Airborne Dogs: Up, Up and Away

The next time your travel plans call for flying, instead of trusting your dog’s fate to the airlines, consider traveling by a small plane. For flights up to several hundred miles, it’s a realistic option. You might find it’s faster and more convenient and possibly cheaper. It’s certainly a lot more fun for your dog.

If your dog likes to go for rides in a car, he will love flying in a small airplane. In the thirty years I’ve been flying, I’ve had five dogs – all of whom leap into the plane as soon as the cargo door is open.
Most light aircraft are set up much like a car or mini-van. There’s plenty of room for your dog to stretch out on the seats or the floor. In some planes, the back seats flop down, leaving a nice, roomy deck area. And while you can’t exactly open the windows and let him hang his head out of an airplane, he can still get a good view of the world going by.
Start by checking with your local airport to see if they have a charter service. Most of the smaller ones do, so don’t feel you have to call the big operations at the big airports, although you should make several calls to scope out prices.

When you charter an airplane, you’re airborne within a few minutes are arriving at the airport. No TSA; no waiting in line. No removing your socks and laptop and you can carry on your food and drinks. No matter where you are headed, the chances are that the general aviation airport is a lot closer than the major commercial airport, so when you land, you’re where you want to be. Compare that to the trek from your house to the airport parking lot, then all the time spent waiting to board, take off, collect your dog when you land and, finally, getting to where you are going. Even if your small plane flight requires a stop to refuel, it can’t take much longer.

It’s a smart idea to take your dog up for a test flight. Get him into the plane and let him sniff around and get comfortable. The sensations of taxiing, taking off, banking, and other airplane maneuvers can confuse your dog. Most dogs curl up and go to sleep once they’re aloft, but it’s better to find out if your pet is one with a fear of flying before the trip starts.

Safety is, of course, paramount. While, there’s no need for special restraints in a light airplane, unless the forecast calls for turbulence, it is probably best if the dog travels in a crate. This doesn’t work for really big dogs, since you might not be able to get a large crate into the cargo compartment. In that case, invest in a harness like those sold for automobiles. Even strapped in, people can get jostled in rough air. It’s safer and more comfortable for your dog if he’s strapped in, too.

Small airports can be busy places, with a lot of planes, fuel trucks and other traffic moving around on the parking ramp. Always keep your dog on a leash at an airport. It’s safer for everyone.

If you really want to travel by your own schedule, consider learning to fly yourself. It takes anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on how much time you’re willing to commit. To earn your private pilot license, you’ll spend about $5,000.

A plane costs about the same as a new car. The price range and types of planes are equally varied. Many people join flying clubs which own several planes. The members share the costs and scheduling. You can also lease a plane, much like you lease a car, or go into partnership with one or two other people.

However you do it, your dog will be the most enthusiastic member of your airborne crew. (Although I haven’t figured out how to get mine to wear headphones…)

Kids and Canines: Perfect Camping Partners

Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it’s only natural to take along the family pet when camping. But bringing along the dog means a little more than just loading him into the car. Advance planning and preparation will insure that you, the kids, and the pets all enjoy the outing.

First, consider this is a good trip for Fido. If your plans include a lot of boating or biking or activities the dog can’t share, it might be better to leave him home rather than leave him tied up all day alone at the campsite.

But that’s the exception. Your dog belongs with the rest of the family when everyone’s having a great time discovering the outdoors. Just remember that dogs sometimes find the call of the wild irresistible and set off like a four-legged Lewis and Clark. Make sure there’s some identification on him. A set of tags firmly fastened to his collar is fine, but for additional insurance, buy a collar with his name and your telephone number embroidered into the fabric.

Campsite rules for both kids and pets are next. Most places require pets be tethered at the campsite. Even if it’s not required, it’s a courtesy to other campers who don’t share your love of animals or appreciate your dog inviting himself to lunch. While chaining the kids isn’t an option, they are also expected to respect the privacy of other campers, unless they’re invited over for a visit.

Pre-Trip Training
If your pet isn’t used to being restrained, break him into the idea at home before you start packing. The kids can help a lot with this project. Put out the stake in the backyard and hitch your dog to it for an hour or so at a time. He might think he’s being punished, so make sure you and the kids stay very close. Deliver a lot of praise and try to do things with or near him. As he gets used to the idea, gradually increase the time you leave him tethered, and let him spend some of that time alone.

If he has some favorite toys, keep those nearby, too, and bring them along on the trip. Just like your kids want their Gameboy for entertainment around the campfire at night, your dog will want his favorite bone or gnawed-on stuffed animal.

This is also a good time to get your dog used to walking on a leash, if he isn’t already. Many parks require dogs to be leashed even while hiking on trails away from campsites. It’s a safety feature as much as anything else. You really don’t want your dog to spot a deer and decide it looks like something that’ll be a lot of fun to chase.

A good compromise between a conventional short leash and letting the dog run free is a retractable leash. This lets the dog roam as much as 15 feet before reaching the end of the line. Putting the kids in charge of walking the dog is a good way to keep track of them on the trail, too.

Special Packing
Dogs and kids are really easy to pack for. Food is the first consideration. For the kids, it’s simple to come up with menus that are healthy but not hard to fix. Peanut butter and jelly, stews – precooked at home and frozen – or canned, simple vegetables and fruits, carrots and salads, apples and bananas, dry or instant cereals, and – of course – S’Mores, are all staples. Powdered milk is OK for cereal and cooking, but even the most calcium-conscious consumer cringes at actually drinking the stuff. Boxed juices are easier to deal with than powder or bottles.

Pets are even easier to plan meals for than kids. If you use bagged dry or canned food and want to bring it along, fine, but remember that those little cans get awfully heavy when you are carrying them on your back, and you have to carry out the remains of whatever you carry into the woods. A better idea is to use the small bags of prepackaged dog food. They are ideal: convenient, easy to store, and lightweight. And the small cellophane bag is a lot easier to dispose of than an empty can.

Get the dog used to the change in diet before the trip, though. Sudden switches in food give a lot of animals upset stomachs, with results that aren’t much fun to deal with. A week or more before the trip, add half a bag of the prepackaged food with each feeding and increase that until the dog is eating the prepackaged stuff entirely for a day or so before the trip. When you get back, reverse the feeding plan until your dog is back on his regular diet. If you have a lot of trips planned in a short time, it’s probably better to leave the dog entirely on the prepackaged food.

Basic Supplies
Kids know one of the great things about camping is that they’re supposed to get dirty and don’t have to take real baths until they get home. Bring along clean clothing, but don’t be surprised if the kids want to wear the same grungy t-shirt the entire trip. Also remember that wet denim gets very heavy and takes a very long time to dry. Have a backup pair (or two) of jeans, and have some pants in other material if you can.

For the dog, bring along several beach towels to dry him off when he finds a stream just before everybody beds down for the night. Where will he sleep? Do you want the dog inside the tent or tethered outside? Many animals are just as happy sleeping under the stars, but if your dog starts fussing and whining at the idea of being separated from the rest of his family, you don’t have much choice. You will undoubtedly wake up to find that he’s gently nudged you off your air mattress or is slumbering contentedly inside your child’s sleeping bag.

Medical Advice
There’s a more serious side to camping with a pet that’s easily accomplished with planning and a little paperwork. Make sure your dog is up to date with all of his shots, particularly rabies. Even timid dogs can become protective of their families and take on raccoons and other camp visitors.

While there’s no vaccine for people, you can get your dog inoculated against Lyme Disease, and it makes a lot of sense to do so. This tick-borne disease is found in almost every state. There are kits available for removing ticks from pets and people. You should check everybody – dogs and kids – for ticks every day.

Get a tick and fleas collar, too. These can break or become undone, so don’t attach your dog’s ID to it. The commercial collars sold at the grocery store seem to work just as well as any other brand, but if your vet suggests using another brand, there’s probably a good reason for it, and you should pay attention.
Carry a copy of your dog’s shot record. If he is injured or if you need to put him into a kennel for some reason, proof of his inoculations that will satisfy vets and kennel owners is required.

No matter how careful you are, there is still a chance of your dog getting hurt. It’s not a bad idea to check the local telephone book and get the number of a vet or an emergency clinic in the area you’re planning to visit. If there is an emergency, you can’t be sure that the campground, park ranger, or local residents will have that information.

Unless you are planning to go deep into the wilderness, you probably won’t need to know how to set broken bones or suture wounds, but you should still have a good, basic first aid kit for people and pets. With luck, cuts and scrapes, bug bites, and poison ivy will be the worst things you have to deal with.
Camping is a great way to build good memories for the family. After the first trip, don’t be surprised if your dog is the most enthusiastic member of the clan!

Family Camping First Aid Kit For Your Dog
4″ square gauze pads: Dogs will try to chew off any sort of bandage. Bring lots.
Roll bandages: The cling-type are better than the gauze rollers. Dogs will try to chew these off, too. Bring lots. too.
Pain reliever: Aspirin can be given to dogs. Check with your vet for dosages.
Antiseptic solution: The dog won’t like the way it stings and will probably try to lick it off.
Bug repellent: Put around the dog’s ears and the non-hairy parts of his body. If a rash forms, or it really seems to bother the dog, wash it off.
Pepto-Bismol:Use the tablets. Trying to give dogs a liquid version of these products provides an evening’s worth of entertainment for the entire family, but very little gets inside the dog!
Tweezers: To remove splinters, burrs, or porcupine quills.
An old sock:Covers bandages, holds a dressing in place, and keeps leg injuries clean.
Leg from a pair of panty hose:It makes a strong, but gentle, restraint or instant muzzle
Duct tape: It works better than most first aid tapes.

A Capital Pleasure: This senior retriever took a walking tour of Washington

Tongue lolling, plumed tail wagging, our 10-year-old Golden Retriever, Duke, trotter toward the ducks in the Reflecting Pool near the Washington Monument. He tentatively tapped the water with his paw, but decided against a swim.

Our capital visit was Duke’s first foray into city life. My husband, Ron, and I worried about how he’d react, but Duke took to the bustling metropolis like a candidate takes to campaign rallies. Tourists stopping to pet Duke repeatedly delayed our walk around the monuments. Duke enjoyed the attention, exchanging an occasional lick for hugs from small children and ear scratches from strangers.

But Duke likes to cover ground, and we did. We visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Washington Monument and then circled past the Jefferson Memorial and the famous cherry trees.

On the way to Jack’s Boathouse at the end of K Street, Duke sniffed the curbs in front of the Georgetown homes of Herman Wouk and Madeleine Albright. At the boathouse, we rented a rowboat for a trip across the Potomac River to Roosevelt Island. Duke had never been on the water, but he hopped into the rowboat like a true water dog and did his best imitation of George Washington crossing the Delaware while Ron rowed.

An oasis of nature, Roosevelt Island lies in the shadow of towering office buildings. Narrow and sometimes muddy trails lead to a small beach, popular for flying-disc tossing, tennis-ball chasing, and canine water sports. Duke doesn’t like sand in his coat any more than he likes to get wet, so he stretched out in the shade and watched.

That evening, Duke made his Washington social debut at the Canine Happy Hour at the Holiday Inn in Old Town Alexandria, Va., where we stayed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from April through October, about 75 dogs sniff, play, and sample the free dog-biscuit buffet while their human chat at café tables.

On the second day of the trip, Ron and Duke jogged part of the 18-mile trail that stretches from Washington to Mount Vernon. The scenic path skirts the Potomac and includes rest areas with water fountains for both people and dogs.

All that exercise made us hungry, and we learned that “eating out” literally describes the dining scene for dogs in Washington. To eat with Duke, we had to find restaurants with outdoor seating. Nonetheless, they were more than welcoming; often, the staff served Duke a bowl of water before giving us menus. Customers enjoyed the sight of the big guy curled up at our feet, his head rising now and again when waiters carried a particularly fragrant entrée past our table.
The Bistro De Coin in DuPont Circle offered the best reception. This country French restaurant has no outdoor seating, but clips on flower boxes outside huge windows allow owners to restrain – and keep an eye on – their dogs while dining.

Duke didn’t mind the separation. He held court on the sidewalk and regally accepted attention from passersby. This was the capital, after all, and he is the Duke.

Where to stay: Hotel Washington, 515 15th St. NW 202-638-5900
$165 and up per night; All dogs allowed. No charge

Holiday Inn Select Alexandria, 480 King St., 703-549-6080
Well-behaved dogs allowed. No charge

Jack’s Boathouse (canoes, kayaks, rowboats), 3500 K Street 202-337-9642
$10/hour; $30/full day

Old Town Experience (walking tours) 703-836-0694
$10 per person for one-hour tour

Hunka Hunka Hawksbill Love

Turtle-Pic Super Cat

Whenever I go on an “up close and personal” nature excursion, I wonder who’s entertaining whom?

“There’s a mountain goat that’s always here when we paddle this stretch of river,” the guide said on a rafting trip in Cody, WY. Every afternoon the rafts float by; every afternoon the goat — often joined by a friend or three — waits on the hillside. A massive bison chewing his cud while lazing in a well-worn hole by the side of a byway in Rapid City. A barracuda greeting novice divers in Provencial.

I imagine the conversation: “Hey, Edna, it’s nearly noon. That’s when the humans always show up. Don’t want to miss seeing what they’re up to today. Do ya think Grandma would like to go along?”

In Barbados, the interactive delight is swimming with sea turtles. Half a dozen outfitters offer day cruises that promise a sea turtle encounter as part of a day long cruise. (The rest of the itinerary includes snorkeling, on-board lunch buffet, cruising past the very tony estates on the Platinum Coast, and sunbathing on the foredeck of the catamaran — all while imbibing rum in various concoctions — with a background soundtrack of reggae and Jimmy Buffett.

Depending on the size of the boat and age of the passengers, this can be a relaxing outing with friends or a boisterous bacchanal rivaling New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.

Long past the bikini and Speedo stage of our lives and physiques, our gallant gang of pre-geriatrics opted for Super Cats/Stiletto. She carries 10 passengers, max, so it was perfect for the 6 of us. Trevor and Preacher were the crew, and as it the habit of our gang, we included them as part of the party. stiletto_supercats 2

Two shipwrecks just offshore are havens for tropical fish and magnets for snorkelers. Preacher said one of the ships reputedly was scuttled by the crew at the beginning of WW2, effectively stranding them on the island for the duration. Given a choice between the probability of being torpedoed by a U-Boat or joining the Coastal Watch Patrol, there were worst decisions.

From there it was a short paddle to the sea turtle hangout. It probably violates every ecologist’s goal of leaving the creatures unspoiled by human contact, but all of the guides are equipped with chum to attract them. The turtles anticipate their daily morning snack and glide through the swimmers in search of the Sugar Daddy with the goodie bag.


“Our” visitor was a massive Hawksbill. Sea turtles never stop growing, so I’m told. From the size of this momma, she was a hatchling back in the days of sail. (I don’t know if she was a female or not, but Big Momma fits her.) When she cuddled up to Preacher for her sushi, she stretched from his calves to his shoulders. When the bag was empty, she made a circuit around the rest of us in case we were holding out on her. Close enough to appreciate why it’s a “hawksbill,” to respect the determination in her eye, to lightly rap on her shell. Despite her bulk, she moved with smooth grace, dignity, and power.

Certain we were of no further use, she left us in just a few strong strokes of flippers the length of my arm. Two Green Turtles — delicately hued as if tinted with artists’ pencils — followed in her wake. Within moments, the busy turtle site was deserted.

I could hear the conversation: “That’s it for today, Edna. Nice flying fish, don’tcha think? The Mahi Mahi was a little tough, though. Got plans for tonight? They’re showing “Heart of the Sea” at the multiplex.”

(photos courtesy of


The Force Awakens: Happy Hype

Force Awakens Poster

SPOILER ALERT: JAR JAR BINKS DOES NOT APPEAR IN THIS MOVIE. In fact, the three “prequels” are not mentioned. This gives purchase to those of us who maintain that those films were actually nightmares Han Solo suffered while entombed in Carbonite.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a gleeful cinematic ride with as many dips and turns as the Millenium Falcon in a dogfight with Imperial TIE fighters.

At least half the fun is seeing the band getting back together. The audience cheers when Leia appears,Leia

when Han and CHewieHan and Chewbacca appear.

And Luke. And R2D2. And the Falcon Falcon— which may have the best “return” of them all. That’s the moment you know you’re in a familiar galaxy, albeit one that’s far, far away.

Not to give anything away, but “The Force Awakens” is largely a remake of the original “Star Wars” film, AKA Episode IV; AKA “A New Hope.” Just slot in the new young faces into the Leia, Han, and Luke positions. To that extent, the plot is predictable. To mix sci-fi metaphors, it’s obvious who’s wearing Star Trek’s red shirts, even how they will exit.

Producer J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (who worked on the original trilogy) restored the sense of fun of the original and then some. There’s much more humor than in the 1st (or 4th, depending on how you count) with both verbal and visual set-ups. Much of it comes from teasing the audience be recreating some scenes exactly, while at other times coming close, then stepping sideways. The usual “homage” to other films is there, from “Apocalypse Now” to “Indiana Jones.”

If there’s a failing, it’s that very familiarity and predictability. How many desert planets are there in this galaxy? There’s not much you can do to differentiate between Tatooine and Jakku. Scruffy border towns have the same bars, the same, bands, and the same critters How can the bad guys top the Death Star? Build something bigger and badder, with a nod towards Abrams’ first film in the Star Trek reboot.

All in all, after the thrill of reunited with the beloved characters fades, I think that sense of wonder that kept people returning to see the original over and over may not be there. Part of that is the progress of technology. The impact of the special effects that were mind-boggling 30 years ago has long been suffused by computer graphics and other technologies.

And since the plot is already known, the changes in casting aren’t enough to make it a “new” story. It’s like watching “Casablanca” or “Singing in the Rain” — more comfortable than exciting.

Still, it is a satisfying reboot which stops at an interesting juncture for the saga and the audience. Episode VIII comes out in 2017. Fans are already standing in line.

Gridlock in Paradise

Panorama Barbados org
Barbados – broad sandy beaches, mellow sunshine, incredibly friendly people, unintelligible patois, wonderful food, rum in all manner of concoctions – and traffic congestion to rival the Capital Beltway at rush hour.

How is it that this tiny island – all of 21 miles long and only 14 at its widest point (roughly twice the area of Boston) – ranks #6 on the roster of the highest density of roads in the word? Most of them are squeezed into the business and resort districts in the island’s south and west. Barbados traffic from Barbados Today They’re just wide enough for two vehicles to pass, provided nobody in either of them breathes too deeply. The rest of the island’s equally narrow roads meander to tiny villages via lots of blind curves and little maintenance.

Given all of that, plus gas prices at $7/gallon, I figured people would take advantage of the excellent public transportation system or use motor scooters.

Silly me. Every square meter of roadway anywhere near civilization is jammed with buses, cars, vans, taxis, and trucks. Thank God for the laid-back patience of the Bajans; otherwise, there’d be road rage that would make the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore look like a tribute to Pope Francis. Bajans who have to be to work at 8 a.m. leave no later than 6:30. This might explain the nation’s high rum consumption.

We wanted to go to the famous Friday Night Fish Fry/Street Party in Oistens. Fish Fry Barbados orgThree miles from our hotel, if that. We were told it would take about an hour to get there. When we were sated, slightly tipsy, and ready to leave, we flagged down a van with a lighted “taxi” sign. “Get in; get in!” the driver yelled. There were other people in the van. What kind of taxi was this? “We’re going to the Time Out Hotel in St. Lawrence Gap. Are you going there?” “Sure. Sure. Get in quick before the cops come.”

That sense of urgency compelled us to clamber aboard without asking more questions. The van took off at surprisingly high speed, given the number of people and vehicles in the road.

It took a moment to realize we were experiencing a part of the Bajan transportation system most tourists don’t. There are official, government-licensed taxis and buses, and then there are the “independent” operators. These are the same white vans as “real” buses, right down to the lighted “taxi” sign on top. But these are Bajan Taxi pirates. They use the same routes as the “official” transport, but with dubious licensing and permission. But, hey, for $1, you can go anywhere the buses go and, given the drivers’ contempt for laws of traffic and nature, it’s far more exciting and faster.

He didn’t quite yell “We’re Off!” but NASCAR drivers are old ladies puttering around parking lots compared to this dude. We weaved around other vehicles stalled in gridlock, swinging into opposing traffic and back like a fighter plane in a dogfight. If we saw someone at a bus stop, we’d come to a shuttering halt long enough for the newest member of our expedition to jump in. That hour-long journey to Oistens was about 10 minutes coming back.

The van skidded to a stop at a bus stop near the hotel, and we hopped out, a little surprised to be alive. The thought of the van careening down the one-lane road to the hotel past the patrons at the street food stalls and Karaoke bars was enough to sober us. But only until we passed the first rum shop. After that ride, we needed something to steady our nerves.

(photo credits:; Barbados Today)