White Hat Hacker aka Rocky

Yes, Rocky is in training to be a service dog. But we think she may have another inborn talent. It appears she has the capacity to be an ace White Hat Hacker.

For those of you not familiar with the term,  Technopedia.com defines a White Hat Hacker as:

a computer security specialist who breaks into protected systems and networks to test and asses their security. White hat hackers use their skills to improve security by exposing vulnerabilities before malicious hackers (known as black hat hackers) can detect and exploit them. Although the methods used are similar, if not identical, to those employed by malicious hackers, white hat hackers have permission to employ them against the organization that has hired them.

What leads us to believe this could be Rocky’s line of work? Well, it isn’t that she has mastered computer code. But she is an expert in assessing the security of a fenced dog yard.

Rocky's escapes thus far

Rocky’s escapes thus far

Remember in my last post, when I said  she had managed to jump the four-foot rock wall bordering our front patio, because we had left the front door open? That was on her first overnight at our house. The following Saturday, she came for her first weekend visit. She sat calmly with me in my office, as I worked online, ordering her new collar tags and other items. All at once I heard Sabrina say, “Rocky! Hey, Rocky’s in the front yard!”

Yes, thanks to only a few moments of inattention, Rocky had managed to go out to the dog yard, wander around to the far corner, and come to the one section that is bordered with four-foot rock wall instead of six-foot chain link fence, landing in the front yard (which is completely enclosed by rock wall). Relieved that this was as far as she had roamed, I opened the front door and called her inside.

We kept the dog door locked the rest of the day, realizing  we now had an escape artist to deal with. That night, before bed, I let all three dogs out to pee. I sat in the large open area with all of them, with the outside light on. Rocky disappeared into the mesquite for a few moments. When I called for everyone to come in, she didn’t appear. I panicked. I ran to the front yard, but she wasn’t there. I immediately knew what happened. “Hey!” she must have thought. “Hurdles!” Hop one rock wall, then another. I grabbed a flashlight, and ran out the side patio door. Sure enough, there she was, running towards me from the driveway. OK, definitely need to take care of that rock wall issue.

Chain link fence, waiting to be installed

Chain link fence, waiting to be installed

We had to make a quick five-day trip to California to see my grandmother, who had fallen and broken her hip, so Rocky went to the kennel, and we promised to come back for her upon our return. This Saturday, we kept that promise, picking her up for another long weekend. On Sunday, our handyman John came over to troubleshoot dog yard solutions, and we decided to extend the chain link fence all the way to the house on that escape-prone side. Until he can get the poles in on Tuesday, John and Sabrina simply leaned the fencing along the wall, to keep Rocky from gaining access. We figured we had a secure backyard for the time being, and could once again open the dog door.

Then I’m sitting out on the patio today, and look up to see – Rocky on the other side of the rock wall, coming up to the gate, tail wagging. Gawd!

Sabrina and I just finished walking the perimeter of the fence and have found there are spots where the bottom is raised just enough that, with a bit of digging, Rocky and her slender little body can squeeze right under.

May have to hot wire the whole perimeter. Damn.

Now why do I see her as a White Hat Hacker as opposed to a Black Hat Hacker? She doesn’t actually run away. She comes right to the front door afterwards, as if to say, “Uh, guys? You have a security issue here. Just thought I’d let you know.”

Thank god for that.


New Challenges for Training Days 7 & 8: My Cane and Movement Work

This past week, on July 5 and 7, we upped the ante a bit in my work with Rocky. Part of it was planned, and part of it happened because of my own body.

Let’s talk about the body part first, since that was the first to occur. On Tuesday, when I came to class, I wasn’t doing too well. We’ve had a run of quite a few days now with heat over 100 degrees, and extreme temperatures are one of the triggers for my episodes. I don’t always have full-on paralysis attacks. Sometimes what happens with prolonged exposure to triggers is that I have overall body weakness. I just get wobbly. I have a hard time walking in a straight line, and I need to rest a lot. When that is going on for me, I use a cane to help with balance and support. So on Tuesday, I used my cane in class with Rocky for the first time.

Ripley is, of course, very used to my cane, since I use it almost every time we go out on errands. I bring it as a precaution, because even if I feel strong at the outset of a trip, something might come up while we’re in the middle of a store (fluorescent lights are a trigger) or while eating in a restaurant (certain foods are triggers, and I never know when they will affect me), and then I need support to be able to walk back out of the building.  Or any number of other things. You get the idea.

But Rocky had never seen the cane before during training, so I wasn’t sure how she would react. We used to have a little dog named Houla, and she was first adopted from a shelter to be a companion dog for Sabrina’s dad. He was elderly and used a cane. And it turned out she was terrified of canes, for some reason – something from her earlier life. So Sabrina ended up with Houla instead. Since Rocky is also a rescue dog, we really had no idea how she would react.

Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Rocky acted as if the cane had been there all along. We went through a usual class with no problems. In fact, the only issue we had at all that day was towards the end of the class, when we were working on straight line heels. With this command, I was supposed to give Rocky a heel command, walk three steps, then stop, and she was to sit at my side without being told. Initially she was doing great. Then she began doing all her sits backwards – facing Jared, the trainer!

I scolded her and said, “Ignore him. He’s not important.” He laughed and said, “I know, they all do this. They only pay attention to me, and then later they shift all their attention to their handlers, and forget all about me.”

On Thursday, I returned, thankfully with a bit more pep, and Jared said it was time to advance to movement work. Up to this point, most of the training has been incremental; give a command, stop, next command. That’s important in the beginning, but Rocky has all of this down pat, and she is starting to get bored. Now it was time to put it all together into movement, so I spent almost the entire hour of training walking with Rocky heeling at my side.

We walked in a circle around the training room, and Jared gave me these commands: circle right (turn in a tight circle towards the right and then keep walking in the same direction), circle left, and (drat! can’t remember the exact command! but — ) turn 180 degrees right and begin walking the opposite direction, or turn 180 degrees left and begin walking the opposite direction. Each time Jared gave one of these commands, I would say, “Rocky, heel.” At first, she bumped into me when I turned. But as the class progressed, she began to watch me, and pay attention to which way I was about to turn. Remember when I said in a previous post that Ripley never runs into me, no matter how erratically I walk? That’s what this is teaching. Training Rocky to look at me, focus on what I am doing, so when I change direction, she changes direction, too.

Throughout these exercises, Jared would occasionally call out another command, such as “Sit” or “Down/Stay.” And wherever we were, we would execute that command. Then we would continue with the circle heeling exercise.

Imagine that you’re in the grocery store, walking down an aisle, and you think, “Oh. Right! I need milk, too.” And you suddenly make a U-turn, to go back to another aisle. Or you walk into a restaurant, and find that there is a crowd of people, and you have to make an abrupt stop, and wait for a table. Your service dog needs to be able to react as quickly as you do, turning, stopping, sitting, waiting, then starting up again, without running into you or anyone else, without getting her leash tangled up, always paying attention.

What was fun was seeing the progress – watching Rocky rise to the challenge, listen to my voice, catch my minor corrections, and by the end of the night, become focused on me with her full attention.

We celebrated by collapsing on the floor when we were finished for a well-deserved selfie session, followed by kisses for Sabrina and Ripley.

Good dog.


Dogs in Literature? Yep!

I can’t believe it’s December – mid-December at that. How did three months slip by?

Well, here’s what’s been happening in our world…we’ve been teaching! The team of Michelle/Ripley have been in front of a classroom since September, and we just finished our last day with students on Wednesday. Not just any group of students, though. We had the absolute privilege to be in a room with 20 human students and, on any given day, at least 10 dogs!

Bergin Group Shot-web

I taught a class to the undergraduates at Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, California, a school where students come from all over the county to get associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cynology – the study of dogs. While attending Bergin, each student has a dog assigned to them – actually, more than one, as they rotate every few months throughout their time there, so dogs don’t form strong attachments to a particular student. The students take classes in things directly related to dog handling, like basic obedience and more advanced skill training, and also learn about things like genetics, breeds, canine psychology, sociology, and disability studies. And, believe it or not, they take liberal arts classes – dogs in art and dogs in literature.

Which is where I came in. Yep, the Dogs in Lit prof! I had every good intention of telling you all about the class as we went through the semester, but somehow that didn’t happen. Damn. So let me just cover a few highlights.

This was my first real teaching gig. I learned as much, if not more, than my students. There were challenges every day, in presenting the material, meeting student needs, and adapting my initial expectations to fit the reality of what I found up in front of the classroom. But I loved it. There were so many positive moments, times when things clicked, when something I had figured out as a new approach worked, when a student got it. It made everything worthwhile.

Ripley at BerginI loved having Ripley next to me, and looking out into the classroom to see ten more dogs lounging around underneath desks. It was such a pleasure to be on a campus that was devoted to dogs, and also to spend an entire semester reading books about dogs, talking about dogs: ethical issues, training issues, social issues, and how all of this could or would affect the students’ lives.

We watched dog movies (Wendy and Lucy, Best in Show), and saw an original short play performed (“A Dog’s Tail,” by Sonoma County playwright Scott Lummer). A local author, Amanda McTigue, came in to speak about her novel, Going to Solace, and ended up handing out autographed copies to the entire class. And when we wrote to the author of one of the novels we read, The Mountaintop School for Dogs, Ellen Cooney responded with individual answers to each student.

I read a lot of dog books! Our class reading list, besides Mountaintop, included A Dog’s Life: Autobiography of a Stray (Ann M. Martin) and excerpts from  Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles (Jeanette Winterson), as well as the short stories “The Boy from Lam Kien” (Miranda July), “The Chain” (Tobias Wolff), and “Dog Song” (Ann Pancake). We also spent two weeks on poetry, particularly focusing on Mary Oliver and Billy Collins.

But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Students had to choose a book for their final project, so I had to come up with a recommended reading list. They covered a huge range of styles, from serious drama to mystery, romantic comedy to thriller, young adult fiction to memoir. Among the other books I have read in the last few months:

And it has been an inordinately fun romp through dog-land.

But after listening to each student in the class give their final presentation, and then spending about twenty hours over the past week working on writing up evaluations and grading, I have to admit this: Much as I love dogs, I think I’m ready to read a book about something else next week!




My wife and I love to give each other presents for no particular reason. It’s partially a by-product of the fact that we are both Christmas babies. She was born Christmas day, and I was born the day after. So, we figure, we have a lot of catching up to do. All those years when it felt like it was a two-fer. (As much as our parents tried to make it not that way – I’m not blaming them. It’s the curse of the holiday season.)

My last boss, Pat at the Calistoga Tribune, was also fond of spontaneous gift-giving. Just little things. She called them “sprezzies,” a term she had picked up from years at Girl Scout camps, first as a camper, later as a leader. “Sprezzies” is short for “surprise presents.” My favorite from Pat is a lapel pin, a single silver wing. At first I thought it was simply a reference to my last name – I wrote a column for the paper called “Wingin’ It.” But then she said, “Look closer.” On the cardboard backing, it said, “Left Wing.” Ha! Love it!

So Sabrina came into my writing studio this past week with a “sprezzie.” Like them? Dog slippers! Half a dog on the left foot, the other half on the right.

I couldn’t be more tickled.


Caps & Gowns, Sits & Downs: A Dog Graduation

Summer is the time for graduations, and it’s only fitting that dogs should get their share of the celebratory spotlight. Ripley and I had the great pleasure this past Saturday of attending graduation ceremonies at Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park.

Puppy Demo-sm

Duncan Bradley and puppy

The ceremony was mainly for the Summer 2015 graduates of the Service Dog Seminar, students who had come from all over to learn about how to train dogs, receiving both general service dog certificates and certificates from the Dogs Helping Veterans Program. We were treated to a wonderful slide show of their summer, spent surrounded by dogs, mastering the skills they will take from here forward.


Larry and Meghan Clark work on “mimic”

Some of the students gave demonstrations, to provide a sneak peek into what these dogs are capable of. Duncan Bradley brought out an adorable puppy, about four months old, who sat, laid down, rolled, and then did the most popular command, “Get into my lap.” The puppy was carried off the stage, and spent the remainder of the program being cuddled, coddled, and getting belly rubs, soaking up love from a puppy handler.

When it was time for more mature dogs to take the stage, Meghan Clark appeared with Larry. New research shows that dogs can actually follow a command such as “mimic me.” So Meghan did an unusual behavior (jumping in place), and then waited for Larry to respond. It took him a minute, but he got it, lifting his front legs off the ground in a little hop, much like his handler.


Kasey Nash and Jordan demonstrate reading skills

Then Kasey Nash came out with Jordan to show us that dogs can read! She had two signs, one that said “Sit” and one that said “Down.” Whether the dog is responding to the different lengths of the words or exactly what is going on is unclear, but Jordan was, after some initial stage fright, able to perform the appropriate response to the displayed sign.

We also heard an incredibly moving keynote speech from retired Army Colonel Roger Lintz, who talked about how his service dog, Nigel, had transformed his life. This big lab was so lovable looking, and so clearly devoted to Roger, that it was difficult to imagine that the two had ever NOT been together. I spoke to Roger after the ceremony, and we shared some stories about service dogs in hospital rooms, dealing with fake service dogs, and the unbreakable bond we have with these animals. A good, good man, who impressed me immeasurably.

Makenna & Ming-sm

Makenna & Ming

The highlight of the day, though, was the presentation of the service dog recipient. Young Makenna Enger had spent the last two weeks at the Bergin Institute getting to know her new forever-dog, Ming. Those at the institute weren’t sure Ming would connect, as he had had some trouble bonding before. But his attachment to Makenna was immediate. Makenna went up on the stage at the graduation, and said a few words, while Ming was kept off to the side with another handler. When he was finally brought to her, he was practically beside himself with joy. His tail wouldn’t stop wagging. He walked in circles all around her, then finally threw himself at her feet on his back, belly in the air.


Makenna sings the National Anthem with Ming by her side

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Makenna sang the National Anthem with Ming by her side, now looking every bit the distinguished service dog. These two are ready to face the world.

Thank you, Bonnie Bergin, president of Bergin University, for the work that you do.




Let Me Count the Ways: Math Handicap

It all started because I was looking for a cute t-shirt to give to my buddy Andrew for his birthday. Because he’s such a fan of Ripley’s, I thought he might like a shirt that celebrated service dogs. But when I began searching online for shirts, what I found right away were a bunch of t-shirts instead that I would love to wear. All those things I wish I could say to people who drive me crazy when I’m out in the world with Ripley and they are being clueless. Shirts that said, “Keep Your Paws Off My Service Dog” and “If You Can Read This Shirt, You Can Read the Patches On My Service Dog’s Vest.”

I giggled and guffawed as I commiserated over all the obvious frustration that countless other service dog handlers must be feeling. Otherwise, why would these t-shirts exist? Although they made me laugh, most were a bit too confrontational for me to actually consider wearing. But I finally did choose a couple of tees. One is very subtle. It is the outline of a dog, made up of words in rainbow colors. It represents service dogs who are for invisible disabilities, and the words include seizure, diabetes, support, illness, lifeline, calming, ADA, love, strength, mobility, heart, access, etc.

The other two shirts listed service dog manners: Never touch a service dog without permission. Don’t distract with noises or food. Service dogs are not pets, they are medically needed and are protected by Federal Law. Service dog handlers are not show and tell exhibits, and they may not wish to chat. Service dogs are allowed in all places open to the public. The two shirts contained similar language, with slight variances.

So the shirts came in the mail, and I decided to do a soft test first, wearing one of the service dog manners tees out to dinner with a large group of friends. The inscription was on the back of the shirt. I took off my sweatshirt and said, “See my new shirt?” One of my friends started to read, and said, “Where’s number two?”


“The list. It goes from number one to number three. There’s no number two.”

Sure enough, when I got home that night, I took off my shirt and checked. Number two was AWOL. Since the shirt came from Zazzle, which custom prints each shirt, I thought maybe it was a printing error. But when I went to the website, it was wrong there, too. The list was ordered one, three, four, five, six, seven.

Now what’s the message there? Do I now have to divulge that I am mathematically handicapped as well?

Even Ripley can count to three. She knows she gets two spoonfuls of ice cream, and three small cookies, each at the appropriate time. And don’t even try to short change her.

I’ve written to Zazzle, but so far no response. Perhaps they are still adding things up in their accounting room. Which may not be going well, from the looks of things.



Service Dogs Welcome

Service Dog sign

Service Dog sign

I’m not sure what triggered the sudden appearance of these signs at all of the Starbucks stores, but they are now posted on bulletin boards everywhere – and it’s a nice feeling to have a big welcome when I go in to buy my coffee. Not only a welcome, but an explanation of what a service dog is. Thanks, Starbucks.


Ripley Meets a Yeti

(This post is especially for Andrew Wing. He’s one of Ripley’s biggest fans and readers, and we feel terrible that we haven’t written in over a month. So we wanted you to know, Andrew, that we’re sorry, and we’ll try to be better in the future. Ripley would give you a big wet kiss if she could.)

As a service dog, Ripley attends the theater frequently. She has been to performances at 6th Street Playhouse, the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, Raven Theater, and productions at Calistoga and Cloverdale high schools. So she’s become pretty nonchalant about human beings acting a little bit crazy.

Her first night out was at Calistoga High, and in one of the three plays, “Words, Words, Words,” the kids were three chimpanzees named Kafka, Milton and Swift. The premise is that they are in a cage, with typewriters. A scientist has a theory that if they randomly hit keys, eventually they’ll come up with “Hamlet.”  Great play — but Ripley got a bit startled when the “chimpanzees” started screeching and rolling around all over the stage, throwing paper and typewriters around. What were these humans doing?

Soon, though, she came to realize that anything goes at the theater. I bring her blanket, lay it down on the floor at my feet, and she settles in for the duration of the show. Gunshots, hollering, people breaking out into song and dance, lights dazzling across the room, all became part of a regular routine. She waits patiently for the applause, then gets up, stretches, and knows it’s time either for intermission or to go home.

That is, until this last theater experience. In early March, we went to see the Raven Theater’s production of “On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning.” The story is about three women explorers in the late 1800s who head out to Terra Incognita,  “lady travelers” who face all kinds of challenges and end up moving not only through space, but through time.

When we arrived at the theater, in the recently renovated space in Windsor, we discovered that the stage was set for theater in the round, meaning that the audience sits on all sides of the action. We chose a seat on the side, right on the floor of the stage. There was a space next to me with no chair, so I spread Ripley’s blanket there, thinking it gave her some protection from the main event.

When our intrepid explorers appeared, Mary (Christi Calson, a good friend), Fanny (Elizabeth Henry) and Alex (Sarah Bird Passemar), my first thought was, “Gaw! I hope Ripley doesn’t walk out onto the stage to say hi to Christi!” But no, she seemed to understand perfectly that this was theater, and greetings were for later.

It soon became clear we were in for some close encounters. The women, armed with machetes, spent a good deal of time walking in circles bushwhacking. Ripley seemed not to mind having the long rubber knives swinging down quite close to her nose. So far, so good. Then, in response to – what was it, a crocodile? the good ladies pulled out their trusty umbrellas. Standing in a circle in the center, they pumped their umbrellas open and closed, repeatedly, to scare off the beast. I placed my hand on Ripley, just to make sure. Again, she seemed remarkably relaxed, despite the proximity of the whooshing weapons.

There was one other cast member in the play, Steve Thorpe, who played a total of eight parts. You never knew what he’d show up as next. Just as all was getting rather comfortable, out came Thorpe from the back stage entrance as an abominable snowman. Simultaneously with his appearance, he launched a snowball – which sailed across the stage, and popped Ripley right in the behind. The whole audience gasped. She stood up, shook it off, turned around, and laid back down, as if to say, “Really? Snowballs?”

The snowballs were very light styrofoam, nothing that could cause harm, only startling. The actors continued without missing a beat, the yeti throwing his snowballs, Mary, Alex and Fanny getting into the fight, and we moved on to the next scene.

During intermission, people from the audience came up repeatedly to comment on the fact that Ripley had been so calm about the whole incident. They were simply amazed. Still, for Act II, we moved up one set of seats, so we weren’t quite so close to the action.

Following the show, our yeti, Thorpe, came up to apologize. Hey, it’s all in a night’s work for a service dog. Sometimes you help your human. Sometimes you meet the abominable snowman. Part of the job, Ripley seemed to say. On with the show.


Little Dogs, Big Problem

I know you’ve seen them. The little dogs, tucked under the arms of their owner, or nestled in grocery carts, or with their heads popping out of a shoulder bag. Little dog owners seem to think that because their pets are small and easily transportable, they can go anywhere – into restaurants, food stores, health clinics, you name it. Although cute and tiny, those little dogs can be deceiving. Far too often, they are undisciplined and  out of control. Which leads to trouble for me.

Here are a couple of examples.

I went to Office Depot for a quick dash in-and-out, intent on picking up three items. Ripley and I entered the store, grabbed a hand basket, and walked up the main aisle. As we readied to turn towards our first destination, a man appeared pushing a cart. All of a sudden, there was a cacophany of yips and yapping. Yes, there she was. A little dog in the front seat of the cart, going crazy at the sight of Ripley. The man greeted us, and shushed his dog.

We headed down the pen aisle, picked up my favorite writing tools, then turned at the end, and entered the parallel aisle with envelopes. A woman stood next to me, puzzling over her selection. As I stood trying to decide which box to buy, we were assailed once again with a barrage of barking. The poor woman at my side was so startled she cried out. The owner of our charming little barker said, “Now, Princess, you’ve seen that dog before. You mustn’t bark.” The dog, of course, with that stern talking to, continued unabated.

Ripley and I had one more item to search out, and met up with the unwelcome couple one more time, again assaulted with a earful of dog yaps and snarls. Throughout all of this, Ripley made not a peep, simply stood at my side, wondering what all the hullaboo was about.

On another recent afternoon, the two of us went shopping at a fair trade store in Sebastopol. The store is not very big, and has fairly narrow walking paths throughout. As we stepped in, a woman with a little dog on a retractable leash saw us enter. She gave us the stink eye, and scooped up her precious Fifi, seeming to indicate that my vicious large dog might be some sort of threat. I ignored her, and began to look around the shop. We lost track of each other, and at some point, she again placed her dog on the floor. I was standing at the checkout counter, ready with my purchase, when her dog realized Ripley was just around the corner. The little dog lunged to the end of her retractable leash, snarling and yipping, doing everything in her power to try to get at us, until the woman was able to rein her in.

Now, let me be clear. Any dog can be a service dog, even a small dog. But service dogs exhibit certain types of behavior. If Ripley was barking in a store, she could be asked to leave. If she lunged after another dog or a customer in a store, she could be asked to leave. That is not acceptable behavior for a service dog. Yet often, when asked, the owners of these little dogs will claim that their dogs are service dogs. They will point to a tag on the dog’s collar, or simply say, “She’s a service dog.” Perhaps there might be some confusion. Some of these dogs may be emotional support animals. People can get notes from their doctors allowing emotional support animals, whose only job is to supply comfort. But an emotional support dog has only two privileges: to live in an apartment or home where dogs are not normally allowed, and to fly on an airplane with you. They are not allowed in restaurants, stores, movie theaters, hospitals, etc.

People who violate service dog rules make it more difficult for those of us who actually need a working dog. It means I am more likely to be challenged when I bring my dog into a business establishment. It makes business owners more leery, because they have dealt with nuisance dogs. Business owners should know, however, they can ask any person to leave who has a dog who is misbehaving.

Ann Hutchinson pix

Two poodles at a restaurant near Bodega Bay – one is actually sitting in a chair at the table.

Friends of mine who have learned about service dogs by spending time with me are now also on the lookout for all these posers, and frequently report back when they encounter them. Last weekend, my friend Ann went to a restaurant near Bodega Bay, and snapped this photo. Two women were in a restaurant, each with a small white dog. Not only were the dogs in the restaurant, but one of the women pulled up a chair for her dog, and the dog sat at the table for the whole meal. When Ann confronted her about it, the woman said the dog was a service animal. Really? Let me tell you – service dogs don’t sit on chairs at restaurants.

Having an undisciplined dog in a store or restaurant causes problems for a real service dog, because the undisciplined dog reacts when seeing the service dog. Nobody wants to hear the barking and carrying on – and it’s not the service dog’s fault.  In truth, it’s not the little dog’s fault, either. It’s the owner’s problem, because they are behaving like an over-indulgent parent, allowing his or her undisciplined child to run wild. Which does nobody any favors.

Being a service dog is more than simply having a slip of paper or a vest. A service dog works, has tasks that he or she performs. And on top of that, he or she exhibits a certain demeanor when out in public. Anyone should be able to tell at a glance whether or not your dog is a real working dog.

Don’t be afraid to call a fake when you see one.



Geared Up! A Dog’s Duffel Bag

Ripley and I are always schlepping our gear around. One of the consequences of not being able to drive is that, unlike most people, we aren’t able to use a car as a big, traveling suitcase. If we want to have something with us, we need to be able to carry it. Since I have my own stuff on any given day (writerly things like notepads, pens, books, a laptop, a camera), adding Ripley’s gear to the mix can get cumbersome. So we have learned to be compact and plan well.

One way we do that is to have Ripley’s bag always packed. When our ride arrives, all I have to do is clip on her vest, and grab a leash and the Ripley bag, and we’re out the door. When with friends who have young children, I sometimes jokingly refer to this tote as my “diaper bag,” and they completely understand. Can’t leave home without it.

So what goes into a good dog’s duffel bag? First off, there’s the bag itself. I happen to be very partial to Timbuk2 bags. Timbuk2 is based in San Francisco. They got their start making bicycle messenger bags, and have since branched out to make duffel bags, laptop bags, etc. The one thing that stays the same is the tough durability, the high quality of the craftmanship, and the great design, plus fun colors. I own a bunch of them. So choosing a Tumbuk2 duffel bag for Ripley was an easy choice. It has outside pockets, D-rings on both ends for clip-on accessories, loop straps as well as a shoulder strap. It zips closed all the way down the top. Inside, it is roomy and open, but along each side there are individual cubbies for stashing things, some of which are pockets, some mesh, one with a long zipper. The entire bag is water resistant and easy to clean.

Water Bowl

collapsible water bowl

The most important item in the bag is, of course, water. I carry a metal water bottle that is just Ripley’s (paw prints to make it obvious) so I never mistakenly use it for something else and forget to put it back in the bag. It has a carabiner on the top, so it can be attached to the outside of the bag, or to my belt if needed. Along with the bottle, I have a small collapsible water dish. This is hands-down the best one on the market. I have tried at least half a dozen water dispensers, from collapsible cloth bowls (they take forever to dry) to a folding bottle with a tray (Ripley wouldn’t touch it). This simple little bowl is perfect. It holds a little over one cup of water; you can easily refill it if your dog needs more. It doesn’t tip over. When done, just flatten, tap on the ground to shake off the excess water, and then use the carabiner to hang it off the end of your bag (or clip to your belt loop). It also will wipe completely dry with a paper towel.

Treat Bag

Outward Hound treat bag

Ripley would say the next most important thing is the treat bag! I use one from Outward Hound, a small bag with a drawstring enclosure that has a belt clip on back. Should I actually need it, I can easily attach it to my back or side pocket and carry it along.

Of course, one must always have an extra stock of poop bags, too. Ripley keeps six or seven in her vest pocket, but I stash a whole roll in the dog bag. Especially as a service dog, it is exceedingly bad manners not to clean up after one’s messes. So, like good Girl Scouts, we are always prepared.

The largest item in our bag is the fleecy dog blanket. Now, you may think at first blush that it’s a bit luxurious for Ripley to travel around with her own cushy blanket. But it really does make sense, at so many levels.

We often go into private homes. People are very gracious, even when they have no pets of their own. Still, I like to minimize our impact. Yellow labs shed. By placing the blanket down next to my chair, Ripley not only has a comfortable “home base” for the duration of the visit, we also keep the blonde hairs in one spot.

If we go to public venues, such as movie theaters or concert halls, the floors may be concrete or wooden, or marble. Any of these can be cold and uncomfortable for her, especially now that she is getting older, so having the blanket makes a difference if she is expected to lie on the floor for a two or three hour performance. It also serves a second purpose – those same floors can cause the slightest sound to ricochet through the room. A dog’s toe nails on the floor in the middle of a concert – eek! So having the blanket allows Riley a safe place to curl up, and move slightly now and then without fear of creating an interruption in the program.

And finally, when in restaurants, the blanket is the perfect solution when the legs of the table are structured in such a way that there is no unobstructed place for Ripley to lie down. I put the blanket over the top of any table leg bases, and that’s enough of a signal for her. She happily snuggles in for the duration.

Dog Socks-Converse

Pawks dog socks

A couple final items: I carry a spare set of dog socks (the primary set is in Ripley’s vest), for use on slippery floors – mainly grocery stores; a small flashlight, for night-time potty breaks (remember, you have to be able to find it before you can put it in the bag!); an extra leash (because too often I have forgotten one in someone’s car); a dog comb; and a small shopping bag, which I clip to the outside of the duffel bag with a carabiner. I also have a Service Dog patch attached to the bag, along with an ID tag, so that anyone finding the bag will know whose it is, and will hopefully return it.

There you go! Ready to pack yours now?

Michelle Wing © Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved
%d bloggers like this: