’t okay, but he was resigned.
This would, of course, make me frantic, since I worried about bladder infections. There are no vets offshore. I would offer an example, squatting myself and peeing all over the deck. “Look, honey,Mommy does it.”He would cut me a look and go below. It was truly no big deal. A bucket of saltwater—god knows we had plenty —one whoosh, and it was out the scuppers. Tell him that.
We also went round and round about his pooping. All sailboats have extra sails tied down at the bow, ready to go up if a change is needed. And this is where he’d choose to poop. To raise one of these sails, you turn into the wind, and the sail flaps wildly going up. Which also sent the poop flying and caused me to swear like a sailor at top volume. I learned to keep my potty mouth shut when, one day, some of Zach’s “offerings” flew into it!
A Close Call
One beautiful afternoon, about 400 miles out from the Azores, things were perfect—the wind was just right and the skies were blue, with puffy tradewind clouds.We were rocking along making good time, right on course. I decided this called for fixing my favorite lunch—yellow food. Eating out of cans is monotonous even when, like me, you can’t cook, but I never got tired of macaroni, tuna and peas.
As I was fooling around down below, waiting for the water to boil, Zachary, who was in the cockpit, started a low, mean-sounding growl. I glanced up at him and saw the hair raised along his spine. He was always on watch for dolphins, gulls and great big imaginations. I said, “Take it easy, big guy, there’s nothing around here for hundreds of miles.” But he kept it up, so, to please him, I popped my head up to see what he was looking at. There was a gigantic sea monster! It was headed right for us.
There are sea monsters in the world, and for small sailboats, they’re called freighters. I dived for the engine switch, pushed the throttle down hard, threw the tiller over and got the hell out of there at a 90 degree angle. I watched the freighter’s wake and saw that it never changed course or speed. The big ships are run by computers, and the lookout, if there is one, is watching for something big enough to hurt the ship. This one wouldn’t even have noticed running us down. The thing was huge; it was like a city going by. The flag of registry—red with a hammer and sickle—flying off the back was as big as a house. She was a Russian ship bound for the Americas. I could’ve used a jolt of vodka myself about then.
When my heart rate returned to something compatible with life, I was able to fix and eat my yellow food, but the crew dined on a large can of chicken breast, a meal befitting the best lookout and first mate in the whole Atlantic Ocean.
Zach wore a bandanna (regular collars stayed wet too long) and it was a measure of his charm that someone was always adding to his collection. He had all colors and designs. As we started to motor out of the Horta, Azores, marina, someone I didn’t know came running down the dock behind us, yelling in a heavy accent, “Come back, come back!” Now, sailboats are not made for backing up, there wasn’t room to turn, and we were surrounded by multimillion-dollar yachts, but this guy was excited. I slowed, shifted into reverse, and made a wobbly, nervewracking retreat to the dock.He wanted to give Zach a bandanna and have one last chance to pet him! I didn’t remember the guy, and don’t think I made much of an impression on him either. He barely spoke to me, but he was sure sorry to see Zach go.
Something similar happened later when we were in Spain. An older English couple on holiday had heard about us and knocked on the boat late one night after we had gone to bed. I sleepily went on deck to see what they wanted; Zach, for once in his life, stayed below. They chatted me up briefly about the Atlantic trip, and then there was a long, awkward pause. Finally, the woman said, “Really, luv, we came to see the dog.”
The dog and I had many more adventures; he was always up for anything new, always in a good mood, never borrowed money, never got drunk. Zach was truly the best first mate on any ocean.
Dog's Life: Travel
On the road with Kelly E. Carter and Lucy
Kelly E. Carter, who’s visited more than 40 countries on six continents, has serious travel cred. She also loves dogs, especially her long-time companion, Lucy. Lucky for her, she’s able to indulge both passions. Lucky for us, she writes about them in her newest book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel. Recently, she took time to answer a few questions—actually, a lot of questions!
Q: What kinds of changes in dog-friendly travel have you seen in the past 10 years?
A: It has gotten easier! The quarantine rules in the United Kingdom and Hawaii are among the biggest changes. Two years ago, the UK brought its procedures into line with the European Union, thus allowing pets to enter or re-enter the UK from any country in the world without quarantine as long as they meet certain requirements. Hawaii, the only rabies-free state in the U.S., still has a 120-day quarantine but several years ago, implemented a five-day-or-less release program that allows people to take their pets with them after they arrive. But you must start the process more than four months in advance, and it isn’t cheap. Australia also just reduced its quarantine from 30 days to 10 days, which is still long, but it’s a start.
Another difference is the level of amenities lavished on pets at hotels. Doggie room-service menus, massages and canine concierges are just some of the perks for four-legged guests. Guest-room phones at the Hotel Palomar, a Kimpton hotel in Dallas, even have a “pet concierge” button for pet-related requests. While it used to be very hard to find a dog-friendly hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas, now, you have quite a selection—the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Four Seasons, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, Vdara and six hotels under the Caesars Entertainment umbrella boast pet-friendly status. All have designated outdoor areas for dogs, which is a necessity in a place like Las Vegas, where the Strip is often crowded (plus, dogs are only allowed there between 5 a.m. and noon) and there isn’t an abundance of grass.
Q: What do you look for when you fly with Lucy?
A: I always check seatguru.com before I purchase my ticket to find out if a particular aircraft has reduced legroom. If I’m flying business or first class, I make sure Lucy is allowed as well. Many airlines with lie-flat beds in their premium cabins only allow pets in coach because of rules that require all carry-on bags to be stowed for takeoff and landing. Some airlines, such as American Airlines and Swiss Air, will put pet carriers elsewhere for takeoff and landing, which is great.
I haven’t put Lucy in the cargo hold and would try to avoid doing so, but I know many people have no choice but to transport their pets this way. While it helps that the Department of Transportation requires airlines to file monthly reports on incidents involving the loss, injury or death of animals, the reports don’t prevent uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations. I always advise people who want to take their pets with them to research all their options.
Q: What do you look for in a dog-friendly hotel?
A: While cute dog dishes and plush beds are very much appreciated, what I really value is printed information on local pet services, such as veterinarians and groomers, dog boutiques, dog-friendly restaurants, and dog parks. I’m also grateful when hotels have a designated area for dogs to take care of their business, with pick-up bags and a trash receptacle. Some hotels pride themselves on not having trashcans throughout the common areas, and I’ve ended up taking a poop bag back to my room.
Q: What’s been your most memorable stay?
A: Domestically, it was at Palm Springs’ La Quinta Resort & Club, where Lucy and I enjoyed a “Me & My Best Buddy” massage, a side-by-side treatment in the Canine Suite. What a terrific bonding experience that was. We were there during the holidays a couple of years ago, and there must have been at least 20 other dogs staying at the hotel. There were dogs everywhere, and I had a ball playing with pooches of all sizes. It warmed my heart to see so many dogs included in families’ holiday travels.
Internationally, it was at the Palais Hansen Kempinski in Vienna. I was blown away by the attention showered on Lucy. The staff found her photo online before we arrived. When we checked into our suite, there was a brochure with Lucy on the cover, listing an array of local dog services, boutiques and an in-room doggie-dining menu. She had turndown service, which included fresh bottled water in her bowl and a personalized note card with pink hearts wishing her sweet dreams. When we checked out, the hotel surprised me with a framed gallery of photos that included Lucy and several of Vienna’s top attractions, as well as a note thanking Lucy for her stay. These perks are standard for all pet-toting travelers.
Q: What separates a four-star from a one-star stay?
A: Although one-star hotels can’t offer the pet amenities and services that four-star hotels do, they can offer the same love to canines. Pats on my dog’s head from the housekeeping staff and a smile from the front desk clerk when I take Lucy out for a walk go a long way in brightening my stay at budget hotels.
These days, travelers can expect a lot at four-star hotels. Pick-up bags should be at the front desk or bell stand. The concierge should know where the closest dog park is, be able to tell me the name of the closest pet boutique without looking it up and suggest a few dog-friendly restaurants and pet sitters. Bonus points for sharing info on dog-walking and dog-sitting services.
Q: What was one of your most important lessons about traveling with dogs?
A: Know the law before you go. As just a small example, if you’re accustomed to feeding your dog from the table, you may be surprised to find that some cities require dogs to be on the outside of a railing of a dog-friendly restaurant, not at your feet, and that feeding dogs at some pet-friendly restaurants is a no-no.
Q: When you’re in another country, does having a dog make it easier or more difficult to navigate?
A: Carrying an American passport may not endear you to foreigners worldwide, but walking a dog often does. Assuming you’re able to communicate in some form, a dog gives you an excuse to strike up a conversation with a local pet person by asking about dog parks or where to buy food.
Not long after Lucy and I moved to Italy in 2003, I met a British woman who had moved into my apartment building in Florence a couple of days before I arrived. A few weeks after getting settled, she and I went out to lunch. Everybody on the street stopped to say hi to me, which shocked my new neighbor. She hadn’t met any locals and couldn’t understand how I had become so popular in such a short time. I told her it was Lucy’s doing. People stopped me so they could play with her. I’ve gotten in good with hotel management because of Lucy as well. Hotels in Nice, Martinique and Amsterdam offered to keep her at the front desk while I left the hotel to work for extended hours.
Q: Have you always had a dog?
A: When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there was never a time when our family didn’t have at least one dog. Over the years, we had a couple of Poodles, a German Shepherd, a St. Bernard, a Husky/German Shepherd mix and three Pit Bulls. Because dogs have always been part of my life, I’ve been keenly aware of their loyalty and companionship for as long as I can remember. I always knew that I would have a dog and would name her Lucy (a family name); “have kids” was never on my to-do list. Timing was the big issue. Ironically, I traveled too much to get a pet when I began my journalism career. I was a sportswriter and on the road all the time, including four years as a beat writer covering the Lakers, every game, home and away.
When I switched to entertainment writing, my travel slowed down just enough that I could get a small dog to accompany me. Though I didn’t plan on it, Lucy served as the icebreaker when I interviewed Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. To this day, every time I see Denzel Washington, he looks inside my purse for Lucy though it’s been 12 years since he first met her. I’ve been in a relationship for the last three years, but before that, I was a die-hard singleton who came home to an empty house and was always alone in hotel rooms until I brought Lucy into my life. Although she’s as aloof as a cat, she’s such a hoot—her tiny stature is paired with a big personality and a high opinion of herself. Sometimes I think I’m going to squeeze her to death because I hug her so hard.
Q: Have you ever had a larger dog?
A: Four years before getting Lucy, I had a Sheltie named Deena for a couple of months. A friend gave her to me, then took her back. That’s another story! I didn’t have her long enough to take any trips with her, but she accompanied me plenty around LA. She was so sweet and beautiful. I’m still partial to Shelties. Maybe I’ll get one at some point! But for now, I get my fix as a volunteer at Pets Unlimited’s animal shelter in San Francisco. Every so often, there’s a big dog at the shelter and even if I’m not scheduled to walk it, I find time to socialize with the pooch.
I’m so jealous of people whose four-legged friends can keep up with them during outdoor activities. I know some small dogs can do it, but my Lucy is not one of them, especially at 13. I take her to Alta Plaza Park in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights almost every morning just so I can gaze at the big dogs playing fetch. Then I power walk at Crissy Field, where I smile at the big dogs running in the water and playing on the beach with their guardians. One day, that will be me, I think to myself.
Kelly’s (Off-the-Beaten Track) Picks
If you travel with your co-pilot, you know that Carmel, Provincetown and Taos are among the top go-to destinations. We asked Kelly for tips on places with charms that were perhaps not quite so well known, and she shared a few of her discoveries.
Savannah, which has grown in popularity in recent years, has dog fountains in some of its squares and welcomes dogs in some museums. And a few of its pedicab drivers will double as dog sitters so their people can sightsee. (More here.)
Colorado Springs has an unbelievable number of dog-friendly attractions, not to mention Bear Creek Dog Park, one of the best.
Washington’s Yakima Valley has a slew of dog-friendly wineries. Lake Placid is heavenly for dogs all year long. A dog will never grow bored in Banff. And I was surprised to find what a terrific place Huntington Beach is for dogs.
Pick up or download a copy of Kelly’s new book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, for more places to explore. To learn more about Kelly visit kellyecarter.com or go to TheJetSetPets.com for a host of great travel tips and resources.
Dog's Life: Travel
Care and boarding alternatives.
If chartering a private plane so your dog can see the world with you seems reasonable, you’re either very wealthy or really love traveling with your pup. Since most of us don’t have a Learjet at our disposal, eventually there will come a time when we’ll have to leave our dogs behind while we embark on extended travel (a week or longer).
The best way to ensure that your time away is fun and stress-free for both you and your dog is to have a good game plan in advance of departure. Though dogs have very different personalities, maintaining a sense of normalcy and routine during owner absences is beneficial for every type of dog.
Also, a confident, happy dog will have a much easier time with an extended absence than one who has had little socialization—one of the many reasons training and socialization are beneficial for dogs and humans alike. A visit to a familiar dog park will reconnect your dog with well-known scents, activities and other canine friends.
Recently, we spoke with Abbie Mood, Canine Behavior Science and Technology diplomate/owner of Communicate with Your Dog in Westminster, Colo., who offered some useful insights.
Mood stresses the importance of maintaining a routine with your dog. “Anyone who has a dog likely wonders how the dog knows when it’s time for dinner, for a walk, to go to sleep. It’s because your dog has a routine. Keeping this sense of normalcy is a good way to help your dog stay on schedule and feel a bit more comfortable in your absence. For some dogs, especially those with separation anxiety, the preparation and the leaving ritual themselves can induce anxiety, so varying your [pre-trip] routine can be helpful. The best thing you can do to prepare your dog is to set up the logistics ahead of time so you aren’t rushing around at the last minute, and staying relaxed yourself.”
When it comes to care, the best-case scenario is one in which the dog remains at home with a trusted friend or family member; second-best is a pet sitter. As Mood notes, “Being able to be in the home environment is the best situation. That being said, a dog who is distressed or shows anxiety while you are gone (tearing things up, urinating or defecating indoors), will probably do better staying with a friend or family member who is home more often, or even at a doggie day care, where [he or she] will be around other dogs and people all the time.”
Clearly, having an established network of trusted, responsible pet sitters can make your absence much easier on your dog. Familiar human and canine friends can greatly reduce a dog’s anxiety, especially if the dogs already share a bond. For this reason alone, it’s worth volunteering to watch your friends’ dogs to help establish your own dog’s sense of comfort with being part of another “pack” for a time.
Whether your dog is staying at your home or a friend’s house, making a list of detailed instructions is very important. “If a pet sitter is coming to your house, make a list of phone numbers— the vet, poison control, closest friend or family member (think about the list you would create for a babysitter). Also, write out instructions for feeding, exercise, special requests/requirements, or any reminders that might be important (don’t let the dog meet other dogs, the location of the closest dog park and so forth),” suggests Mood.
Dogs have incredible scent memory, so it also can be helpful to provide a shirt, blanket or other article of clothing with your scent. Some people even leave a “fresh” used shirt to be introduced at some point through their time away. Boarding at a kennel is another option, and for some dogs, the chance to play with other pups all day is as fun as it gets. However, it’s best to give your dog a few nights at a trusted kennel before your trip so the change isn’t as abrupt.
Whether your choice is pet sitter, day care or kennel, do your due diligence before making a decision. Mood says that while she asks candidates “tons” of questions, the most important relate to discipline and training policies. “If they are going to be walking your dog, how do they practice looseleash walking? What happens if two dogs get in a scuffle? Can you handle my dog with anxiety/dog-dog aggression/door dashing? Other questions might include, can you administer my dog’s medicine or accommodate a special diet? For a doggie day care (or kennel), always tour the entire facility—they shouldn’t have anything to hide.”
A trusted friend, family member, pet sitter or kennel staff member, or other friendly face will keep your dog in good spirits, as will mingling with canine friends. While your dog will, of course, notice your absence, extra attention or longer walks can help. And once you’ve found reliable and trustworthy pet sitters or other services, stick with them.
Sometimes being apart is tougher on the human than on the dog. Luckily, technology gives us ways to deal with this. “Regular check-ins with the pet sitter, getting photos from family or friends, or even Skyping or Facetiming with your dog can help the person,” says Mood. “Some doggie day cares have [real-time] video, or at least post pictures throughout the day, which can put your mind at ease. It is important to find someone you trust so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s safety and well-being. If you are trying a new sitter/day care/kennel, do your research ahead of time, and trust your instincts. If there’s anything you don’t like, find a new source!”
Finally, establish a budget in advance, not only to pay for care but also to provide cash on hand for emergencies or if supplies run low (though you’ll be stocking up on food, treats and pick-up bags before you leave).
While parting with your dog can be such sweet sorrow, having a system to keep him or her happy and healthy in your absence will make your travels much easier. Yes, it’s quite normal to miss your dog, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Plan ahead and look forward to a joyous reunion upon your return—oh, and be sure to bring home treats!
Dog's Life: Travel
Dogtrekking through the Indian Garhwal
India. Our dream had finally come true.
We did not hesitate for a moment. The dream had just come true, and this was our call. The only obstacle had four paws and a wet nose. But was it a real obstacle? Leaving our dog was not an option. When we’d made the decision to have a dog, we knew she would accompany us everywhere. Even when we heard questions like, “India with a dog? You cannot do it.” Of course we could. After several months of preparation, in mid-January 2013, we landed at the international airport in New Delhi.
We climbed a few times during our stay in Delhi: First, at an outdoor artificial wall in the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Later, outside Gurgaon and New Delhi, at the rocks in Dhauj, a desert area with an old, dried-up lake and 10- to 30-meter-high rocks. Climbers from abroad look like aliens among the women in saris passing by with brushwood on their heads, children herding goats, and “city people” who come to Dhauj to speed up and burn rubber (the flat sandy area is perfect for the motorcycle sports so popular nowadays in India). In the middle of this madness were two Polish climbers and a dog.
Apart from those short climbs outside Delhi, it soon became clear that life in the big Indian city with a dog would be difficult. After three months, we’d had enough. We wanted to go back to Warsaw, a city that seemed gray and dull at our departure. Now, Warsaw shone again in our dreams. We missed the European lifestyle of Poland and Warsaw, but most often, our thoughts turned to the Tatra Mountains, our idyllic place. The decision was made: we would go back. But then it turned out that our “fairy tale from One Thousand and One Nights” was more like Shrek.
How’s that? In the European Union, companion-animal travel is subject to strict laws and regulations in order to avoid spreading or reintroducing rabies. Conditions for the non-commercial movement of pet animals have been harmonized under the rules laid down in Regulation 998/2003 of the European Parliament. Pets should be identified by an electronic identification system (transponder) or by a clearly readable tattoo applied before July 3, 2011. For all travel, the animal needs to be have a passport and have a valid rabies vaccination. Pets coming from third-world countries should have a positive serologic test, a blood sample taken at least 30 days after vaccination and three months before movement. This can be certified only by an approved EU lab. We had all the papers but not the blood test. Nobody told us in Poland that it’s required to reenter the European Union.
So we had to spend another three months in India.
“What shall we do?” we asked each other. Going back and risking quarantine for Diuna was not an option. Easiest solutions are always hardest to find. We thought, Let’s spend those three months in the Himalayas. Let’s go dogtrekking! After all, Garhwal is only 500 kilometers from Delhi.
We bought a tent; packed our backpacks with basic and essential gear; and headed to Munsiari, a town in the border triangle of India, China and Nepal. From there, we headed west on foot, living as nomads on the roof of the world. Most nights we spent in the “many-stars hotel” in our tent; sometimes we sought refuge in Hindu temples, village huts made of clay and stone (which often lack toilets, though a satellite dish is a must) and, rarely, cheap hostels for backpackers. We tried to avoid major hiking trails. All the food for us and our dog we carried in our backpacks, then cooked over a campfire. We did not use porters and guides, traveling on our own.
Every morning, we wake up to a view of the 5-, 6- and 7,000-meter-high peaks of Maiktoli, Bhagirathi, Trisul, Nanda Devi, Shivling. We performbasic duties: pitch a tent, set a campfire, cook, feed Diuna, pack our gear and walk through the mountains with our dog. Clear the mind and follow the sun, forget about our problems and live with nature. Walking up and down, through villages, meadows and high passes, heading west of Garhwal. After 55 days, we have trekked through a Himalayan range (from Munsiari toward Gangotri), walking 500 kilometers (the other 500 kilometers were spent in buses and jeeps). During those two months, we visited 12 Himalayan valleys suspended between 6- and 7,000-meter-high mountain peaks, occasionally losing the trail and surviving moments of true horror at being lost. We have climbed 63 kilometers vertically—it’s like summiting Mount Everest seven times, starting from sea level—accompanied by Diuna, our brave Czechoslovakian Vlcak, the first Polish dog in the Garhwal Himalayas.
One day, on the way to Pindari Valley, an unleashed Diuna (we had to go down a very steep, slippery slope) chased a herd of goats grazing nearby. She was gone for a half-hour. When she finally came back, her jaws and front legs were full of blood. Fear paralyzed us. Had anything happened to her? Maybe she was attacked by another dog defending its goats? Or maybe … no, she could not have hunted. But it turned out to be true. For the first time in her life, Diuna unleashed her wolf ancestors’ instinct to hunt and kill a fleeing animal.
In a short time, we were surrounded by a dozen residents of a nearby village, Lahur. An elderly woman, the owner of the herd of goats, wailed on a mountain slope. After several hours of negotiations conducted in Hindi (a language we did not know), English (known by one inhabitant of the village) and international body language, we were able to come to an agreement: we paid for the damage, and the goat would be eaten by the people of Lahur.
From now on, we promised ourselves not to unleash Diuna below 3,500 meters. Even on the steepest slopes, we walked with Diuna strapped to our backpack hip belt. It worked well provided there was no wild animal nearby.
After two months of trekking, we reached the holy place for the Hindu religion: Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges, which comes from the melting glacier of Bhagirathi. On June 1, Diuna scented the presence of a herd of Himalayan tahrs (rare animals resembling mountain goats). Suddenly, she dragged Agata so hard that Agata fell and hit her shoulder; the collarbone was broken. This was the end of our adventure; now was the time for rescue. The nearest town of Gangotri was 16 kilometers. There was nobody in this pilgrimage area, no cell phone coverage, no help available. We managed to go down to the village and went the next day to Uttarkashi for emergency medical help.
It’s been five months since the accident. The collarbone was eventually operated on in Poland. We cannot be angry with Diuna; we believe fate rescued us from Garhwal. The day we left Gangotri, the Himalayas experienced an early monsoon (usually it arrives a month later), bringing heavy rain and causing flooding. Thousands of people were trapped in the place we had been a few days earlier. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from the mountains by military helicopters. A month later, in Poland, we learned that 5,000 people missing in the “Himalayan tsunami” were considered dead. We live, thanks to Diuna.
Trekking with a dog might not be easy. But we cannot imagine doing it without Diuna. She is a part of our family and we are responsible for her. Our 500-kilometer dog “walk” gave us a lot of experience and taught us a lot too, so now we know that you can follow your adventure dreams with a dog at your side.
This year, we’re planning a 1,000-kilometer trek over the Mongolian Altai—with Diuna of course. Please help us inspire more people: igg.me/at/dogtrekking
For more photos of this incredible adventure, see The Bark Issue 77, Spring 2014.
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