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?

6-mile trail walk with Bo

Bo! Photo by his mama.

On Saturday morning, Guion and I took Bo exploring along the trails near our future house. It was a beautiful morning and we ended up walking about six miles. We walked the last few miles of the marathon that was going on around town, too; Bo proved to be a welcome distraction for some (justifiably) exhausted marathoners. We used our new leather leash on the walk and I just loved it; it’s already so soft and strong and infinitely better than any nylon leash. Bo was delightful, as always. True to his nature, he was very distracted by the river and all its trappings and kept trying to sneak down an embankment and jump in. He’s pretty great. I am really going to miss that boy. His mama got into a graduate program in Florida and they’ll be moving down there this summer. Don’t want to think about it. I will miss them both something awful…

Hope you had an equally happy and sunny weekend!

Encountering off-leash dogs

Photo by Anne Cutler.

I recently took a walk with a friend on a big section of a popular trail in town that runs along a river. The trail system spreads for miles around the city and it’s a very popular route for dog people, for obvious reasons. In just an hour of walking, we saw tons of people with their dogs: A pregnant woman with her older shih tzu and pomeranian puppy; a little boy with his all-white American bulldog; an elderly man and his elderly mixed breeds; a parade of labs; a woman and her chubby Australian shepherd; a woman and her very vocal dachshund; a young guy and his Great Pyrenees…

The one thing that did surprise me, however, was how many of these dogs were off-leash, despite the fact that there were many signs posted along the trail stating that all dogs have to be leashed. None of these off-leash dogs seemed particularly “dangerous”–the two old dogs were so slow that they were barely walking, and the young lab who was off-leash was so fixated on the stick in his owner’s hand that he wasn’t looking at anyone else. We also saw a young male spitz/collie mix who seemed to either be a stray or to have been left behind by his humans, because he wasn’t with anyone. (He ran off in the woods before we could get that close to him to look for identification tags.)

Confession: I can be as guilty as the next person about sporadically breaking leash laws. Dublin and Dally are never leashed when we’re at the park in my hometown, mostly because the park is sparsely populated. If we do ever see a dog, we leash them, but they’re usually romping free, and Dublin, for one, is extremely responsive to verbal commands. I’ve hiked a trail with Bo off-leash, too, but it wasn’t an official trail, so there were no leash laws governing it. In general, though, I always leash and try to use common sense about it. It’s safer for everyone. So, I know this. I just wanted to admit my hypocrisy up front.

But. On this particular trail, seeing these many off-leash dogs did make me a little nervous about using this trail in the future. It’s not like it’s a sparsely used park or an unofficial path in the forest; this is a heavily trafficked trail system, used by all sorts of people: Dog people, young families, teenagers, bikers, runners, and even the city’s homeless.

What if we have a dog who isn’t great with other dogs rushing up to him or her? Our dog would always be leashed, but you can’t control an unleashed dog from rushing forward. (*Side story: Zoe and I narrowly escaped a potentially frightening situation like this. I was walking her in her neighborhood, and a young German shepherd was loose in his front yard. There were college students standing out in the yard, too, but none of them were looking at the dog, who started to charge toward us, growling. I stopped behind a hedge and shouted over it, “PLEASE leash your dog!” Thankfully, they heard me and grabbed the dog and we could continue without fear for our lives…)

How do you prevent this situation from escalating–an unleashed dog rushing up to your leashed one? Have you ever encountered this before?

Cute but stupid

This photo is actually from Christmas, but it's the same park and the same dogs, so I'm using it here.

I went to visit my family this weekend, for an early birthday celebration for my dad and to surprise my siblings. It was a beautiful few days and on Saturday, we went back to the big, open park nearby and took Dublin and Dally with us. (Photo above gives an approximation of what the day was like, even though the photo is from Christmas. Same dogs, same park, mostly the same people.)

The dogs were off-leash most of the time and stuck with us through all the trails. Dublin is very responsive, especially to my father and to her human, Dave; Dally, not so much. We shared the trail with sporadic mountain bikers and when we’d call Dublin to get off the trail, she’d do so immediately; when we’d call at Dally or gesture at her, she just stood there dumbly, staring at us. Dally is only 8 or 9 months old and she hasn’t been trained by her family at all, so I suppose this isn’t really surprising.

When Dublin spotted the creek, she went scrambling down a large embankment and splashed around the water. Dally tried to follow her, but since she’s overweight and clumsy, it didn’t go so smoothly. She ended up getting trapped in a huge vat of quicksand-like mud and Dave had to help drag her out of it. As my dad likes to say of dogs like her: “Cute but stupid!” After she emerged, she looked like a sad, shamed princess; she couldn’t even wag her tail, as it was so weighed down with mud. Poor baby. We hosed her down when we got home and she was no worse for the wear.

Side note: Is it ever appropriate to tell someone that their dog is overweight? Especially if they seem unaware of it? Dally is young, as I mentioned, but the poor girl already has a weight problem. I think she needs to lose 15 pounds or more; it’s noticeable, and even more so since I last saw her in December. Is that ever appropriate, do you think? If so, is there a gentle way to say it?

One step closer: A house for May!

Backyard garden plots with the new house (fenced-in yard on the right).

I’ve been SO excited and relieved this week, because we have made our first big step toward adopting a dog: Moving!

We found a new place to rent and our lease will begin May 15. I cannot WAIT to move in!

Here are all of the reasons why this place is totally awesome for us and for our future dog:

  1. Our landlord is a really cool young woman with three dogs herself (including her fiance’s blue heeler), so she’s totally dog friendly and fine with us having a dog! She is also a volunteer at the same SPCA that I volunteer at, which has been a neat connection. We definitely bonded over that when we met.
  2. You can’t see it in the picture above, but the house comes with a sizable fenced-in yard, which I am thrilled about, because it is REALLY hard to find in this area.
  3. Plus, the extensive garden plots are outside the fence, which means Guion can carry on gardening projects without being disturbed by the dog or worrying that the dog will tear them up.
  4. It’s in the exact neighborhood we wanted: Calm, quiet, and easily walkable to downtown.
  5. The house is a 6-minute drive from my current office. THEN, when my office moves to its new location in early 2013, I’ll be only a 15-minute WALK to the office. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
  6. The location of the house will also make it possible for me to leave work at lunch (my dog-loving boss has already given me approval for this) to come home and take the dog for a mid-day walk. I’m also hoping this will be a sell for the rescue agencies.
  7. The house is also just a short walk away from our city’s greatest park: It’s 280 acres of wooded natural glory and it’s just a skip away from our location. The park and the surrounding trails, woven through by a beautiful river, are really dog friendly and I can’t wait to explore them with our future dog!
  8. We can afford it! That’s the big one.

There are other reasons, I’m sure, but these are the significant ones that come to mind right now. I feel like I can breathe, having this big decision already made. The countdown to May 15 begins! 3 months, 1 week, and 5 days…