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?

Hippie dogs (and do dogs reflect our personalities?)

Last night, we took Pyrrha to a laidback outdoor concert at The Garage, a fun, creative music venue in our town. (Excuse the blurry phone photos in advance, please…)

The Garage
The Garage

As I’ve mentioned before, Pyr has been having some leash reactivity to other dogs, and I thought this might be a good socialization experience for her. The Garage is set up so that the audience sits across the street in a small city park, so you can get up and move around if need be. This gave Pyrrha some “breathing room” and allowed me to get up and walk her around when I could tell she was getting agitated/too anxious.

Pyrrha at The Garage | DoggerelOn the whole, I was proud of how she handled the whole experience. She did especially great with people. She wasn’t afraid of men coming up to her and petting her, and she even generously (and, um, thoroughly) licked the face of a loud (maybe inebriated) woman who rushed right up to her. Overall, Pyrrha-to-people interactions were a success.

While we were there, she also had a positive interaction with this dog:

So, a horrible photo, but you can get the idea of what this dog looked like, right? A small, rangy-type street dog.

The dog was with a group of young travelers, whom I’ll call “hippies,” but not in a derogatory sense — more because of their laidback behavior, dreadlocks, and general bohemian appearance. Nothing negative about them. But this dog was meandering through the crowd, dragging her leash behind her. This initially made me nervous, and Pyrrha was up on alert as soon as the dog came close to us, but I took a deep breath and loosened my grip on the leash. They sniffed rears, wagged tails, and the blond dog peacefully went on her way. No barking, no hackles, no extreme reactions from Pyrrha. Sigh of relief!

This interaction led me to this question: Do you think our dogs mirror our temperaments?

Obviously, dogs pick up on our body language, and they can sense our moods often more accurately than we can. And there’s no clear study (that I know of) that could definitively answer this question, but here’s what I was thinking: This blond hippie dog was so CHILL. She knew exactly how to defuse Pyrrha’s anxiety. She wandered calmly through the crowd, sniffing here and there. I could almost see her saying, “Peace and love, man, peace and love.” Her human (a young woman with dreadlocks) watched the dog calmly and would call her back; she was not overly concerned with the dog’s behavior.

I, on the other hand, tend to be a fairly anxious person. And you all know that Pyrrha is a fairly (OK, very) anxious dog. I worry about her a LOT, and I imagine she worries about me, too. So, are we just feeding each other through these vicious cycles? The hippie dog stays peaceful because her people stay peaceful; Pyrrha stays anxious because I stay anxious.

Do you ever wonder this? Like, would Pyrrha be a much calmer dog if she lived with these nomadic young travelers? I don’t know. It’s kind of a depressing thought, but I think it might be true. The moral of the story for me? Peace and love, man, peace and love. And maybe that aura will influence Pyrrha too…

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.

Waiting her out

Downtown mall walk
Sniffing around Court Square.

Last Wednesday, Pyrrha and I took a long walk downtown–to visit Guion at work, and just to get out and stretch our legs for a few hours. I love these long, quiet walks with her. I feel like my mind is able to unwind after a day at work. I love watching her gain confidence on our walks, with her mouth hanging open and her tail swishing back and forth.

On our way downtown, we encountered a woman and her gorgeous malamute/shepherd mix. He had the coloring and build of a light sable wolf, although he was about Pyrrha’s height. As they approached, Pyrrha tucked her tail and bared her teeth at the dog. I started to apologize to the woman, but she said, “He used to do that all the time, too,” pointing to her handsome dog. I was surprised. He looked so calm and friendly.

We started talking, and it turned out that she’d adopted Chino about three months ago and he’d made great progress since then. I loosened Pyrrha’s leash as I talked to the woman. We discussed rescuing, our shy dogs, and the progress they gradually make. Throughout this conversation, Chino was placid and unconcerned by Pyrrha’s toothy display–and, as I was relieved to note, his human seemed to be equally nonplussed.

Downtown mall walk
Nearing the downtown mall.

Perhaps two minutes passed, and suddenly Pyrrha’s tail unwound; her hackles released; and she threw down a goofy play-bow in front of Chino. He responded in kind, and then the two were happily romping along the sidewalk (while we were trying to keep them from darting into the road). She even started kissing his ears. My dog, in a state of utter fear just a minute ago, was now smitten with this stud of a canine. We had to actually drag them apart, so we could continue on our merry way.

As I walked away, I turned to Chino’s human and said, “Thank you for waiting her out. That means a lot to me!”

I explained. Most dog owners, when they see Pyrrha’s lips curled back in fear and those bared teeth, gasp and run in the opposite direction, trailing their dogs behind them. I don’t blame them. A German shepherd in that posture is a fearful sight to behold. Because of this, however, Pyrrha rarely gets to move beyond that threshold of fear into that state of initiating play. Most people aren’t willing to wait it out.

But Chino’s lady was–and I was so grateful to her for that. Pyrrha needs all the positive dog-on-dog interactions she can get. They are hard to come by. I hope we’ll continue to run into Chino and his person, so my girl continues to learn that there isn’t anything to be afraid of after all.

Have you ever been grateful for someone–even a stranger–who understood your dog’s special needs?