Friday, November 15, 2013

Dogs On Deck

The new crew….

This year the Freedom crew has expanded by 8, legs that is. After two winters of being cared for by a rotating schedule of our k'dults, Portuguese Water Dogs Miles (14 1/2) and Hamilton (5)   put their paws down and insisted on joining us for this year's adventure.

I spent the summer getting ready.  First stop was a post I had bookmarked from the blog Taking Paws -- written by Karen and Jeff   of Active --  focusing on the live aboard life with their yellow labs.   Every one of their entries is a treat, but this particular post shares a list of tried and true essentials for sharing your boat with a canine crew. Once armed with my list and my Amazon password, I started stocking up.

One of the first things I purchased was a Pet Step ramp to make the passage from boat to dock a bit easier,  especially for Miles whose aching hips don't allow him to jump very far these days.  Once it arrived, we set it up in our mudroom and I demonstrated, runway model style, how to use it. Ham and Miles humored me by walking across it. Then we moved outside where we encouraged them(aka bribed with treats) to walk up the ramp from garage floor to the house. That went well, so, on to the car… Ham sniffed the ramp, jumped over it and lept into the car. Miles turned around and went to sniff something in the garden.  Finally, leash attached and firmly held Miles reluctantly walked up the ramp. Success?

Next purchase was harnesses made by Kong (typically known for their treat hiding chew toys) outfitted with handles. What a difference a handle makes!  We only set up the ramp when we are too far from dock for the dogs ( and me) to jump, or when the tides change the angle from boat to dock. The handle allows me to give Miles an assist to shore, to easily grab Ham when it is not his turn to leave the boat, and to move both of them out of the way of humans or harm when needed.

The handles have been life savers on more than one occasion:

  Within about 2 hours of our arrival in Charleston Hamilton fell in the small crack between the boat and the dock. I calmly shrieked, yelled "Help", dropped to the dock and tried to grab Ham's handle. He was frantic, thrashing about in the small space, uncertain what to do.
Meanwhile, across the dock sat the sailing vessel Geronimo: an at sea classroom from St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island. The teachers and students enjoying their dinner heard my distress call and within seconds were at my side, belly down on the dock and reaching for Ham. With my hand on his harness, another set of hands on his hind quarter, another pulling his leash, and with cheers and encouragement from behind, we somehow lifted him up. He thanked us with a a good shake!
By the time I composed myself the school group was back to their dinner. I soon came to realize this was their last meal tied to shore before heading out on a multi day offshore trip to the Bahamas. Within 30 minutes, with the sun setting, they were off.

Another day I walked Ham to a local dark park for some intra-canine fun. This was just our second visit to the park and we found ourselves alone. I did what I could to get Ham to run about on his own, but his interest was low.  All of a sudden though, he darted for the road. I chased after him, causing him to pick up speed. I could see a truck coming from each direction and I shouted "Stop!"  - mostly to Ham, but hoping the drivers would hear me. Amazingly, both trucks had already slowed down, turned their trucks on a diagonal to block other traffic,  and stopped a good distance from Ham. One driver even jumped from his cab and tried to corral Ham as I rushed up and grabbed his handle. Once again, the handle and the kindness of strangers saved the day.

Just the other night Miles had his own brush with a bad situation. As the Cap'n was getting ready to assist Miles from boat to dock for his after dinner walk, Miles suddenly jumped. His front legs landed on the dock, but his hind legs fell in the gap. The Cap'n quickly grabbed the harness and kept Miles from slipping backwards. The day Ham fell in the temperature was about 70, the winds were calm, and the sun was shining. Last evening it was about 45 degrees with gusts up to 20 mph, and it was dark. Not a great time to fall overboard.
At the same time, our neighbors across the dock were heading out for the evening. They saw Miles slip, dashed across the dock, and gave the Cap'n an assist. It turn out they are Veterinarians  and  gave Miles a quick assessment.  Once again, the handle and the kindness of strangers…..

One of our greatest challenges living with dogs on the MegaDock is the mega walk to shore -- 4/10ths of a mile each way.  Needless to say, we get lots of exercise taking Ham to shore for potty breaks.  For Miles though, this is just  too far to walk. Enter the Porch Potty: a beautiful wicker rimmed draining astroturf lawn designed for apartment dwelling dog owners, but also used by boat owners. This, I decided, would allow us anchor overnight without needing to take the canine crew to shore, and/or provide the perfect spot for late night and early morning relief.  A total win-win: No need to launch the dinghy and find a beach after a long day of travel on the ICW. Along certain stretches of the ICW the marshes and/or alligator infested waters offer pristine anchorages, but preclude any trips to shore. And no need to head to shore in the wee hours -- just open the doors and let the dogs do their thing.

Or not….
You see, the good news is the dogs are so well trained they wouldn't think of pottying onboard.  The bad news is, the dogs are so well trained they would't think of pottying on board. The Porch Potty was a hard sell, and despite our best efforts before we headed south, Miles nor Ham never really cottoned to the whole idea. In addition, it was hard for Miles to climb up on the potty. I even tried "scenting" the turf with urine samples I harvested before we left PA, and used real sod for a while.
Before long I dropped the sod overboard, dismantled the potty structure, and simply placed the turf on the cockpit floor. In a pinch, Miles obliged.
Now that we are settled, the turf sits on the dock and Miles at least aims for it. Ham prefers the walk up the dock, no matter what the time or weather…..
Suffice it to say, I should have gone with the suggestion made on TakingPaws: buy a piece of astro turf, put it on the bow and all will be good…….

Once on shore, Hamilton has had a lot more to learn. A suburban dog all his life he had never walked down a narrow, crowded street, stopped at a cross walk ( where there was actually traffic), or heard the siren of an ambulance or police car.  Out first few ventures into the Charleston Historic District were nerve wracking for him.  But now he is a pro --  to even the horse drawn carriages can distract him.

Even better than a walk through town is a walk up and down the dock when is it crowded with mariners. I used to think men who sent to see missed their women. Now I know the truth: they miss their dogs. Miles and Ham are rubbed and hugged and showered with affection by rugged boat captains at all hours of the day and night.

All in all, Freedom's canine crew is doing just fine.  Here are some pictures of their life at sea. (Check back soon, I'll be adding more)

Ham napping -- it's a tough life!

Miles in his favorite spot -- from this vantage point he can see me at all times.
Miles catching a breeze as we motor along the ICW

Ham strikes a pose aboard The Nellie Crockett

The Cap'n giving Miles a lift to shore. Check out the boat behind them!

Miles chilling in the shade

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