Fantasies of Summer Vacation (With Dogs, Of Course!)

January 22nd, 2013

Here in New York, we’re looking at the coldest day we’ve seen in in several years — it’s so cold, in fact, the dogs haven’t even asked for walk (which is unheard of around here). We’re comforting ourselves with hot chocolate (me), bully sticks (the dogs), a cozy heating blanket (all of us — and who knew a single heating blanket could fit one human, two dogs, two cats and a giant stuffed hedgehog?) and fantasies of summer vacation.

Of course it will be a dog vacation, because what fun is going on vacation without the dogs? Well, okay, on days like today, I wouldn’t mind a week on some tropical island, relaxing on a lounge chair with oversized sunglasses and a drink with an umbrella in it. But since I haven’t won Lotto yet, I can’t buy my own island with a private dog-friendly beach…nor do I have a private dog-friendly plane to fly there. And anyway, the dogs would just hog the lounge chair.

dog camp, enjoying the pool!

You're not the only one who fantasizes about enjoying vacation poolside in a comfy lounge chair!

Thankfully, I have Canine Camp Getaway, which satisfies my dogs’ need for fun in the sun (and in the shade, and in the pool, bar and pretty much everywhere else), as well as my own need to kick back a bit and relax, without having to worry about work deadlines, what to make for dinner or whether my dogs are safe and happy. Dog camp may not be everyone’s dream vacation, but spending a week with dogs and dog lovers actually suits me quite well — and let’s face it, is there anything better at the end of the day than Yappy Hour with friends (both two-legged and four-legged)?

With Canine Camp Getaway’s June vacation nearly sold out, and September filling up fast, you’d think other hotels would be taking the hint: dog-friendly properties = more customers. Yet not everyone seems to be getting the message.

In a random sampling of “dog friendly” hotels, I found that more than half charge a (sometimes hefty) dog deposit or “cleaning fee” (It costs you a hundred bucks to clean the room after Buffy the miniature poodle stays over for two nights? Really?). Many still regulate the size, weight or breed of dogs they will accept (and my 97-pound dog points out that it’s not only not “friendly” but downright rude to have strangers questioning her about her weight!).

Atlantic City has finally gotten some dog-friendly hotels (presumably someone finally saw that “Dogs Playing Poker” painting and realized there was an opportunity there), though there’s still not a lot to do with your dog once you get there.

Disney, I’m told, has added a doggie daycare center for those who want to bring their pup along for vacation…a step in the right direction, to be sure…but the hotels on site are still not dog-friendly.

California does a better job with dog-friendly hotels, beaches and restaurants…but if you live on the East Coast, you’ve either got a really long drive to contend with, or you have to worry about bringing your dog on a less-than-dog-friendly airplane.

So, what do you do if you’re a dog owner who hates to leave your dog behind, or a dog who’s too big to sneak into Mom or Dad’s suitcase? First off, do your research: when planning your vacation, call several area hotels and ask about pet policies, any hidden charges, available dog amenities and local activities for dog owners. Some hotels will not allow dogs to be left alone in the room — even in a crate — so be sure you know the hotel’s policy on this, and if your dog must be with you at all times, be prepared with a list of dog-friendly restaurant options, or a local doggie daycare center. Don’t count on leaving your dog in the car — even if the temperatures are moderate, an unexpectedly hot day can put your dog’s life in danger.

If sharing time with your pet is an important part of your vacation plans, contact pet stores in your destination cities and ask about dog-friendly events, restaurants of hot spots — sometimes there are “unofficial” hangout spots where dogs and dog lovers gather that only the locals know about. Local dog meetup grounds can also be a great resource for this — contact the group organizer if you’re looking for suggestions for the best hiking spots, dog-friendly parks or other fun events.

Even if you’re spending much of your vacation sight seeing, be sure your dog gets enough exercise and entertainment to minimize stress — a long hike and some playtime each day will leave your dog feeling relaxed and happy. And you’ll not only feel better about heading out with friends if your dog is happily tired out first, but you’ll be glad you got some extra exercise when you’re eating out and enjoying that extra glass of wine, or that rich slice of double chocolate cake.

Of course, if your dream vacation involves seeing your dog have a great time, check out Canine Camp Getaway of NY — designed by dogs, for dogs…and their people, of course!

It may be too cold to do much more than “armchair traveling” right now, but it’s a great time to curl up somewhere warm, relax and dream about your (and your dog’s) next vacation. Happy travels!

Janice Costa is owner and founder of Canine Camp Getaway of NY, the Lake George, NY-based vacation for dogs and dog lovers. When she’s not working, playing or traveling with dogs, she works in the home design field as an author and magazine editor.

What Your Dog REALLY Wants for the Holidays

December 9th, 2012

The holidays are a wonderful time for letting your loved ones know how special they are to you — through loving words and warm wishes, music, cards, shared meals and rituals, holiday parties and sometime gift giving.

And if you’re like most of us, your four-legged best friend is on (perhaps even at the top of) your holiday shopping list. But what do you get for that special canine in your life?

In honor of the holidays, Canine Camp Getaway’s ambassadogs share their suggestions below:

JESSIE

Every Christmas, my Mom and I settle under the tree together where she has all these wonderful wrapped packages for me and my sister. We sit together and she tells me how much she loves me and rubs my ears while I sniff them all and tear off the wrapping paper. Mom has exceptional taste (she picked me out, didn’t she?), and there are always so many wonderful presents…Cuz toys just begging to have the feet chewed off, Kongs, braided bully sticks, super soft blankets and once even a stuffed octopus with 12, count ’em 12 squeakers! Good stuff!

But here’s a secret even my Mom doesn’t know: If there were no gifts at all, I would still be perfectly happy just to sit under the tree with her while she talks to me and rubs my ears. Because the best part isn’t the stuff, it’s the two of us, being together…11 years of being best friends. Kisses and long walks and BBQs and cuddles in bed, dog friends and games of ball and agility classes and the time I got hurt and Mom slept on an air mattress on the floor for three weeks so we could be together without me jumping.

So I think — and I’ve talked this over with other dogs and we all agree — if you’re looking for the perfect present for your canine buddy, forget the stores. What your dog really wants, and what your dog will cherish most, is time with YOU.

Now as Senior Ambassadog, I can tell you that Canine Camp Getaway is a GREAT way to give your dog (and you!) some special bonding time. Because honestly, humans are always distracted….we go for a walk together, and you don’t even notice the amazing smells, you’re so intent on getting there, you miss the best parts…and we know you have to work to pay for the kibble, but it would be better if you were throwing a ball for us or rubbing our bellies wholeheartedly instead of doing it with one eye on the computer.

But at Canine Camp Getaway, all of that fades away, and we can both be together, living in the moment, where the moment is all about US. Swimming, doing agility together, hiking those amazing trails, learning flyball, playing games and just hanging out together all day. What could be better than that?

So I think the perfect holiday gift for your dog would be for both of you to sign up for Canine Camp Getaway in 2013.

But what if you can’t make it to camp, what do you get your dogs then? The answer is still — time together. Trust me, I’m not the older, wiser ambassadog by accident; I’ve seen many holidays, and met thousands of dogs, and I can tell you that time is the most precious thing you can give us.

So for the holidays, make a commitment to take us for regular walks…and not just those five-minute walks where you rush us to potty and don’t let us sniff anything. Take us for a walk and walk WITH us, enjoy the walk through our eyes and noses. Let us run part of the way, stop and sniff part of the way, meet the other (friendly) dogs along the route.

Make a commitment to take us to the park to play ball, or Frisbee. Sign us up for an agility class. Play in the snow with us, or when it gets warm, take us to a doggie beach, and come in the water with us!

Get up five minutes early to give us a nice long belly rub one day. Cook us a terrific, healthy meal. Take a class in canine massage so you’ll be able to help us feel better when we get older.

For the holidays this year, give us the best gift ever…YOU. It’s what we’ll remember most when we’re old and gray, and we will always cherish that time together.

(Though if you find that octopus with the 12 squeakers, feel free to pick that up, too!)

LEXIE

I LOVE holidays! And holidays are a great time to get your dog TOYS! I l LOVE toys! Especially toys that are BALLS! Squeaky balls, and tennis balls, and those big, soft rubber balls with the cut outs that you can sink your teeth into…and speaking of things you can sink your teeth into, those soft boots with rubber soles, those are pretty fun too. Also stuffies with squeakers, and if you have two dogs, you should buy extra stuffies for your other dog, because it’s more fun to unstuff their toys first, it makes yours last longer.

And I always tell my Mom a big swimming pool would be great, but she says no swimming in winter. But in summer, you can swim because there’s camp and I especially love swimming at camp because I can play BALL in the WATER with all my FRIENDS!! You can too! So camp is a great gift, especially the swimming part, and the lure coursing part (because you can chase stuff without getting in trouble and no one yells, “Leave the cat, LEAVE the CAT, LEAVETHECATALONE!!!”). And the hikes are pretty awesome, and sometimes there are tennis balls around for flyball and there are so many dogs to play with and…well, all the parts are pretty great, actually. And there are TWO camps this year, one in June and one in September, so you could even go TWICE!

So, as junior ambassadog, I would strongly advise you to bring your dog to Canine Camp Getaway’s June or September session because it’s a great holiday gift. And if you celebrate Christmas, you can put boots under the tree, too, Croc boots are my favorite, but anything soft and squishy is good. And if you celebrate Chanukah, you can buy eight different kinds of balls and give your dog one every day, I like the Cuz ones, and also things with squeakers, though tennis balls are also great. Or just give us the wrapping paper, that’s fun, too!

Even if you don’t get us gifts, that’s okay, because we have YOU, and you’re the BEST GIFT EVER!

Happy holidays to you and your pups, and we hope to see you next year!

P.S. If you’re coming to camp, reserve your spot soon so you’re not shut out — and don’t forget to sign up before our Early Bird Deadline so you can save more money for dog treats! Contact us if you need more info or an application!

XOXO,

Jessie & Lexie Costa

Camp Ambassadogs

Canine Camp Getaway of NY

Surviving the Dog Days of Summer

July 2nd, 2012

This week, Canine Camp Getaway hiking instructor Bob Dealy is guest blogging for us with some tips for surviving the ‘Dog Days of Summer.’

Coming back from a terrific vacation at Canine Camp Getaway of NY and dealing with the heat wave that has gripped most of the nation over the past few weeks has given me paws/pause for thought. We are now in the Dog Days of Summer. We want to put on minimal clothing, get out and enjoy the warm temperatures. In other words, it’s go time, people!

Our dogs, on the other hand, want to take a refrain from the Eagles hit of the seventies and “Take it Easy.”

It doesn’t matter if you live in Winslow, Arizona or Bangor, Maine: It’s warm outside. Our furry friends need extra consideration. This rings especially true when you decide to pick up and go with your best friend.

I was reminded of this as Shadow and I were traveling back from Lake George, NY. I had a travel harness on her and she was being her usual awesome travel companion self. But something wasn’t quite right. She was a bit fidgety and didn’t seem entirely comfortable.

Even though the AC was blasting and it was quite cool, almost cold, in the vehicle, it took me a while to figure out that the sun was coming through the window right on her. So she was hot. Black dogs absorb heat more readily than light-colored dogs, making them especially sensitive to the beating sun.

At the first rest stop, we got out of the car. As we got back in the car, she decided the best place for her to curl up was on the floor with her blanket. I wanted her buckled in for safety. She told me the safest place for her was out of the sun. I’m thinking driving safety; Shadow’s thinking self-preservation.

Fortunately, I listened to what my dog was telling me. We shared a roast beef sandwich that she gave rave reviews to as road food, and the rest of the trip went well. She even got back on to the seat and gladly accepted being buckled in as the sun dipped a little lower in the sky.

The moral to the story is to enjoy the warm weather for all it’s worth but pay attention to what your dog is telling you. Try not to put your dog into a hot car. Run the AC to cool things down before putting your dog in. If your car seats get hot, use a towel or a blanket to cover the seat. If you use a harness, be sure the hot metal seatbelt buckle isn’t pressed against your dog, as this can cause painful burns. And never, EVER leave your dog alone in a parked car when it’s hot out – even with the windows open, even for five minutes.

Listen to your dog. (Of course if your dog decides he wants the bag of Cheez Doodles you brought along for a snack, then you have my dog, and you don’t have to listen to that!)

One last thought: while it goes without saying, I’ll mention it anyway: Try to exercise your dog early or late in the day. If he or she seems lethargic or starts panting heavily, you might want to cut the walk or exercise short. I’m told humans take a week to 10 days’ adjustment period for their bodies to acclimate to suddenly hot or cold temperatures. During this period of adjustment, it’s recommended to scale back the intensity when working out. The same can be said for our dogs.

Time to fire up the BBQ for a July 4th feast. Shadow says have a hot dog for her!

Enjoy your summer!

A New Online Shopping Option for Pet Supplies

May 24th, 2012

I’ve never been a “buy everything on the Web” kind of person; I only started shopping online in the past couple of years, and mostly for things I can’t find in local stores.

I rarely consider shopping for pet products on the Web because (A) there are several reasonably well stocked pet stores within minutes of my home and (B) my dogs prefer the in-store shopping experience (especially since most of the local pet stores keep treats behind the register!).

But with two dogs and two cats, I spend a LOT of money on pet products. And I really need to start watching my costs, since I’m the only one in this household who brings in an income (ironic, since I have two working dogs — you’d think, being working dogs, that they’d get a job and bring in some $$, wouldn’t you?).

While I like the “live” shopping experience, the truth is, the Web not only offers better prices, but there’s something to be said for having your pet supplies show up on your front step, instead of having to lug two 30-pound bags of dog food and two 20-pound containers of cat litter from the store to the car, and from the car into the house (the dogs don’t help with this either…though if I get lazy and drop them just inside the front door, they will happily tear the bags open and engage in an all-you-can-eat buffet!).

So once I decided to do some pet shopping online, the next question was, where? Amazon seemed like the obvious starting point; they carry pretty much everything on the planet, and probably stuff from other planets, too. But the problem with Amazon is that they carry everything but it’s from everywhere else…which means ordering six different brands of products means buying from six different stores that go through Amazon, which means paying shipping for six different companies because you don’t spend enough with any one company to get free shipping (which you think you’d get from Amazon, but you don’t unless the item you want is actually coming directly from Amazon, which wasn’t the case with anything I wanted).

Coincidentally, I was complaining about this very issue when I received an invitation from MrChewy.com to try out their Web site. With two dogs and two cats, each of whom are on different foods, and who like very specific treats (different brands — God forbid anyone like the same thing and make my life easy!), I went to the site expecting another “If I go here, I’ll only have five more places to go” experience.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. They not only carried everyone’s food brands, but they carried the specific formulas and flavors my dogs and cats prefer (one’s a senior, one only likes salmon, one is on a high protein diet and one throws up anything except chicken and oatmeal, sensitive systems). And they offered free delivery, which was a huge bonus.

Next we browsed the dog treats section. Dog treats are important in our house. So we browsed…and browsed…and browsed. Lexie settled on my feet on the couch and stretched out to view the treat choices over my shoulder.

My foot fell asleep by page 15 or so, and we still weren’t done browsing all the treats. I’m quite sure someone went to bed with visions of sugar plums in her furry little head (or visions of freeze dried chicken treats, as the case may be!). Endless choices = happy dogs, especially since they had organic and wheat free choices. The prices were also quite reasonable; the hard-to-find peanut butter treats that my sister’s Morkie pup loves cost considerably less than in the local pet store.

The ordering process was simple, and the next day, I had an email saying my order had shipped. Which is good, because I’m the kind of person who realizes I need dog food just about when I get to the bottom of the container. Even more surprising, a day later the whole order showed up. In my experience, free shipping means free shipping via the pony express (i.e. you order now and hope it shows up by Christmas), but this was the kind of shipping that you could actually realize you’re down to the bottom of the food container, order more (without paying a rush fee) and still get the food before your dog misses a meal. Hard not to be impressed by that.

There was a lot to like about this site, from the ridiculously large selection of treats and food options to the ease of shopping and super speedy delivery.

What didn’t I like? They were still selling chicken jerky treats, including at least one company that imports from China. Granted, the stuff hasn’t been recalled, but it’s hard to imagine anyone anywhere hasn’t heard the FDA warnings, or the numerous stories about deaths and severe illnesses tied to chicken jerky originating from China. And even though the stuff is legal to sell, I still feel that a company that makes a living from (and presumably cares about) animals shouldn’t be promoting or selling this stuff. That said, perhaps I’m being idealistic here. I did notice that they don’t carry the three big brands that have been primarily cited as being associated with these problems (though I’d still feel better if they didn’t carry any chicken jerky from China at all)

They also don’t stock my personal favorite supplement, Glyco-Flex III (though to be fair, they stock a very good selection of glucosomine options — far more than other sites I’ve visited). So I still have to go to one more place for that.

But by and large, there wasn’t much I could think of buying that wasn’t available here. The prices were good, the shipping fast and free, and my dogs were so excited when the box showed up, they didn’t even miss the pet store trip!

Janice Costa is owner and founder of Canine Camp Getaway of NY, the Lake George, NY-based vacation for dogs and dog lovers. When she’s not working, playing or traveling with dogs, she works in the home design field as an author and magazine editor.

Getting in Shape for Hiking with your Dog

April 20th, 2012

This week, Canine Camp Getaway hiking instructor Bob Dealy is guest blogging for us with some tips for getting your dog ready for hiking season.

The past couple of days it’s gotten unseasonably warm in the northeast, which got me to thinking that my dog Shadow has to start getting in shape for the hikes we’ll be taking at Canine Camp Getaway of NY in June. Black lab (ops) training, ha-ha!

Camp owner Janice Costa has informed me that we’re expecting record numbers for this year’s camp. That means lots of new folks for morning hikes. These walks can be the highlight of camp for many guests. A good walk gets the juices flowing; you and your dog make new friends, as you get ready for daily activities. It should be a fun and carefree activity.

Having this forum allows me to talk about common sense things you will need to make those morning sojourns more enjoyable, whether you’re joining us at this year’s Getaway, or planning hikes of your own in the coming months.

First and foremost, let’s talk about you and your dog. I did say common sense! For our hikes at camp, we generally walk for 45-50 minutes. So if your normal dog walk is only 20-30 minutes, you need to stretch this out a little longer until you’re spending about 45 minutes to an hour walking together at least once a week. Not only will this build up your and your dog’s endurance, but as you progress, you’ll get better at recognizing signs of fatigue for each of you. Being able to read your dog’s body language (and paying attention to your own bod) will help to keep you from overdoing it in your hiking trips.

The same basic concept holds true if you are planning a two-hour hike or longer; build up to it gradually by extending the time you walk together a little each day, paying attention for signs of fatigue. It’s okay to push a little, but don’t overdo it; doing too much too fast can lead to injury or soreness.

As many of our camp walks will be on a wooded trail, there are insects – and this is generally true wherever you’ll be hiking this spring. Where I live on Long Island, it was a very mild winter and the bug and tick population is very healthy. I assume it was much the same throughout the Northeast. So it’s advisable that you and your dog have protection.

Your vet can advise you on the best care for your dog, dependent on where you live and what types of parasites are common where you’ll be hiking. For you, there are many personal bug sprays on the market; my advice if you don’t have a favorite is to try some out before hand to see how well they work. I’m personally trying out a product by Eco Smart, which claims to be pet friendly.

There is a product by OFF, the clip on which I don’t recommend for hikes. If you read the instructions you will find its best use is to create a barrier around you if you are in one place for a while. This means seated or standing. It’s not a bad product to use for other times you are on vacation, but not ideal if you’re going to be in motion. So take a couple of minutes and read the instructions and uses for these products before purchasing. For hikes, try to stick to a spray-on or lotion. It’s also been said that consuming a little apple cider vinegar can make you less attractive to bugs; dogs can benefit from this as well. Add a tablespoon to their water, and add a tablespoon to a bottle of water for you, as well. Do this for several days and you’ll likely notice yourself getting fewer bug bites.

Next, we come to hydration. As we all know, it’s important to drink up in warm weather. It’s important for our pups to do the same. So while you’re walking the dog and getting ready for camp, keep an eye on him/her for signs of thirst. As a runner, I’ve learned that a belt that can carry a water bottle is a beautiful thing. It helps to keep both hands free and it’s always available. Giving your dog clean water is better than having them find a muddy puddle because they are thirsty.

Remember, if you’re enjoying a few cocktails in the evening, drink some extra water before bed and when you wake up. Alcohol acts as a diuretic and you need to replace fluids after drinking. I know it sounds weird, replacing fluids after drinking, but trust me on this one. Grab an extra piece of fruit from the dining area. Fruits contain gobs of water.

The turnaround point at our favorite hike is a clearing with a pond on the other side of the woods. Dogs are not allowed in the pond. However, this is a great place to stop and regroup. It has become a favorite photo op site. So have your camera or personal device ready to take pictures.

As far as what to wear, we’ve had people wear shorts, tee shirts, long sleeve T’s, long pants, boots, sneakers, sandals. The choice is yours. We will be walking in the woods, the trail has been wet in the morning, sometimes muddy and there are some rocky parts. So office shoes are not advisable. Be comfortable for the conditions.

Recall is important if you like to hike with your dog off leash. So practice having your dog come back to you when you call him or her. If you aren’t confident in your dog’s ability to come on command, you may want to keep your pup leashed to be safe. This is a decision only you can make. The area off trail has a lot of brush and you can lose sight of your dog easily.

Always carry poop bags! Whether you’re hiking with us at Canine Camp Getaway or hiking in your own neck of the woods, it’s important to leave the trails as you found them. As responsible dog owners, that’s important! So be smart and bring an extra bag, just in case.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to ban you from hikes because you didn’t walk enough, forgot water or bug spray. That’s not what we’re about at Canine Camp Getaway. These tips are just that, tips to make your experience more enjoyable. See you in two months. Is it really that close already?

Dog Friends, Old and New

March 17th, 2012

This week, Canine Camp Getaway hiking and lure coursing instructor Bob Dealy is guest blogging for us about dog friends, old and new, and about the journey from “new dog” to “beloved friend.”

For ten years my beagle Duke and I were inseparable. We were best friends and a good team. Around Christmas 2010 he passed. This November I was fortunate enough to have Shadow (Black Lab mix) come into my life. She is lovable and happy and we are bonding well. The two dogs are very much alike in many ways.

My old friend Duke set the bar high for future canine companions.

I love the way the two dogs would come up with alternatives to barking by using their tails to bang against objects to get attention. They are great at socializing with people and other dogs. Both are willing and ready to take a car ride at a moment’s notice, and when I come home, they give me the best happy dance you’ve ever seen. I was charmed when I first brought Shadow home that she went right to Duke’s old toy box and started playing with the toys. Talk about a quick adjustment period! Who could be so lucky?

I’m comforted by the similarities I see in the dogs. So what is the problem?

It seems that I am very lucky to have two great dogs, and I am. Yet I sometimes find myself assigning Shadow the job of being “Duke 2.0.” She is not.

I have not allowed her the time and space to show me all the wonderful things that she can be yet. I get disappointed when Shadow shows a behavior that Duke never would (i.e. the case of the disappearing chicken breasts). But she is not he. I must learn to teach her what is expected. I can’t take for granted she knows what to do just because of the similarities. And I certainly can’t expect her to live up the expectations of an old friend she has never met.

And that is the point of this entry. In dogs, as with people, we need to give those we let into our lives the opportunity to show us what is great, unique and different about them — even when they seem so much like others we have loved.

They say it’s the journey that matters, not the destination, and that is particularly true with our four-legged friends. Getting to know a new dog is a wonderful adventure. And just as no two dogs are alike, the relationship you build with your canine buddy is utterly one of a kind.

I see great things for Shadow and me in the future. We’ll share adventures, hikes, vacations, BBQs, days out playing with friends and lazy nights in watching Yankees games. We will share many of the things I shared with Duke, and many new things that are all Shadow. She will be her own dog, and I have no doubt she’ll make a great companion.

The Scoop on Poop

March 2nd, 2012

This week, Canine Camp Getaway hiking and lure coursing instructor Bob Dealy is guest blogging for us with the scoop on poop, responsible dog ownership and why cleaning up after dogs sometimes takes a village.

In the reader sound off section item of this morning’s paper, a lady was complaining about dog owners not picking up after their dogs. She was a bit dramatic, stating, “Do I have to dress up in a uniform and issue summonses?”

My first reaction was, Lady, you have no idea how far dog owners have come.

In college I lived off campus, I constantly had to dodge piles that were left on the sidewalk on my way to and from classes. It was all over the place.

Dog owners are so much more responsible today. The fact I noticed this as rare indicates there have been great strides made by dog owners over the last couple of decades.

Still the reader’s comment is valid. My dog can still find stray poop along our daily walk. And if you’re a responsible dog owner, you know this shouldn’t be. Like a lot of you, I’ll sigh, tell my dog to leave it and continue with the walk. As someone who likes to run, I occasionally have to avoid it or clean it off my shoes after returning home. But rarely on a walk will I pull a bag out and clean up someone else’s mess. After all it’s not my responsibility!

But after thinking about it, I have to wonder, should it be? I reluctantly came to the conclusion, yes.

There are two reasons for us to consider this. One, dog poop is the greatest danger to our own dogs, as it transmits illness to our dog or other dogs in our home area. Active dog owners are at greater risk than the general dog-owning public. Two, it enhances the reputation of dogs and their owners within the community. Property owners are not responsible for the care of our dogs and that includes picking up after our dogs.

If you know where there is stray waste on your walk, take an extra bag and remove it. Set the example for responsible ownership in your community. The property owner will appreciate it, and maybe the person whose dog dropped it will learn from your example. (I highly doubt the second part but it’s possible.)

In a world where we are asking for public funds for dog parks, showing increased responsibility in ownership can only help us all.

A Love Letter to My Dogs

February 13th, 2012

Dogs are easy to love. Mine are especially lovable — even when they’re barking ferociously at the UPS guy (Jessie) or running through the house wildly swinging my pocketbook over their heads and dumping credit cards everywhere (Lexie). In fact, rarely does a day go by when I don’t discover something new to love about my dogs. It’s hard not to be charmed by their loyalty, intelligence, humor, joyfulness and sheer goodness.

So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share some of the many things I love about my dogs.

I love that they are always filled with joy, whether it’s a fun-filled Saturday or a dreary Monday morning; whether it’s rainy, snowy, hot and muggy or freezing out; whether we’re playing ball, going for a walk, or just lounging in bed doing nothing. They’re joyful regardless of the situation, as if it’s just a natural state of being for them. And sometimes It’s nice to be reminded that joy doesn’t need a reason.

I love that they see the possibilities in every day, and every situation. Sure, it’s hurricane conditions out there, but Mom MIGHT take us for a walk…she MIGHT drop a hot dog off the grill tonight…she MIGHT be walking into the kitchen not for a glass of water but to get us a treat…she MIGHT let us up on the living room couch, even though we’ve never ever been allowed on that couch. And although she says “Leave the cat!” so often we could practically recite it ourselves, when she opens her mouth as we’re nose poking the cat, this time she MIGHT say, “Yes, please, chase the cat, go for it!” All things are possible in a dog’s world.

There's nothing in the world better than a dog's love, except, perhaps, two dogs' love!

I love that their devotion knows no bounds; as imperfect as I am, they think I’m the best dog Mom ever. And they think that whether I’m tired and cranky, whether I’m in sweats or dressed to the nines, whether I’m playing with them or ignoring them to work on the hated laptop. Who else loves you with that level of constancy?

I love that they have a sense of family. They love each other, our cats, our friends, our friends’ dogs, and assorted parents, siblings, nieces and nephews (and their dogs), welcoming them as part of our extended “pack.”

I love their adventurous spirit. Road trip? No problem! Whether it’s their annual Canine Camp Getaway dog vacation, a day trip to check out the Pet Expo or a simple run to the grocery store with a stop off at Mom’s house, they’re always up for it.

I love their many moods and sides, love how they can be charming, serious and silly by turns, romping and playing ball one minute, barking excitedly and tackling each other, and then an hour later, be sitting quietly at (or on) my feet, sharing a contemplative moment.

I love their sense of honesty and loyalty. My dogs don’t hide who or what they are; they “say” exactly what they mean (if I’m clever enough to pay attention). And their love is equally honest, with nothing held back. They always believe the best of people, and are never petty or spiteful; they never even seem to be disappointed in me (even when they might have reason to be). There’s a purity in their interactions with humans and each other which is refreshing beyond words.

I love the wordless communication that we share; how we can read each other’s minds sometimes. It’s like a form of music, magical and powerful and beautiful.

I love the comfort of their warm, furry bodies, love the happy swishing of their tails, love the cold noses that like to flip the laptop closed when I’ve spent too much time writing and not enough time playing. And I especially love the four beautiful brown eyes that stare at me in hopeful anticipation, whether they’re waiting for a walk, a ball toss, a treat or just a pat on the head.

Most of all, though, I love that my dogs make me want to be a better human, so that I can live up to the person they believe I am right now.

If Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, then I am truly rich. For I am loved by the two best dogs on the planet!

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your loved ones (be they four-legged or two-legged)!

Janice Costa is owner and founder of Canine Camp Getaway of NY, the Lake George, NY-based vacation for dogs and dog lovers. When she’s not working, playing or traveling with dogs, she works in the home design field as an author and magazine editor.

Dogs in Search of Snow!

February 6th, 2012

People from the Northeast often talk about how they’d miss the four seasons if they moved South. Personally, I don’t buy it. It’s like poor people saying they’re glad they’re not rich because being poor helps them remember what really matters in life. As if they wouldn’t prefer to be remembering what really matters in life, minus the “insufficient funds” message from the ATM machine two days before pay day. All seasons are not created equal, and summer is definitely better than winter.

Granted, I’m a summer girl; I live for beaches, kick off sandals, convertibles and the smell of chlorine. It’s no accident that my dog vacation business, Canine Camp Getaway of NY, offers an annual SUMMER vacation for dogs and their people. Seriously, I’ve never been able to fathom why anyone would look forward to winter.

Which is why it’s so ironic that, in the (happily) mildest winter we’ve had in years, I’m suddenly trying to figure out where we can go to find some snow.

But that’s what love does to you, I guess.

Dog vacation in the snow?

How did a summer-loving girl like me end up with a winter-loving dog like Jessie?

I may be a summer girl, but my beloved dogs are not; Jessie wilts in hot weather, and even the shorter-haired Lexie would much rather play roll and tackle in a giant snow drift (preferably with a few breaks to eat some snowballs) than sweat in the summer heat. Jessie may be a senior citizen in dog years, but she’s never outgrown “King of the Snow Drift” games, and rolling her little sister in a pile of the white stuff always brings out the puppy in her.

Unfortunately, they haven’t had much opportunity for snow romping this year. And with February already a week old, it’s looking less likely that it’s going to happen.

Now, logically, I know they’re not really looking at the calendar saying, “Half the winter is gone, where’s the snow?” Yet sometimes I catch them looking wistfully out the window, as if they’re waiting for a snowstorm to appear out of nowhere, blanketing the world in the shimmering white stuff and turning the backyard into a winter wonderland for dogs.

Even if they don’t know that winter is passing them by (dogs supposedly not having a sense of time, though that never explains why they know enough to start circling the food bowls like sharks an hour before dinner time), *I* know it. I’ve seen the wonder in their eyes that first winter morning when they wake up to find snow piled high in the yard. I’ve listened to the joyful yaps as they chase each other through the giant snow drifts, laughed as they’ve coaxed me out into below-freezing temperatures to share in their winter games, and played tug o’ war with the towel meant to dry them off when they finally come back inside.

And I can’t stand the thought of my dogs missing out on that. Or anything they love that much.

Even if it means packing up the car and purposefully taking them someplace (eek!) cold and snowy.

So this weekend, we’re heading north in search of snow. It may take a bit of driving, as the whole Northeast has been explicably in a warming trend. But we’re not worried. With a friend living 30 minutes out of Canada, with five acres of property and two snow-loving dogs of her own, a road trip sounds like just what the veterinarian ordered to chase away my dogs’ non-winter blues.

Do your dogs love snow? Have you ever taken them someplace on vacation just to enjoy a taste of winter? Feel free to share your comments below!

Janice Costa is owner and founder of Canine Camp Getaway of NY, the Lake George, NY-based vacation for dogs and dog lovers. When she’s not working, playing or traveling with dogs, she works in the home design field as an author and magazine editor.

A Car Ramp for Jessie

January 18th, 2012

Back in November, I began my search for a new car that my dogs would love as much as I did. Now, I’m not a car person, and I wasn’t really ready to buy a new car (my beloved convertible took an unexpected turn for the worse), so I didn’t expect the process to be much fun.

It wasn’t. I hated the pushy car salespeople and the boring online research. I fell asleep several nights on my laptop trying to decipher crash reports and safety ratings. Just the thought of a monthly car payment stressed me out beyond belief. And as much as I knew the dogs needed an SUV, I hated the idea of driving some monstrously big Mom-mobile when I was used to the ease and speed of my little convertible.

But despite these challenges, I eventually found and fell in love with the perfect car: a 2012 Nissan Rogue with enough little extras to make driving fun — and enough space to fit two dogs comfortably (including one dog with greater-than-average personal space needs).

The one thing I didn’t anticipate was the extra challenges caused by the added height of the Rogue. Now, by SUV standards, it’s pretty close to the ground. In fact, that’s one of the things I loved about it — no “monster truck” feeling getting in and out. But for a 10-year-old, 100-pound dog with some arthritis, it’s still a bit tougher to enter and exit than the old convertible (which was so low to the ground, if you pulled up too far in a parking space, the curb grabbed your bumper and you couldn’t back out without leaving your bumper there attached to the curb…not that I know this from personal experience, or anything!).

As a result, the dog was getting fewer car rides, and suddenly everyone was less than enamored with my wonderful new Rogue.

Clearly we needed a solution, so suddenly I was back in the market, this time for a dog ramp.

Now, dog ramps look easy, don’t they? Your dog walks up them and walks down them. Simple, right?

In theory, sure. In reality, you have to worry about length, weight capacity, slippage, side rails, whether they fold up or retract, whether they slice your fingers off while you’re trying to fold them up or make them retract, how much space they take up in the back, whether they have sharp edges that will slice an ill-placed hand or paw, how heavy they are to carry, how much time they take to set up, and whether your dog will actually use them after you do all this research and eventually buy one.

When I bought my new SUV, it was clear that a ramp was necessary to help my older dog enter and exit more easily.

I went through something similar a year ago when I picked up dog stairs to help my dog make it up more easily onto the bed. My bed is a bit higher than a typical bed, and I’d noticed that the dog had recently started needing a running start to jump up onto it. So the stairs seemed like an ideal solution.

I spent two months researching different brands, and several more weeks price shopping before finally placing my order. They arrived, looking and working every bit as well as described. Except for one tiny problem: The dog hated them. She ignored them, jumped over them and flat out refused to use them. Treats, praise, coaxing didn’t help at all. And it wasn’t that she didn’t know how to use them — she just refused.

For six months, they sat in a corner of the bedroom doing nothing. I even thought about giving them away, or selling them on eBay, but never quite got around to it. Then one day, the dog was pacing around the bed, clearly looking to get up, but seemingly unsure of her ability to make the jump. So I pulled out the stairs again. Coaxed her up with some treats. Coaxed her back down with some treats. And suddenly her eyes lit up in the doggie version of “Eureka!” You could actually see her mind clicking: “STAIRS! Stairs for ME! Stairs to MY BED!” That night, she probably climbed on and off the bed 20 times. And while I didn’t get much sleep (a 100-pound dog entering and exiting the bed isn’t the most graceful creature in the world), it thrilled me to be able to give her back the ease of spending time on the bed with me when she wanted to.

So you’d think with the stairs thing being conquered, the ramp thing would be easy, right?

It should be…but it wasn’t.

It turns out my dog doesn’t much like dog ramps. Not big ones, wide ones, ones with rails, ones without rails. She didn’t like the slippery ones or the non-slip ones, the fold up ones or the loud retractable ones.

My fingers didn’t like them either. Trying to assemble these in the dark so my dog could join me for a simple trip to Mom’s was an awful lot of work…and dangerous work for a klutz who can barely do this type of stuff in full daylight, forget at midnight in a coat and gloves.

And suddenly I had a eureka moment myself. Why was I trying to talk my dog into a dog ramp she clearly hated when she loved her stairs so much? So I pulled out her stairs, dragged them up to the back of the car, set them up…and she saw them and lit up with joy, as if to say, ‘Oh look, my stairs!” She walked right up them and into the back, happy as a clam.

So now when we travel, her stairs come with us. They’re a bit heavy to carry back and forth from the house to the car, but they open up in two seconds (no sliced fingers), and the dog seems happy with the arrangement. So I’m thinking we might just buy a second set and keep them in the car full time. They do bang around a bit in the back, so I need to think about how to secure them to the side so they take up less space. But overall, they do the trick.

And since we’ve worked that out, both dogs now love their new car!

 

Janice Costa is owner and founder of Canine Camp Getaway of NY, the Lake George, NY-based vacation for dogs and dog lovers. When she’s not working, playing  or traveling with dogs, she works in the home design field as an author and magazine editor.