Archive for September, 2011

Reality TV Has Gone to the Dogs

Monday, September 26th, 2011

When you run a dog vacation business, you get to go to a lot of dog events. I particularly love the fall events, because they combine four of my favorite things: dogs, the great outdoors, kettle corn, and shopping. I mean, really, what more could you ask for?

But the people who run these events must think we dog owners aren’t that easily satisfied, as they always seem to be raising the ante with everything from Search & Rescue Dog Demonstrations to celebrity Doggie Moms.

Yes, you heard me right. We’re talking about actual dog moms, just like you and me, except that they have their own TV show…

I’d heard of the show before, of course. Like “Housewives of Whatever County,” it vaguely rings a bell; my brain is filled with the names of reality shows I never watch (largely because I’d rather flip channels continuously, so I can catch glimpses of Mets baseball without the full-blown pain of watching it straight up). But suddenly, it hit me: Someone is getting PAID to sit home being a dog Mom. And it’s not ME.

Now this is just wrong. 

My whole life is dogs. I plan group dog hikes, dog birthday parties, dog holiday events. I run a dog meetup group (social group for dogs and their owners) with nearly 150 members. I teach prep classes and certify dogs for the AKC Canine Good Citizen program and the Therapy Dog program. I “Bark for Life” (a dog walk to raise money for cancer research) and run Pet Food Drives at work to support local animal shelters. I spend so much time at the dog park, my dogs could probably drive there by themselves (the little one loves to walk around the house with the car keys in her mouth, and the older one likes to sit in the driver’s seat, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch!). 

In fact, I founded Canine Camp Getaway of NY solely to provide my dogs with a fun summer vacation where they could swim in the pool (Lexie’s favorite thing) and lure course (Jessie’s favorite thing).

So, as far as I can tell, it’s simply not possible that there are five people out there who are more qualified than I am to be on a “Doggie Moms” TV show. 

How did I not know about this when they were holding auditions? And if there are dogs with full-time, stay-at-home Moms, are my dogs being deprived, being “latchkey dogs?” 

Anyone who’s ever owned a dog knows about dog guilt: the sad eyed stare you get when you BBQ dinner and no hot dog accidentally falls off the grill; the pathetic whine when they think they’re going on a great car ride, only to end up at the vet’s office; the heartbreaking looks they give you when you pull out a suitcase for a trip that doesn’t involve them. And that “It can’t possibly be Monday already — are you leaving me AGAIN?” look they give you when the weekend is over and it’s back to work.

Now I have the added guilt of knowing that my dogs could have had a stay-at-home dog Mom — if only I hadn’t missed my opportunity to be a “Doggie Moms” reality star.

Maybe I need to watch more reality TV after all. At the very least, perhaps I could make friends with one of the Mob Wives of New Jersey, who could knock off a Doggie Mom so I could get the job. 

Older Dogs: Still Living Life to the Fullest

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Some years ago, I was driving to the grocery store when I saw a man carrying a very large dog. Assuming the dog was hurt, I pulled over to see if I could help.

“Is your dog injured? Do you need a ride to the animal hospital?” I asked.

He gave me a smile that was a little bit sad, and said, “She’s fine. She’s 16 now, and she runs out of steam pretty fast these days. But she loves to walk in the sunshine, even though she can’t go very far anymore. So I take her out, and when she gets tired, I just carry her home.”

I remember thinking, what a remarkable man! Although he recognized the limitations that come with age, he still honored his dog’s desire to enjoy life to the fullest, for as long as she could, and he was helping to make that happen.

Back then, my dog was still cutting her puppy teeth on my furniture, and old age seemed a lifetime away. But now that my 100-pound shep mix is fast approaching 10, I sometimes think back on that chance meeting, and the lessons to be learned from it. And I wonder…was his dog still taking walks at 16 because of some genetic good fortune, or was his willingness to help his dog experience life to the fullest part of the reason for her longevity?

As our dogs age, it’s easy to want to wrap them in a plastic bubble wrap. Rest them so they don’t get “too tired.” Protect them from getting hurt. Guard them from all the dangers of the world, as if by doing so, we can somehow keep old age from catching up with them.

So maybe we may cut the walk a bit shorter…retire them from the agility field…leave them home from our favorite pet event because we don’t want to tire them out. Maybe we assume they can’t do something and don’t give them the opportunity to try.

We want to protect them, but is this making assumptions thing truly in the dog’s best interest?

I’m not saying it’s not perfectly reasonable to make allowances for a dog slowing down as the years creep up. But shouldn’t the dog have a say in it?

Dogs are, in many ways, born to be wanderers, joyful travelers who long to explore the world, whether their trip takes them cross country, or simply around the block. They thrive on stimulation, whether it’s a playdate with other dogs, a sniff fest along a wooded trail, a rousing game of “find the treat” or a social outing with their favorite humans.

And the same way many human seniors eschew retirement because they are happiest when they’re doing what they love, dogs, too, may want to continue their life travels for as long as their legs will hold them up. Or in the case of one 16 year old dog, even longer.

And it’s not such a bad thing, that.

Because the truth is, you can’t stave off old age. No amount of rest will prevent the years from passing. But though we can’t keep our dogs from getting older, we CAN keep their lives joyful by letting them do the things they love, for as long as they can.

Is your older dog living life to the fullest? Tell us about it!

Traveling Tails

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

For the first 21 years of my life, I never traveled out of the tri-state area. So it still sort of amazes me that the second half of my life, I racked up more frequent flier miles than your average basketball team (but not nearly as many miles as my luggage racked up!) and I now run a dog vacation business.

Equally amazing, I somehow ended up with two dogs who not only love to travel, but who seem to feel it’s their mission in life to encourage dogs and dog lovers to join them on their Canine Camp Getaway of NY vacations.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. Most dogs are wanderers at heart, and while my dogs are more of the velcro-dog variety, both share an adventurous spirit and a willingness to chase tennis balls across fields, valleys, state or even country lines. They also love other dogs, so while travel is fun, travel to someplace with lots of dogs is MORE fun.

They even have their own luggage — matching travel bags with paw prints on the outside and separate compartments for treats, bowls, tennis balls and extra leashes. Which is funny, since I spent my college years heading back and forth with my clothing stuffed in a duffel bag that vaguely resembled a large pillow case.

If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d be planning vacations for dogs and their people, I probably would’ve thought you were crazy. Of course now some people think I AM crazy…but these are generally people without dogs.

If you have a dog, you understand that going on vacation isn’t nearly as much fun when you have to leave your furry four-legged friend behind. And dog guilt is a really powerful thing.

But my two dogs took it one step beyond dog guilt. First, they started dumping their bones, balls and toys in my suitcase when I started packing for a trip. When that didn’t work, they began lying in the suitcase (like, I might somehow miss a 100 pound dog sprawled in the middle of my clothing, zip it up and take her with me by accident!).

Finally, they decided to forget subtlety entirely and plan their own vacation. Canine Camp Getaway of NY is their idea, and it’s all about them. Dogs in the pool. Dogs running lure coursing, or chasing frisbees, or doing agility. Dogs in the dining room, or in the bar at night. Dogs and their people romping, playing, relaxing together, and remembering what makes the bond between canine and human so very special.

I’m just along for the ride.

But as rides go, it’s a good one. Dogs teach us so much about life, and traveling with your dog turns a vacation into a Grand Adventure. When I’m with my dog, the grass is greener, the air is fresher, the stars are brighter. And my soul is lighter.

In these high-stress times, there’s something to be said for that. So next time you plan a vacation, think about bringing your best friend along. You’ll both be glad you did!