How dog friendly is your town?

Jessica at My Imperfect Dog reflected on how dog friendly her city was, and it made me start thinking about our town.

Hiking at Shenandoah
Hiking near Shenandoah National Park with Silas.

We live in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, Monticello, softly rolling mountains, artists, rich old people, and a plethora of bookstores. It’s kind of my dream town, and we are loath to ever leave (particularly now that we’ve put such serious roots down by buying our first home). But what’s it like to live here as a dog?

If I could ask the dogs, I would, but I’d give Charlottesville 5 out of 5 stars in a dog-friendly rating. It’s a progressive place to raise a dog.

Out with the girls
The girls on the river trail near our home, which winds for 33 miles through the city.

What makes Charlottesville dog friendly?

  •  Lots of hiking and great trails throughout the city. Specifically, a river runs through most of the city, and there’s 33-mile-long trail that winds along the river and conveniently picks up near our home.
  • Shenandoah National Park is about a 45-minute to hour-long drive away. Hiking dog heaven! And beautiful vistas. We don’t visit as often as we should.
  • Many parks, including three off-leash dog parks. We don’t partake in dog parks ourselves, for a number of reasons, but there are decent offerings in town for those who do.
  • The dog-friendly pedestrian mall downtown. There are always TONS of dogs on the Downtown Mall, and lots of al fresco dining options, so your pups can eat out with you (if you happen to have super-chill dogs, unlike us).
  • Many pet stores. We have the big chains (PetSmart and PetCo), but we also have great local pet businesses, like a discount pet food store and an all-natural pet supplies boutique.
  • A plethora of veterinarians. However, I have found that some of the most respected vets tend to be out of the city limits, so we take a hike to see our vet.
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. This is a regionally respected SPCA for their work in providing a happy, humane, clean environment for animals. Thanks in part to generous donations from our local celebrity residents (e.g., Sissy Spacek), CASPCA was also able to become a no-kill shelter. I volunteered here for almost a year before we adopted Pyrrha, and it was a very pleasant experience. Once you’ve seen what a county animal shelter looks like, you really begin to appreciate how luxe the accommodations are at CASPCA. They take very good care of the animals, even though they are still often strapped for time and resources.
  • A great dog trainer. I, of course, think that our trainer, Deven Gaston at Canine Campus, is the best! There are several other positive trainers in town. And there are some shock collar trainers. So. Options.
  • Dog owners in the city, for the most part, respect leash laws. As the guardian of a reactive dog, I really appreciate this. This does not hold true out in the county, but I imagine that’s true anywhere that you’ll find an urban/country divide (country dogs rarely, if ever, wear leashes; city dogs need them).

I think the general dog culture here is also very interesting. Charlottesville has an interesting mix of middle-aged liberals, college students, and rich old people. This demographic combination results in a rescue-focused and generally progressive dog-raising population.

Most people I know have rescue dogs. Come to think of it, I believe all of my dog-owning friends in town have rescues. I’d venture that people who don’t get rescues and instead buy a purebred puppy may even be looked down on (which, of course, is also not great).

But because of the pockets of substantial wealth, I have also seen more rare dog breeds in Charlottesville than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I’ve seen, just to name a few: leonbergers, a berger picard, a Bedlington terrier, borzoi, a Dandie Dinmont terrier, a black Russian terrier, Anatolian shepherds (there’s a breeder not far from town)… It’s kind of exciting for a big dog breed nerd like myself. (The woman who was walking the berger picard was just astounded that I knew her dog’s breed; she said I was the only person who’d ever guessed it correctly. I beamed.)

Venturing out in the surrounding country, you have a lot of hounds. So many hounds. Many of these hounds end up at the SPCA, usually having been separated from the pack during a hunting expedition. CASPCA is filled to the brim with hounds year round (usually large coonhound-, foxhound-type hounds). They run seasonal specials on hounds just to get them adopted. They are such sweet, gentle dogs, but they can be hard to place; they’re large, they’re not especially cute, they often have fear issues, and then there’s the baying. But I always have hope for the hounds.

That’s my best summation of Charlottesville for dog lovers and owners. All in all, I don’t have many complaints!

How dog friendly is your town? What is the canine culture like where you live?


Review: Pukka’s Promise

Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs
Pukka’s Promise

I am surprised a book like this hasn’t been written yet. It’s about time we started talking about why our dogs are dying so young.

Ted Kerasote takes on that question in his newest book, Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs. Kerasote, heartbroken by the death of his beloved dog Merle, sets out on a quest to investigate canine longevity. In the process, he brings home an athletic labrador retriever, Pukka (pronounced: puck-uh), who inspires his journey into dog health, diet, genetics, and environment.

Kerasote is based in the wilderness of Wyoming, but his research takes him all over the country. He interviews dozens of veterinarians, breeders, shelter workers, and just general dog people about their perspectives on how we can extend the lives of our canine companions.

I particularly enjoyed his chapters on breeding and genetics. I’ve become increasingly dismayed at the purebred breeding practices in the United States, and Kerasote shares my concern. He examines the recorded longevity of many purebreds and notes that most breed organizations add a handful of years to the breed’s estimated longevity; in reality, most purebred dogs die many years earlier than they are “supposed to,” according to breed standards. He shares findings from studies and anecdotes from breeders intent on improving genetic health. I was especially fascinated in his discussion of the silken windhound, a breed invented by geneticist Francie Stull. By selecting dogs for health and longevity, many of Stull’s windhounds lived into their upper teens and several into their twenties, which is remarkable for a dog of any size or breed.

In choosing his new dog (Pukka), Kerasote decides to go with a breeder instead of a rescue, despite citing research that mixed breeds tend to live, on average, a year longer than purebreds of similar sizes. He makes the choice based on reliability of information: you have a better idea of what you’re getting from a breeder than from a pound puppy. However, I thought it was a bit contradictory that he railed against dog fanciers for valuing looks so highly, because he repeatedly turns down puppies because they didn’t look just like Merle, his previous dog; they had to have that “rangy look” and that “rufuous coat” or he wouldn’t accept them.

His discussion on diet and vaccinations I also found to be helpful. Particularly, his approach to vaccinations struck me as level-headed and reasonable, not swinging too much to either party line (vaccinate all the time vs. never vaccinate). Instead, he vaccinates the minimum recommendations from his vet and then uses titers thereafter.

(As a side note, I was delighted that he spent a whole chapter about his visit to the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA [CASPCA], which is our local SPCA and the SPCA that I volunteered at for a year while waiting for Pyrrha! He uses CASPCA as a shining example of a successful no-kill shelter and a pleasant place for homeless animals. I felt a lot of hometown pride.)

My only critique of the book is that I wish Kerasote’s recommendations were more broadly applicable to the average dog owner. He lives on a plot of vast acreage in Wyoming. He feeds Pukka raw, wild game that he kills himself. Pukka gets hours of free-roaming adventure and play every day. Pukka does not wear a leash, ever. Kerasote is a single, childless person who also has a stay-at-home job, so he gets to be with Pukka all day long. This sounds like paradise to every dog-loving person, but I don’t think many of us could follow all of his doggy lifestyle recommendations. Most of us have full-time jobs, human families, budget constraints, and live in suburban or urban areas in which it would be both unsafe and unwise to let our dogs roam, leash-less and intact. It would have been nice to have made some more applicable advice or shared modifications on how we can incorporate these healthy living principles into our dogs’ lives.

All in all, it’s a great book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read general research on dog longevity and discover some broad principles to extend the life and well-being of one’s beloved canine.

Bonus: A video of Pukka by the author.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed here are my own.

What I learned this week

Some of the pretty (and adoptable!) faces I spent time with this weekend:


I spent about 8 hours this weekend at the shelter and my body is TIRED. I have so much respect for the full-time staff at our SPCA; they work really, really hard every day. I got home and I was so worn out. But I had a great time.

Some thoughts about what I learned over my two days with the lovely dogs at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA:

  • Penny and hyperactivity. Penny (see above) is a dog that most volunteers don’t enjoy walking. She can launch herself above your head and is packed full of energy. The second you open her kennel door, she throws herself against your body and starts nipping at every inch of you. She’ll bite your thigh, your fingers, your jacket, anything she can get her mouth on. I quickly realized that none of this nipping and biting stemmed from aggression; it was simply overwhelming excitement. Penny is the kind of dog who probably speaks exclusively in multiple exclamation points and all caps. “OH MAN, SOMEONE IS TAKING ME OUT!! I CAN’T WAIT!! I CAN’T WAIT! MUST BITE SOMETHING!! MUST JUMP SIX FEET IN AIR!” She is stressful. But once she’s finally outside and she’s calmed down a bit, she’s quite sweet. It’s not great to live your life in a kennel. Penny’s hyperactivity is certainly aggravated by her lifestyle at the shelter. But when you have 70 dogs in one building, kenneling is the most reasonable option; there is no other alternative. I hope Penny will find a home soon. I believe, with the right person and the right channel for her boundless energy, she would be a great dog. She sits perfectly on command. She’ll even sit beside you for 10 full minutes and just let you pet her–but only after she’s torn around the fenced in enclosure for a while.
  • Balking. I encountered a sweet little dog this weekend who gave me some challenges. Abe (not pictured) is a darling border collie-spaniel-corgi mix. He looks like a shrunken border collie or a miniature flat-coated retriever and he is just precious. He was very shy when we got him out of the kennel, but as soon as we were outside, he perked right up and was wagging his tail all over the place, delighted to crawl up into my lap and smile at me. Suffice it to say, I quickly fell in love. And yet Abe was very difficult. He was perfect on the walk, but as soon as we approached the door to return to the kennels, he stopped dead in his tracks. He began to whine and refused to budge a step further. I was able to lure him down the hill with some liver treats, but he soon figured out my strategy and stopped responding to them altogether. A more seasoned volunteer saw that I was struggling with him and came over to help me. She also tried luring him to the door, but he wasn’t having any of it. We finally decided that we were just going to have to carry him inside. Thankfully, Abe is only 30 pounds or so. I couldn’t help but wonder what we would have done if he had been any bigger! I don’t know why dogs occasionally balk when they’re on leash, but I’ve encountered my fair share of dogs that do (usually smaller ones and often terriers). With Abe, I think it was a combination of fear. With other dogs, it’s usually pure stubbornness. Have you ever encountered a dog who balks? Any advice?
  • Sassy. Sassy (see above) is a new dog at the shelter. That’s not a great picture of her, because she’s actually very regal and lovely; she looks like a German shepherd-Siberian husky mix and looks a lot like a wolf-dog when she’s stalking around in the woods. Sassy, despite her unfortunate name, is actually quite shy. I really enjoyed my walk with her because she’s unbelievably good on the leash. Sassy is extremely attentive to humans and despite displaying some potentially troublesome fear issues, she seems very intelligent and highly trainable. I hope she will go to a good home soon; I was half-tempted to sneak her into our tiny apartment myself…
  • Vivian and joy. Vivian (see above) was the last dog I walked on Sunday afternoon. She’s a slender and graceful fawn-and-white pit bull and she’s always smiling. Vivian is also shy, frightened of hands and loud noises, and she moves like a stray dog–slinking down to the ground, always attentive, always watching. Vivian is extremely attracted to other dogs and so it was somewhat difficult to get her out to the trails, since she was constantly leaping and launching herself at every dog nearby. I could tell she had a lot of pent-up energy, so I took her to one of the many fenced-in enclosures on the SPCA property. As soon as I snapped her leash off, she started tearing around in circles around the perimeter of the fence, mouth open in a huge grin, having the best time. It made me really happy. I think that’s what brings me the most joy from my time at the SPCA: Getting to see dogs act like dogs. I was delighted to spend time with the effervescent Vivian; she made me remember why I was there in the first place.

That’s what I learned this week. Can’t wait to go back soon!