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Dog's Life: Travel
Dogs Take an Epic Road Trip Into the Wilderness of Alaska
Keno Hill, Yukon Territory, Canada

Why would a 57-year-old professional photographer set out on a road trip from Maine to the Arctic Ocean with only her two dogs for company? Was she on a hunt for the perfect image? Or, in packing up her suburban dogs and driving off into the Alaskan wilderness, was she just impossibly naïve?

Linda Griffith’s journey to the north in 2008 with Hugger and Comfort might most accurately be called a spiritual migration, one that began long before the trip actually started and never really came to an end. After returning home in 2009, it took her five years to narrow down the 20,000 photographs she took to the 75 she would include in a book and exhibit she called The Secret Life of Light.

Even then, Griffith’s journey was not complete; she would come to find it unbearable to have her work viewed only as beautiful photos. Her passionate assertion that Arctic light itself is endowed with conscious awareness, caught through the lens of her camera, is as intriguing as her photographs.

But none of that was in play when Griffith was struck with the idea for the trip in 2003 following the unexpected deaths of her grandmother, mother and a long-time mentor. Though Griffith grieved, she had a focus, a way to deal with her sorrow.

Sixteen years earlier, she had occasion to meet a Lenni Lenape Clan Mother at an Allentown, Pa., museum when she took a bag full of oddly shaped stones that she thought might be Native American artifacts to be evaluated. The Clan Mother, respectfully titled “Grandmother,” took Griffith under her wing, teaching her the Lenni Lenape worldview in the same way she would teach a granddaughter.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t like my culture and wanted to try on somebody else’s,” Griffith said candidly. “It was that I picked up these rocks and they led me to this place, through a path that was uniquely mine.”

By the time the three matriarchs in Griffith’s life passed in 2003, she had developed a different sensitivity.

“I had an awareness of how directions [affect] my life,” she explained. In the medicine wheel, West is the place of dying and transformation, while North represents wisdom and clarity. “It just naturally occurred to me that I should be going North to integrate the loss of these people, and to understand where I am in my life now.”

Preparation

Griffith spent four years getting ready for the trip. First, she purchased a used bus and hired a mechanic, who spent a year reconditioning and converting it to four-wheel drive. Over the next three years, she removed seats, laid carpet and installed insulation. She also coated its exterior with a special paint developed by NASA to help protect spacecraft from intense heat and cold. (As it turned out, during her August stay in Deadhorse, Alaska, the temperature was 15 degrees; the extra insulation turned out to be time and energy well spent.)

Then, there was the matter of communication. “The concern was, what do I do if I get in trouble? It’s not like you can walk back to town,” Griffith pointed out. She came up with an ingenious solution: a few days before departure, she had the bus outfitted with a military- grade satellite dish, theoretically providing access to the Internet. Upon seeing pictures of the bus before departure, friends dubbed it “Jaw-droppin’ Babe Lucille.”

“With the dish up, it looked like Border Patrol. Nobody ever messed with it,” Griffith said.

Griffith also had some soul-searching to do about her dogs. What would quality of life be like for them inside the bus, where living space had been whittled down to 7 by 14 feet? It would mean that they wouldn’t be able to run loose for a year. “I am not a believer in putting them at risk that way,” she stated emphatically.

Ironically, putting the dogs at risk by taking them with her into the wilderness was a prospect Griffith was more willing to entertain. In the end, her decision to take Hugger and Comfort was influenced by several factors. Not only were both deeply attached to her, Hugger—who at four had already had two cruciate repair surgeries—required regular medication for a kidney issue, and five-year-old Comfort had separation anxiety. Griffith knew she’d refuse to eat if left behind.

Griffith’s own separation anxiety also played a part. “The dogs travel everywhere with me,” she declared. “I decide where I can go and when I can go based on whether or not I can take them. If I can’t take them, I don’t go.”

Unlike Lucille, the dogs needed very little special equipment for the trip. Hugger, a Husky mix, thrived on cold weather, and Comfort, a Terrier mix, wore a thermal shirt for most of the trip (she basked in sunbeams whenever she found them). Other than that, a couple of sleeping bags, an abundant supply of Hugger’s prescriptions and 200 pounds of kibble were all the gear the dogs required. (“We carried way more food than was reasonable in case we got stuck somewhere,“Griffith explained.) And harnesses, of course; for their safety, the dogs wore them full-time so Griffith could quickly leash them up as needed.

On the Road

As it turned out, the satellite dish never worked very well. The first one had to be replaced even before setting out, delaying her start by a week and unintentionally pushing Griffith’s departure date to her late grandmother’s June 6 birthday. The second dish worked great at first, as Griffith made her way from northern Maine into Canada, and continued to work as she traveled back into the U.S. and across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, heading steadily westward.

By the time she reached Montana, however, the software had failed again, requiring a 200-mile detour to the last place that could repair it before she headed into the wilderness. The dish was plagued with technical difficulties for the rest of the trip, and whenever it was cloudy—which most days are in Alaska—it wouldn’t pick up the satellite at all.

In addition, Lucille needed constant attention. “The bus broke down the whole way there and the whole way back. I could tell you about every Ford service station between Fairbanks and Maine,” Griffith said. “But there was no giving up!”

Oblivious to all of that, the dogs settled easily into bus living. In fact, they thrived. Comfort remained alert while they were driving, stationing herself next to Griffith and taking in the scenery. Hugger slept in the back most of the time they were on the move, but developed a passion on walks that surprised Griffith.

“Nothing made her happier than sniffing f lowers! I didn’t know this about her,” Griffith said fondly. As they continued north toward Skagway, stopping at fields of flowers along the way, their bond grew stronger than ever.

“I felt as if the three of us were living on a level that people rarely get to experience because culture is so invasive,” Griffith remembered. “I feel that we’re very equal. My job is to keep them safe, not to oppress them.”

Despite Griffith’s watchful eye, the dogs did get occasionally get into trouble. Take, for example, their stop-off in Haines, Alaska, to photograph the grizzlies. The salmon were running and the bears were feeding. For the most part, birds and bears have a reciprocal arrangement in Alaska: the bears leave salmon remains wherever they happen to be and the birds pick them clean.

That day, however, the dogs beat the birds to a salmon under a bush, and before Griffith realized what was happening, they’d eaten enough rank fish to get sick. It was the kind of thing that could have happened anywhere, but they weren’t just anywhere, they were 130 miles from the nearest veterinarian. By evening, both dogs were vomiting blood.

“I’m used to being able to take my dogs wherever they need to go for whatever care they need. But it didn’t matter what I was willing to do, because there was nobody there to help us. That was the worst night of the trip,” recalled Griffith. There was nothing to do but head up the highway to Whitehorse (Yukon Territory, Canada).

Griffith drove north into the Yukon through the lengthening night, stopping every few minutes to take the dogs out into the thick of grizzly country to be sick. The next morning, having arrived intact at the vet’s office, she got the medication they needed, and they were fine within a couple of days. Griffith stayed in Whitehorse for two more days just to be sure, then drove back to Haines, always in pursuit of that perfect photo.

Still, Hugger and Comfort earned their keep, alerting Griffith to the presence of bears. Their message was clear, and it wasn’t only conveyed by barking; at times, they’d get out of the bus and stop dead. Other times, they’d start backing up. Whenever this happened, Griffith did the same, retreating into the bus and heading on down the road.

“Living with bears present, I was aware that there were things out there that needed to eat me if they could,” said Griffith. “That put me in my place right quick. We had stepped out of this culture that we live in, and were living much closer to the terms of the earth. Yeah, sure, I had a generator, and the bus, and food, so how at risk were we, really? But when we stepped out of the bus, especially at night, we were at risk. That felt very primordial, because I don’t think that human beings were always superior and had power over every other living thing. We used to have a place in the food chain.”

While Griffith was conscientious about the safety of the dogs, when it came to herself, she was absolutely fearless in her hunt for photographs. That drive led her to some remote locations where, had the bus broken down, it was unlikely that help would have arrived before winter set in.

“I was only going to do this once, so I was to see it and photograph it,” Griffith said emphatically. “What I do for my dogs is done for me, I’m just passing it on. I’m part of the instrument for their care and well being. I feel well cared for on this planet; it doesn’t matter where I go. I feel like I belong here, like the planet is designed to support my life, up to a point; past that time, I should just graciously go. I was never frightened of being in the wild, as it were. That wasn’t scary to me, ever.”

Arrival

They’d been on the road a little over two months when Lucille finally made her way through Fairbanks and rolled across the 66th parallel, leaving behind pretty much every vestige of civilization and putting Griffith within 500 miles of her goal: the Arctic Ocean. Covering that distance on the pot-holed washboard of the Dalton Highway took five days, during which Griffith began to notice a change in Hugger and Comfort’s behavior.

They’d been animated for most of the trip, but as they began crossing the tundra, where signs of wildlife were limited to the sighting of a single crow and one musk ox, the dogs were initially glued to the windows, then settled into a state of tranquility.

“I think an awareness of how barren this place was registered on the dogs, probably on the level of What the hell are we going to eat if this bus breaks down? Or maybe I’m projecting,” Griffith said.

“This is really what I think was going on,” she continued. “The light, and the mist, and the earth itself have a responsiveness that I’ve not experienced anywhere else. It’s as if the earth is aware that you’re there. I think at one point, probably most of the globe was like that and because of all the changes we’ve made, we’ve lost it.

“I had a sense of being someplace sacred—that this was not just about me looking at the land, but that the land and the light were looking at me, too. Dogs are very sensitive to light. I’d be surprised if they didn’t feel that, as well. They certainly grew very peaceful.”

Griffith’s own sense of tranquility merged with the dogs’ as they became immersed in what she would refer to later as “the secret life of light.” Even so, as they neared the Arctic Ocean, she was overcome by a wave of emotion.

“If I had to give a name to it, it was that in that place, I felt very loved,” Griffith said quietly. Her desire to understand where she was in her life and to integrate the loss of her loved ones had been fulfilled.

“Everything in its own way contributes to sustaining life. Even though it may not appear that way at the time, invariably, the turn things take is life-affirming. Even dying is life-affirming,” she continued.

She was grateful to the dogs, not only for their company and protection but also, because she was aware how much her own sense of well being played off them.

“My gratitude for them is greater than it ever could have been without the trip. There were times when it was incredibly lonely and they were such emotional support, so beautifully present and attentive.” Knowing that dogs have an ability to key in on illness in people, Griffith observed how they reacted to her from day to day. Their responses became an important part of what she called their “feedback circle,” sometimes on a barely conscious level.

“We’re not always aware of it, but our dogs are constantly checking on us, watching and being mindful of us. In the bus, that was so obvious,” said Griffith. There was another animal Griffith appreciated having along for most of the trip. “I swear the only reason I got there and back alive was because of the crows.

They would cue me when to stop and where to park for the night. I would just pay attention and hear in the way you hear when you have a dialogue with a dog. As a result, every time we broke down, it was near was somebody who could fix [the problem]. Every single time.”

After much anticipation and five days on the tundra, Lucille delivered the trio to Deadhorse. To Griffith’s intense disappointment, that was as far as the dogs (and Lucille) were allowed to go. A bus owned by the oil company took her to the beach at Prudhoe Bay, where she was permitted to spend only 10 minutes.

“I was pretty surprised to discover that the only way I was going to be able to actually see and touch my destination was by the grace of the oil company. Of course, they limit what you see for a very good reason: what they’re doing there. The amount of destruction of the environment is significant. And there’s nothing worse than a woman with a camera, you know,” said Griffith.

Despite her restricted access, Griffith rejoined Hugger and Comfort feeling electrified by the ocean. She was also honest enough to recognize the part she had played in the incongruity of that day.

“There was an irony in having to confront my own contribution to irresponsible living,” she reflected. After all, she’d driven there in a diesel-fueled bus that got roughly nine miles per gallon, and the final stretch of highway only existed to support the Trans- Alaska Pipeline, which was built to carry oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.

“What was I doing to help the environment?” she asked rhetorically. “I was in this place that’s so important to preserve, and yet I was a contributor to its demise. I had to face that truth. It was very troubling.”

Home Again

It was another nine months before Lucille delivered the pack of three safely back to Maine by way of Tucson, Arizona. They arrived on June 6, 2009, exactly one year after they’d set out. By the time Griffith finalized The Secret Life of Light project in 2014, she realized that the sense of serenity she’d felt above the 66th parallel had stayed with her.

“The opportunity to experience that place was a gift. It came at a time in my life when the questions of death and dying were so primary. I feel as if that experience has paved the way for me to go into the last stage of my life. I’m ready to go, whenever,” Griffith said easily.

“There was a moment when we were very far back,” she remembered. “We were about 150 miles from anybody. It was, you know, If this bus doesn’t start tomorrow morning and if the dish doesn’t work, we could just die here. I did go through the process of okay, what would I do? Night came down as I thought that through, but then the sun came up, the bus started and we went on.”

For more examples of Griffith’s work, go to fineartphotographyoflindagriffith.com.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dogs Make Great Exercise Partners
Helpful tips on shaping up with your dog.
Get Fit Running with a Dog

Frank Wisneski of West Covina, Calif., started smoking when he was 11 years old. When hit by a heart attack at the age of 38, he weighed 215 pounds and had been smoking a pack a day for 27 years. He had a five-year-old daughter and a wife who was eight months pregnant. But it wasn’t until about seven years ago, when his daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, that he knew he had to make changes.

“At the rate I was going, I realized I probably wasn’t going to be around to help my wife take care of her. That’s what pushed me to quit smoking. About six months after that, we got Major, and I’ve been running with him ever since.”

Major, his black Lab, is their service dog and Wisneski’s primary exercise partner, along with the family’s other black Lab and a Malinois. The four-pack runs four to five miles every weekday morning, starting out at 4 am, before Wisneski goes to work On weekends, he and Major hit the trails around a local lake, where the dirt is a bit easier on the joints, running up to 16 miles in a day.

Wisneski, who now weighs 180 pounds and has completed five marathons, gives his dogs full credit for his good health. “Dogs don’t care if it’s raining. Dogs don’t care if it’s cold. Dogs don’t have another meeting to be at or some other obligation. Dogs are the best training partners ever. They just want to spend time with you.

If you’ve got to get up and go run, you’ve always got a partner to go with you.”

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, a certified vet surgeon based in Pennsylvania and author of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, completely agrees. “People make up all kinds of excuses not to exercise, but dogs are always ready to go,” he says. Multiple scientific studies have shown that humans and canines derive similar physical, psychological and emotional benefits from exercise.

Zeltzman recommends that dogs of all ages have a complete physical exam before beginning any exercise program. He has a few other pointers as well: Tailor your activity to your dog’s breed, age, personality and health status. Start slow and progressively build endurance. If you and your dog are just starting to exercise, begin with simple walks, which can later morph into more strenuous activities. Read your dog for stress signals during and after exercise, particularly if your dog is a senior. However, age by itself isn’t a disqualifier, Zeltzman says. “Age is not a disease. I see 12-year-olds that act like six-year-olds.”

At the human end of the leash, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults—including those 65 and older who “are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions”—get 150 minutes per week of moderateintensity exercise, such as brisk walking. These 150 minutes can be broken into 10-minute increments throughout the day. So, taking a break for a quick stroll with the dog is possible for even the busiest among us.

Walking is a great starting point. “You don’t have to run for hours with your dog to benefit,” Zeltzman says. According to the American Council on Exercise, even modest exercise improves circulation, bringing more oxygen to the heart and muscles and decreasing both the risk and severity of many diseases. Like dogs, people need to start slowly and build up the intensity and duration of their walks. Zeltzman suggests that adding variety to an exercise routine will help ward off boredom; switching up the routine can also help avoid a workout plateau. Following are a few of Zeltzman’s suggestions for doing just that.

Stair walking. For a terrific workout that benefits both the cardio system and leg muscles, find a stairwell, either outdoors or indoors. A variety of types of stairs (such as spiral or half-turn stairs) and/or a variety of stair surfaces (wooden, concrete, brick) can add a distraction for the dog that will ultimately build overall confidence. This comes with a caveat, however: many dogs don’t care for open stairs, and they should not be attempted until your dog is a well-seasoned stair climber.

Hiking. Find a trail at a local park and hit the dirt surface. According to Zeltzman, every organ in our bodies benefits from this type of exercise. Add a few obstacles, such as crossing logs and climbing hills, and you’ve engaged even more muscles, built intensity and spiced up the adventure.

Resistance walks. Lakes and beaches are prime territory for this activity, which involves walking in shallow water and/or on dry or wet sand. Dry sand is the more strenuous option; walking in it exhausts muscles pretty quickly.

Fetch. Retrieving can be a great boredom-buster while walking or hiking. However, this doesn’t mean that you get to relax on a stump while your dog fetches the ball or toy. Rather, you’ll be moving quickly, either toward or away from the dog, during retrieves. A Frisbee or a portable ball launcher such as a Chuckit complements exercise routines.

Power walks. Recommended for physically fit humans and canines, power walking provides a thorough workout. The brisk pace interspersed with intervals of jogging or running and/or armpumping doesn’t allow time to stop and sniff. You can also mix it up with squats, fetch or another activity you both enjoy.

Swimming. Taking your dog for a swim is easy on the joints and great for building endurance. Introduce your pup to water slowly, perhaps starting with resistance walks in warm, shallow water. Add a floatable ball and retrieves can be enjoyed by all.

“Dogs are the best for a healthy, active lifestyle. If a dog is by your side, he doesn’t care what he’s doing. And if he gets to smell a park along the way, that’s a good day,” says Wisneski, who credits his canine exercise partners with saving his life every day.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
A Mudroom Dedicated to Muddy Paws and Sleepy Dogs
Muddy paws are no problem in this new multipurpose room

Ken Perrin, owner of Artistic Renovations of Ohio, says he’s being asked more often to make accommodations for the furriest members of the family. “We aren’t asked to do remodels just for dogs and cats,” he says. “But if we are hired to do a remodel, we are often asked to include elements based on the animals.” Case in point: When Perrin was hired to redo the kitchen, dining area and utility room of this Akron, Ohio, home, the owners asked him to include a dog shower in the mix. “They have two dogs, and there’s a large lawn and a creek on their property,” Perrin says. “They were constantly cleaning the dogs’ paws to keep their floors and carpets clean. At some point, they had had enough.”

Room at a Glance
What happens here: The room acts as a laundry, mudroom and dog washing area.
Location: Akron, Ohio
Size: 50 square feet (4½ square meters)
Tip: In a room with heavy traffic where the door is usually open to another room, as with this one, use similar colors and finishes in both so that the two rooms read as one.

In the new room, the washer and dryer, which had been side by side, are stacked, which freed up room for a dog shower. “The shower is designed to do almost everything a utility sink can do, but it can also be used to wash dogs,” Perrin says.

The shower and the bed are the territory of Roxy (pictured) and Bella.

“Both dogs share the bed,” Perrin says. “They seem to like being near the washer when it’s running. I think they like the vibrations.”

Roxy is seen here (she looks bigger in the previous picture, due to the camera angle); her bunkmate, Bella, was out running in the yard when the photo was taken.

“If you have an animal, these kinds of spaces are great to have,” says Perrin. “Anyone who has a dog knows how hard it is to clean their muddy paws. This space makes it easier.”

The homeowner requested that the hand shower be the kind of industrial sprayer restaurants use to quickly wash pots and pans. It’s operated by squeezing a handle that looks a bit like the hand brake on a bicycle. “She wanted to be able to fill and wash out buckets here,” Perrin says. “The problem was that the force of the water was so strong, the dogs didn’t like it.” Perrin and his team solved the problem by drilling more holes in the sprayer head, creating a gentler water stream. Once that happened, tails wagged. “They love getting in it now,” Perrin says. “They jump right up in there.”

The homeowner also requested handrails that were petite, so they would not take over the space. Perrin installed a corner hand rail that doubles as a hanger for the sprayer and a straight rail that hangs a bit higher. “They help steady the homeowners as they are washing the dogs,” he says.

The countertop can serve as a landing spot for items used in the shower or for the laundry. Perrin installed undercabinet lighting so there’s plenty of illumination when needed.

 

By Mary Jo Bowling - See more Home Design Photos

 

BEFORE: The utility room has three doors; one leads outside, one is for coming in from the garage, and one goes into the kitchen. In addition to the coming and going, this is where the laundry gets done. “With dogs running in and out, the grout had gotten really dirty and stained,” Perrin says. “The homeowner had stained the grout a dark color so stains were less noticeable.”

Plus, the washer and dryer took up a lot of real estate.

From the dining area, you can see how the utility room is often on display. Perrin had the dog bed crafted in a fabric similar to the covering on the bench seat around the table.

Tell us: Where do your dogs sleep and get bathed? Share your ideas and pictures in the Comments.

Dog's Life: Travel
How to Find Dog-friendly Accommodations on the Go
Help finding a dog-friendly room at the inn.
Find Dog-friendly Hotels

Doors slammed in our faces as we walked from hostel to hostel in the Patagonian city of Punta Arenas.

“Can we stay here with our dog?” I’d ask. “She’s well-behaved, trained, and—”

“No.”

We heard “no” for at least a half hour. Or if the answer wasn’t “no,” it was “She can stay tied up outside.”

Having pedaled our bikes all day in punishing headwinds, trudging across the city looking for pet-friendly accommodation was not what my partner and I wanted to be doing.

In the end, the one affordable place that admitted dogs was fully booked, so we finally relented and signed ourselves into the city’s most expensive dog-friendly accommodation.

Over the past two years, we have visited 23 European and South American countries accompanied by our dog, Sora, mostly by bicycle. In many places, dogs are not viewed as members of the family. They are seen as dirty, untrained animals who belong on the streets, behind fences or on top of roofs barking all day long to protect the property.

Even in dog-friendly countries, finding accommodation with a dog in tow is not always easy. Over time, however, we have developed several tactics that have increased our success rate. While following our advice doesn’t guarantee that a hotel will permit your dog, it should increase the odds.

Book in advance. When we have a set arrival date, we often book ahead. The site Booking.com is great, as it allows you to filter search results by those that are pet-friendly. But be sure to read the fine print. Some places say they they’re pet-friendly, but require prior approval. Or you’ll arrive and find that they only permit small dogs. Specify that you’ll have your well-behaved pup with you, and call before booking if you have doubts.

Avoid large nationwide chains. While some, such as Kimpton and La Quinta, are pet-friendly, many are not, and they tend to have stricter policies that are applied across the entire chain. Local hotels or regional chains are sometimes more open to bending the rules (or creating new ones on the spot).

Show and tell. Because not everyone’s a dog-lover, it often helps to share a bit about your dog. Our standard spiel goes something along the lines of, “She’s well-behaved, trained, does not bark and will not go to the bathroom inside.” If the staff is still unsure, we introduce them to Sora and have her do a few of her tricks to demonstrate that she listens and obeys commands. Many have never seen a well-trained dog, and this usually helps assuage fears they may have about accepting a dog as a guest.

Provide references. Before leaving a hotel, ask a member of the staff to write a short review about your stay on company letterhead. Show this whenever you need to do a bit more persuading. Having a reference from another hotel is a great way to establish your credibility and prove that your pup does not cause problems.

Dog hair, do care! Sora tends to leave behind piles of hair wherever we go. This can be a major put-off for hotels, which have to deal with it after you leave. We travel with a pet brush and give Sora a thorough brushing before our stay, reducing the amount she leaves behind and making cleaning easier for the staff.

Slumber party. At home, Sora never slept with us on our bed, but we’ve relaxed the rules since we’ve been traveling. Now, there’s no keeping her off! Since her hair sticks to comforters and bedspreads like a magnet, we always bring her bed inside with us, and place it on top of the bed. Another option is to ask the staff for an extra sheet and put it on top of the regular bedding. Bonus points if you bring your own from home.

Make some noise. If outside noise like voices or footsteps send your dog into protective barking mode while you’re away, try to drown out sounds by turning the TV on low volume or using a white-noise machine, either via an app on your phone or bringing one from home.

Enter armed and ready. Whether we’ve been gone for five minutes or several hours, Sora welcomes us back with high-pitched barks, which can disturb others. So, we come in armed and ready with treats to distract her. We get right to business by asking her to perform a series of tricks, keeping her focus on the reward rather than the excitement of our return. When all else fails, we leash her and take her outside. Know what motivates your pup and use it to avoid behaviors that may affect the hotel staff or other guests’ comfort.

Here’s the most important advice of all: be honest about your dog. If your dog barks constantly when you’re gone, is prone to accidents inside or is destructive, then he or she may not be the best candidate for proving that dogs can be well-behaved guests. A poor experience with a single dog can put a hotel off the whole idea, ruining the option for other pups. If hotels are not the best option for your pup, look into cabins or apartment stays that minimize disturbance to others.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When Your Partner Doesn’t Want a Dog
Persuasive strategies to consider

You’re all ready to adopt a dog! Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of this moment for years, or maybe it just occurred to you today that you need—really need—a dog in your life. There are so many wonderful dogs waiting for a home and the love of a family, and your life may soon be enhanced by a new best friend of the canine persuasion.

But what if you need to convince your partner—husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend—to get on board with your obviously fantastic plan? Well then, you have some work ahead of you, and it may not be easy. Your dream of adopting a dog is on hold. How can you proceed?

The first step is to figure out what your partner’s objections are. Many people who are opposed to getting a dog like the idea in general, but are held back by one or more particular concerns. If you can come up with a solution to what your partner views as the problem, you increase your chances of successfully convincing him or her to adopt a dog.

Financial: It costs money to have a dog, and the prospect of extra expenses scares a lot of people. It’s important to figure out how easily your budget can accommodate an increase in spending. If you can save money ahead of time for the dog, that shows your partner that you understand the concern, that you are serious about budgeting for it. It also indicates that your household can make it work. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut something else out of your budget to convince your partner that financial concerns need not hold you back.

Lifestyle Changes: Many people worry that having a dog will make it harder to go out in the evenings, to go away on for the weekend, or to take vacations during holidays or time off from work. It’s a legitimate concern—having a dog means that spontaneous outings present challenges, so it’s important to have a plan to meet them. Find out who can care for your dog when you are away or if you want to go out after work. Consider professional facilities, dog walkers and neighbors you could hire to help you. Do some research on local pet-friendly cafes and restaurants as well as vacations that could easily accommodate (and even be enhanced by!) your dog. Whether or not you can convince your partner that this issue can be resolved depends a lot on your current lifestyle and what kind of trips you enjoy. Hiking and camping with dogs is great fun, but a tour of the great cities of Europe will involve arranging care for your dog.

Fear of failing the dog: Having a dog is a lot of responsibility, and that can make many people nervous, especially if they have never had a dog before. Find out about resources in your area such as trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians. Educating your partner about the basics of dog behavior and care will help you both feel more confident about bringing home a new dog.

Household Cleanliness: Not everybody is unbothered by muddy paw prints and (let’s be honest) nobody is totally okay with dog vomit or what happens to the carpet while housetraining is still a work in progress. The really gross things tend to happen rarely, but the slobbering by the water bowl and dog hair showing up here, there and everywhere are daily occurrences for many of us. If this drawback to getting a dog is your partner’s concern, you are not alone. Many people without dogs are somewhere on the scale of hesitant to totally freaked out about the prospect of a dirtier house. Whether you promise to step up your housecleaning or shell out the money to hire people to clean your house, it’s essential to have a solution to this problem. It’s also sensible to choose a dog who is less likely to drool and shed than the nightmare your partner is probably picturing.

Affecting Other Pets: If your partner is concerned about how a dog will affect your cat, for example, consider yourself lucky to have such a thoughtful and caring person in your life. It’s very sad when a cat who has been happy in a home is suddenly living under the bed or only in one room because it is terrified of the dog. A dog will fit into the family far better if you choose one who gets along with cats, so make that a top priority. Additionally, it is wise to commit to doing the initial introduction with a professional trainer or behaviorist to make success more likely.

Along with addressing any of the specific concerns that your partner has about adopting a dog, here are some additional tips that may help you convince your partner. Let your partner have the final say in choosing which dog you adopt, and a lot of input into what kind of dog to consider. There are so many variables (old, young, big, small, long hair or short, hound or terrier or other type). Since your partner is—at best—on the fence about the whole dog thing, you may be able to tip the scales in your favor by giving them a weighted vote on which dog to adopt.

Let your partner know how important this is to you, and be prepared to make the case that since it matters to you, it should matter to him or her. This is a tricky one. Although it makes sense that if you want a dog so much, your partner should consider agreeing just because it is so important to you, there’s obviously a flip side to that. If adopting a dog is so unappealing to your partner, you need to consider that simply because it matters to your partner. Feeling very differently about this subject can cause a serious rift in a relationship, and the only sensible advice is not to let this difference ruin the relationship unless it truly is a deal breaker for you.

Adding a dog to your life is a big step, and that can be intimidating. A trial run of sorts could help your partner feel more comfortable about it. Consider watching a friend’s dog for a little while or fostering a dog so you can try out what it feels like to have a dog in your life without the long term commitment. The joy of sharing your home with a dog temporarily—whether it belongs to a roommate, a visitor or a traveling friend— has convinced many people to adopt a dog of their own.

If you’ve ever persuaded a partner to adopt a dog, how did you do it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Double-dealing Exposed in Woofieleaks
Citizens fight for off-leash recreation in Golden Gate National Recreational Area
Photograph by Amanda Jones from Unleashed (Chronicle Books, 2017)

A contentious fight for off-leash recreation has raged for decades in Golden Gate National Recreational Area, with the National Park Service threatening to severely reduce access to dogs. New evidence proves that the battle has been fraught with bias, faulty studies and collusion.

San Francisco has a reputation for being dog friendly. More dogs than children live within its city limits, and many companies, especially tech start-ups, encourage employees to bring their dogs to work.

But San Francisco, surrounded on three sides by water, is also the second densest city in the country. As a result, recreational open space is at a premium, and that has led to squabbles in San Francisco’s urban parks, especially over where dogs can and cannot be walked.

Dog advocates have been fighting for years to preserve gains in recreational access made in the ’70s and ’80s. We have always felt the deck was stacked against us, but recent revelations have shown us that the situation was even worse than we thought. These revelations also forced a federal agency to delay implementation of the severe dog-walking restrictions it wanted to impose.

An Urban National Park

In 1972, Congress created Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), initially a hodgepodge of land in San Francisco and Marin Counties, to “concentrate on serving the outdoor recreation needs of the people of the metropolitan area.” It was part of a Nixon administration’s campaign to “bring parks to the people” and increase outdoor recreation in urban areas.

San Francisco transferred all public oceanfront land within city limits to the National Park Service (NPS) for inclusion in GGNRA. In return, the NPS promised to protect and preserve the land’s traditional recreational uses, which included off-leash dog walking.

In 1979, as part of this promise, GGNRA developed a “pet policy,” which allowed people to walk dogs, including off-leash dogs, at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Marin’s Muir and Rodeo Beaches, and on miles of trails in the Marin Headlands—somewhat less than 1 percent of the total holdings. For decades, people hiked these parklands with their dogs, played with them in the surf, and enjoyed the sense of community that arises in areas where people and dogs have fun together.

But, by the 1990s, the NPS management mindset at GGNRA began to move away from the original focus on recreational access. Senior staff argued that they needed to manage this highly modif ied, urban recreation area the same way that remote, pristine wilderness is managed. Since dogs are not allowed in places like Yellowstone or Crater Lake, the NPS claimed, they should never have been allowed in GGNRA. In their view, earlier promises no longer applied.

In 1995, the NPS began fencing off areas at Fort Funston to all visitors (not just people with dogs). Then, in 2001, it rescinded the pet policy by administrative fiat. In neither case did GGNRA staff bother to seek public input before making their decisions, despite being required by law to do so. In both cases, dog advocates went to federal court to force the agency to follow the law. In both cases, we won.

The Fort Funston case, in particular, embarrassed the NPS. Internal emails, uncovered in the lawsuit, showed that GGNRA staff had knowingly lied to the public about their plans, repeatedly telling people no more closures were coming while actively planning more fenced-off areas.

A New Plan

In the nearly 20 years since, the NPS has single-mindedly pushed forward with a plan to ban entirely or reduce significantly where we can walk with our dogs in GGNRA, partially as payback for dog-walkers daring to take them to court— and win.

In the final version of its “Proposed Rule for Dog Management in the GGNRA” released last year, the NPS called for drastic cuts of up to 90 percent in the few places where people could now walk with their dogs. It put even tighter restrictions on those who walk more than three dogs, prohibiting them from doing so on evenings or weekends anywhere in GGNRA. While targeting professional dog walkers, this provision would also have a huge negative impact on rescue groups and fosters, whose volunteers often walk larger groups of dogs.

According to this plan, if the NPS decides that there hasn’t been enough compliance with the new restrictions, GGNRA’s superintendent can change access status from off-leash to on-leash, or no dogs at all. The superintendent doesn’t have to show that dogs have caused any problems, just that too many people are walking dogs in areas where the NPS doesn’t want them. Within a few years, under this plan, all GGNRA dog walking could be prohibited with the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.

And, as GGNRA continues to rack up tens of millions of dollars in deferred routine maintenance— deferred because of a lack of funding— the NPS was willing to spend $2.6 million each year to hire more rangers to enforce the new restrictions on people with dogs.

Pushback

It would be an understatement to say that the proposed plan did not go over well with those who have enjoyed walking their dogs in GGNRA for generations. We organized protests and marches. We attended public meetings and reached out to local elected officials for support. At every stage of the process, public comment—including comments from nearly every local elected official—was overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed restrictions.

We pointed out that there was no evidence of significant negative impacts by dogs at any GGNRA site, and that there were serious errors and mistakes in the dog plan’s environmental analysis. We showed that the NPS did not analyze the impact on surrounding communities if the thousands and thousands of people who walked their dogs on parklands moved into the much smaller city parks. That analysis was the only thing the San Francisco Board of Supervisors had asked of the NPS, yet the agency did little more than compile a list of nearby parks.

Despite everything, the NPS made only a few, mostly cosmetic, changes to the dog plan it first officially proposed in 2011. None of those changes benefited people with dogs.

In July 2015, hearing that a draft rule was coming soon, a coalition of dog and recreation groups, including Save Our Recreation, San Francisco DOG, Marin County DOG and Coastside DOG of San Mateo County, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the NPS, seeking documents related to the development of the dog plan.

When nearly a year passed with few documents released, Chris Carr, head of the Environment and Energy Practice Group at the prominent law firm Morrison & Foerster, sued the NPS for violating FOIA.

As a result of the lawsuit being filed, the agency finally began handing over the requested documents. They were damning. You can see them at WoofieLeaks.com. The website’s name may be cute, but the contents raise serious legal and ethical questions about how the NPS developed its plan. What clearly comes across is the agency’s complete and utter contempt for people and for public input. In their emails, NPS staff routinely mocked dog walkers, calling them “rattlesnakes,” and derided anyone—even elected officials— who dared question their plans. A staff biologist suggested leaving scientific information that supported fewer restrictions on dogs out of the plan’s environmental impact statement. A senior GGNRA official directed staff to delete emails about the dog plan, saying, “These conversations are best done by phone.”

But perhaps most troubling was the revelation that more than one GGNRA official used a private email account to conduct official business on the dog plan, apparently thinking the private emails would be hidden from any FOIA request. (They’re not, and you can read those on WoofieLeaks.com, as well.)

One senior staffer (who, ironically, served as GGNRA’s FOIA officer and director of communications and partnerships) used his private email account to collude and coordinate with special-interest groups opposed to dog walking. He did this in an effort to drum up public comments and support for GGNRA’s proposal at a time when the agency was supposed to be impartially analyzing alternatives. That same staffer may also have engaged in unlawful grassroots lobbying by advising those same groups on how to communicate with a member of Congress.

Shine a Light on Bias

The emails and other FOIA documents clearly proved that, as we always suspected, the NPS staff members who developed the dog plan were unfairly biased against dog walking and people with dogs. The surprise, however, was their level of active engagement with only one side in the debate: those opposed to dog walking.

Similar collusion is likely happening in other places where dog walking is under attack, and dog advocates should be on the lookout for it. Don’t be afraid to use whatever open-government laws exist in your jurisdiction, from FOIA to local “sunshine” laws, to ferret out bias and impropriety. Look what FOIA did for us.

The day before the NPS planned to sign the rule and put it into effect, the agency announced that the rule was being postponed indefinitely while it conducted an investigation of the private emails and their impact on the development of the dog plan.

Given the NPS’s long history of bias in this matter, there is serious doubt about the agency’s capacity to fairly and impartially investigate the actions of its own staff. To prevent a whitewash of GGNRA misdeeds, many people, including Congresswoman Jackie Speier (whose district includes GGNRA land in San Mateo and San Francisco Counties), have called for an independent inquiry by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General, not by NPS staff, as the agency has proposed.

The decades-long process to create a new dog management plan for GGNRA has been so seriously flawed by outright bias, collusion, omission of data and intentional subverting of the public process that any plan that comes out of it is similarly tainted. The NPS’s proposed plan can never be lawfully adopted and implemented.

Had it not been for our FOIA request and lawsuit, however, we might never have been able to prove our suspicions about the NPS’s unfair and predetermined process.

The fight is by no means over, however. The NPS could decide next week, next month, or anytime in the future to try to move forward with the same restrictive plan that it’s been pushing for nearly 20 years. But if they do, dog advocates— and our lawyers—will be waiting, ready to continue the fight for our right to walk with our dogs in places enjoyed by many generations of people and their pups.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs and Divorce: Who Keeps the Dog?
Legal pet custody issues continue to evolve in divorce courts.
Dogs in Divorce -- Who Keeps the Dog?

We all know that breaking up is hard to do. It’s especially difficult when animal companions are part of what is distributed or shared between two newly separate households.

Recently, a divorcing Canadian couple could not agree over custody of their two dogs. After inundating the court with pleadings describing the several pets they had cared for over the years (and who had done most of the caring), the wife asked the judge to treat the dogs like children, awarding custody to her with visitation for the husband. Clearly frustrated with the request and the case’s drain on limited judicial resources, Justice Richard Danyliuk of Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan wrote a lengthy decision that made headlines in Canada and the United States.

The judge began his decision by declaring his love of animals. “Dogs are wonderful creatures.” He then went on to say, “Many dogs are treated as members of the family with whom they live. But after all is said and done, a dog is a dog. At law it is property, a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights.”

The same is true in most jurisdictions across the United States.

Animal law specialist Adam Karp of Bellingham, Wash., is familiar with the Canadian judge’s reaction and position. Because courts are overburdened, judges are reluctant to tackle issues they don’t have to, including custody of pets. Divorce trials are also low on the judicial popularity list, and asking for a ruling on pet custody sometimes pushes the limits of their patience. “The inexact fit of child custody statutes calls for ingenuity, what some reject as a type of ‘judicial activism.’” Karp says. “Judges may look for a cookie-cutter approach to quickly dispose of such cases, and categorizing an animal as mere ‘property’ allows that. But these issues go to the core of our hearts and hearths.

“Though the Canadian judge’s opinion was not entirely dismissive, and he assuredly spent a long time on it, one wonders if the time taken to author the opinion could have been better spent doing justice to the parties’ situation. Regardless, his attentiveness to the legal issue shows that animal lives matter and seriously elevates the dialogue within courts and society.”

Family vs. Property

Closer to home, I spent more than 30 years practicing family law in Washington and Idaho, focusing much of my practice on representing the interests of children whose parents were fighting over custody and visitation. For most of those years, I observed that family pets were the forgotten victims of divorce. Very rarely were they mentioned in property distributions, even though in both Washington and Idaho, as in most states, pets are considered property and so could have been listed along with household furnishings, vehicles and retirement benefits. If a divorcing couple had kids, typically their pets stayed with the parent with whom the children were going to reside the majority of the time.

More difficult are the cases where there aren’t any children and the couple lived together without the legal status of marriage. When they break up, they generally must reach agreements on dividing property, including pets, without court assistance. Perhaps they acquired a dog while together. Both bonded with the dog—and the dog with them— and while they’ve decided to break up with each other, neither wants to break up with the dog. What to do?

Some couples come up with informal agreements. For example, they agree to alternate custody, meeting weekly to make the exchange. It might work for a while, but just as with shared custody of children, all it takes to upset the plan is for one person to move a significant distance away (making traveling to exchanges a burden both in time and expense) or to become involved with a new human (setting off a storm of jealousy).

In a Washington state case, a couple who had lived together and then separated agreed to share custody of their dog. This arrangement was stressed when one of them moved, and broken altogether when the woman became involved with a new man. The former boyfriend not only refused to return the dog at the scheduled time, he took the dog and disappeared. The woman hired a private investigator to locate her dog, and an attorney to bring legal action to regain possession of him.

The case opened with a temporary court order requiring both parties to “possess and care” for the dog on a week on/week off schedule pending trial. While it was shown at trial that both had been very involved in all aspects of the dog’s care, the court determined that the woman was the owner and possessor of the dog— the property—but would have to reimburse her former boyfriend for the amount he had originally paid toward the dog’s purchase. (The boyfriend’s unwise decision to hide the dog likely influenced the judge’s decision to deny him guardianship.)

What’s Best for the Dog?

Litigation is expensive and traumatic for all involved. “This is my area; I practice animal law,” says Karp. “While I do not endorse litigating custody disputes in a week-long trial while enlisting multiple experts and character witnesses, chastisement, as done by the Saskatchewan judge, does nothing to help the quite real emotions and investments made by the parties to the litigation. And, yes, there is a risk (as in many family law disputes) for litigators to turn such a dispute into a clownish fiasco. A sense of proportion and moderation are critical. But more importantly, all involved should do their best to objectively ascertain the perspective of the one who does not get to take the stand—giving voice to the animal’s best interests, something we often currently miss.”

Yet, there’s hope for positive change in this age-old legal approach of treating pets as property in family law cases. In January of this year, new statutory provisions with regard to divorce and legal separation in Alaska became effective, requiring courts to consider “the well-being of the animal” owned by the parties in final agreements or judgments. The provisions allow for sole or joint ownership post-divorce, and provide a broad a definition of an animal as “a vertebrate living creature not a human being,” which would include almost any companion animal or livestock a couple might own.

This language opens the door for Alaskan courts to make custody, visitation and cost-sharing provisions for family pets and any other animals owned by a couple, similar to those made for children. It may also allow the court to appoint special advocates for pets in particularly contentious cases, just as it does for children.

What if you don’t live in Alaska or a jurisdiction with similar statutes? If, instead of reaching agreement, the parties go to trial and leave the issue for the court to decide, the judge’s only option in almost all states is to award the property—the pet—to one party or the other. There are no provisions for visitation or shared cost because the law allows a court to make such awards only for children, not animals.

However, divorcing couples can agree to many things that courts can’t force them to do—either on their own or with the help of a mediator—and if those agreements are included in the divorce decree, they’re legally enforceable if one party breaches the terms.

Any good family law attorney will recommend trying to settle a case outside of court to avoid the trauma and expense of trial, and this is especially true when it comes to pets. You might get lucky and find a judge more sympathetic than the judge in Saskatchewan, one who will award custody based on the best interests of the pet. But without a legal basis for that award, it’s a risk, because the decision could easily be appealed, adding more trauma and expense.

“Resolving custody disputes through a third-party neutral or even mediation or arbitration might be best,” Karp says, because mediation allows everyone to focus on the best interests of the pet. “I was once asked to mediate a catcustody dispute,” he continued. “I brought the parties around to considering the cat’s perspective, thinking about who could best provide for him and [asking them] to suspend vengeful thoughts for one another.”

What if you’re not married but in a relationship and have (or want to add) pets?

What can you do to avoid a custody dispute if you split up? If your state’s laws allow, you can enter into a binding and enforceable custody agreement (if cohabitating), a prenuptial agreement (if contemplating marriage), or a separate property or community property agreement (if already married). Any of these contracts can set forth who is the pet’s owner if a couple breaks up; whether visitation will be allowed, and on what terms; and whether they’ll share costs for boarding, day care and vet expenses while together and post-split.

If you don’t want to enter into such a formal agreement, be sure to maintain very clear records that document any pet-related expenses you paid: purchase or adoption fees, licensing, food, training, exercise, boarding, vet care and so on. At least for the foreseeable future in most parts of the country, pets will continue to be treated as property that courts can’t force people to share if they don’t want to.

Given how many households have pets and how integrated they are into our daily lives—they are far more to us than a television or a computer, after all—we can hope that more states will quickly adopt Alaska’s enlightened approach.

***

Good news: more states are following Alaska’s lead. On February 16, 2017, legislators in Rhode Island submitted a bill that would add a new section to state laws regarding divorce and separation [PDF]. If passed, judges would be required to consider the best interest of a family’s domestic animals in divorce or separation proceedings where custody was an issue.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
6 Design Ideas for Happy and Healthy Pets
Keep your dog (and cat!) feeling safe and in high spirits, and you'll all feel more at peace.

Being around nonthreatening animals, domesticated or otherwise, calms humans. The reason for this seems buried in our prehistory: Back then if we were around other creatures and all was peaceful, that meant predators weren't lurking nearby, about to pounce on us. Plus, the weather was probably fine, too. 

When we're less tense, we have more mental energy at our disposal to do whatever we've set out to accomplish, whether that's having a good time hanging out with family members, writing a novel or planning dinners for the next week. But there's a catch: Having animals in our home is good for us psychologically only if those animals are happy and healthy. If they're not, they add to the tension in our lives. (A moping dog or an out-of-sorts cat doesn't enhance anyone's day.)

The good news is that design can make animals happier, just as it can people. You can create a home where your pets feel as good as you do. It's hard to read the minds of pets, but when you learn more about them as they spend time in your home, you'll find ways that you can make your special animal friend feel particularly happy. Here are just a few ways to keep pets in good spirits.

 

Photo by The Victor Myers Companies - Look for modern home design design inspiration

 

1. Some privacy, please! Make sure your pet has privacy. Cats feel most comfortable in their litter boxes if they're in a space all their own. 

Dogs may need a place in your home where they can get away from demanding children or loud music, too. A covered kennel, doghouse or bed in a laundry room might be just the thing.

2. Create sheltered spaces for pets to lounge in. Pets need places where they can decompress, just as you do. Those areas don't always need to be completely away from humans, however. Our pets are social but good at self-preservation, just like we are. 

Most animals, including humans, feel secure when danger can't sneak up on them. While in today's world that's not as likely as thousands of years ago, we're still hardwired to think that way. 

So providing a secure spot where a pet can really let down his or her guard is important. This feline feels at peace because the chair has a high back and is in a corner, assuring the cat that nothing's going to sneak up. Provide that security and you'll have a calm, happy pet.

 

Photo by Diskin Designs - More traditional kitchen photos

 

3. Build in a view. Pets need to survey their territory. Being able to look out the window while relaxing, as dogs and cats can do on this cushioned shelf, is doubly desirable. 

If you don't have high windows, consider putting a secure pet gate on an opened door that leads outside.

4. Let in sounds and scents. Animals rely on smells and sounds more than humans do. To let them feel safe, having open windows allows them to hear and smell what's lurking in their surroundings.

5. Include places for exercising. Cats enjoy climbing on cat trees, shelves, furniture, anything that allows movement and elevates them off the floor. Small dogs enjoy being able to run down long halls without slipping and sliding, so add carpeting when possible.

 

Photo by - Look for traditional kitchen pictures

 

6. Support aging pets. As pets get older, their needs change, just as humans' do. Recognizing those changes will prolong the positive relationship you have with your pet. 

Dogs' joints, like ours, stiffen up when they get older. Senior dogs enjoy eating from a bowl placed on a stand or short bench that raises the bowl high enough above the floor so they can eat in a regular standing posture — no need to lower the front part of the body or head too much.

Your turn: What is your pet's favorite place in your house?

News: Editors
Leasing a Dog Is a Really Bad Idea
Leasing Golden Retriever Puppies Is a Bad Idea

We heard about an intriguing (and alarming) Bloomberg story over the weekend on NPR’s Marketplace Money program. When asked about predictions for what the guests are “long or short" on, reporter Gillian White said that she was “long” on the financial sector behind “dog leasing.” She was reporting on a piece from Bloomberg about dubious loan scheme operations, such as leasing a dog. In the Bloomberg piece, “I’m Renting a Dog?” Patrick Clark reports about Wags Lending LLC, a California-based firm, that provides leasing options for people who want to buy expensive pet store dogs.

In one of the examples he cites a couple in San Diego purchased a Golden Retriever pup for $2,400, agreeing to pay for the dog with 34 monthly payments of $165.06, bringing the true cost to be $5,800. As White noted that this kind of “leasing operation, taps into the growing trend of consumers who want things but who don’t necessary want to own things.” Added to that is the wish for instant gratification and the fact that most people don’t take the time to read the fine print on things especially when making emotional purchases, like “buying” a dog. Simple fact, many people just want what they want when they want it. And because these leasing companies aren’t subject to the same kind of regulations as loans or even credit cards are, they are able to charge really high interest rates, which range from about 36 percent to 170 percent on an annualized basis! And if you renege of the payment schedule, they are repossess the dog, that's right, they can take the rental dog back. Bristlecone Holding LLC, the company behind this Wags Lending scheme, leases things like furniture, wedding dresses and hearing aids, and the list is growing—but it all started with the dogs. The mission statement from the aptly named, Dusty Wunderlich the CEO behind these companies notes that he is “living in a Postmodern culture while maintaining my old American West roots and Christian values.” Heavens, we need Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s attention on this one fast. Amazing that they can get away with this. Wunderlich also adds that, “We like niches where we’re dealing with emotional borrowers.” Such as those who are staring into the eyes of a pet shop puppy, obviously.

The idea behind Wags Lending came about in 2013, and as the Bloomberg article notes, when Wunderlich “recruited a former hedge fund salesman named Kyle Ferguson as co-founder and launched Wags Lending, thinking dog leases would mark just the first step in a vertically integrated pet-financing company that would eventually include food deliveries, chew-toy subscriptions, and veterinary loans. Then their point-of-sale lease financing became a hit, and they decided to double down on it.” So beware if you happen to stumble upon any of their other “too good to be true” plans! We are seeing more and more of these “point-of-sale” options in the pet sector, especially at vet offices.

So the lesson behind this is a simple one, first of all, do NOT ever ever buy dogs at pet stores, there are many reasons, besides shady lending schemes to not buy a pet shop dog, including that most of those dogs are supplied to pet stores come from puppy mills and buying such dogs only supports those horrible businesses. But even more importantly, there are many wonderful dogs at shelters or with rescue groups and every dog that is purchased at a pet store means another dog just might be euthanized to make room for another dog. That constant intake flow has to stop. Again, read the small print and know what you are getting yourself into before signing up for any of these leasing products. See the Bloomberg piece for the whole story.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Six Tips on Caring for Older Dogs
We look at ways to make their lives easier.

In your eyes, your dog will alway s be a puppy, even if she’s getting up there in canine (and human) years, or her muzzle is beginning to gray. However, eventually the day will come when you notice that your pup is panting a little bit harder after a long walk and struggling to climb onto your bed. It’s time to start adjusting to the lifestyle needs of an older dog.

When a dog is considered a senior largely depends on breed. Smaller dogs (such as Chihuahuas or Terriers) don’t reach their golden years until they’re 10 or 12, while a Great Dane may attain senior status at the age of five or six. Beyond size and breed, genetics, diet and environment all have an impact on a dog’s life expectancy.

Just as modern medicine has extended the lives of people, with the right combination of attention and preventive care, it can also extend the lives of dogs. If you want your older dog to have a long and happy life, consider incorporating these strategies into your pet care routine.

Remember your dog’s teeth. Dental hygiene is particularly crucial as your dog ages. Regular brushing and professional cleaning can prevent painful dental disease and decay (and help your dog avoid the chewing problems mentioned earlier). If your dog doesn’t enjoy having his/her teeth brushed, consider dental treats and toys instead.

Watch your dog’s diet. Mature dogs often have food issues, including problems chewing, lack of appetite, obesity and digestive difficulties. Consult with your vet on the best diet and exercise plan for your aging dog. Dietary changes may include adding more fiber to aid with digestion or decreasing carbohydrates to maintain optimal weight. Supplements such as fish oil or glucosamine can be added to alleviate joint pain.

Exercise your dog’s body and mind. Like people, aging dogs experience pain and have difficulty performing physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their health and well being. Take your dog on short, gentle walks and monitor his/her breathing and gait to make sure nothing is amiss. Your dog’s brain needs plenty of exercise as well. Stimulating toys such as food puzzles help keep your dog sharp.

See the vet more often. Take your dog in for a vet checkup at least twice a year. Just as elderly people need to be aware of health issues and visit their doctors more often, aging pets benefit from more frequent visits. Older pets may need additional blood tests, dental care and examinations. Additionally, many breeds have predispositions toward certain ailments, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, cancer and diabetes. Early detection can help catch these before they become major problems.

“Seniorize” your house. Just as you once puppy-proofed your home, you now need to provide your older dog with special accommodations. For dogs with hip dysplasia or joint issues, consider a special ramp or stairs so they can still get in the car or join you on the bed. Keep food and water in areas they can easily reach, especially if they are vision-impaired. Heated beds can soothe achy joints, particularly if you live in a colder climate. Finally, non-slip surfaces will prevent falls and help your older pet maintain traction when rising.

Pay attention. Monitor changes in behavior; appetite; weight loss or gain; dental issues; and any lumps, bumps or lesions and bring them to your vet’s attention. (A journal is a great memory aid.)

Taking care of an older dog may involve a little more work than you’re used to doing, but caring for a lifetime companion is a deeply rewarding experience. Your dog has been good to you (and for you) for years—now’s the time to return the favor!

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