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Creature Feature: On the road with Simone

7 Jul

A version of this was originally published June 16, 2010, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

When traveling with a dog, it’s a given that you’ll need to stop every two or three hours to let him stretch his legs and have a potty break. Depending on where you stop, this can be pleasant or stressful.

My dog, Simone, and I recently took a two-day car trip that involved being on the road about eight hours each day. So we had several stops, some more enjoyable than others.

One of our more pleasant breaks was at this Colorado rest stop, which had plenty of grassy areas as well as rocks for Simone to explore. (2010/RO)

Truck stops and gas stations, we learned, are just fine for people but not so good for pets. Wide expenses of concrete, diesel and gasoline fumes, and tractor-trailer rigs roaring in and out of the parking lot distract and may scare small dogs like Simone, a not easily intimidated Pomeranian. Dogs not bothered by the noise and activity can still be distracted from doing their business.

Also, at these places, there’s usually only a strip of weed-dotted dirt next to the parking lot that’s suitable (barely) for walking a dog. Much of the time, the area is littered with trash or animal waste left by other travelers.

Government-maintained rest stops present the possibility for more pleasurable breaks in interstate driving. Most have large grassy areas, with space marked specifically for walking dogs. There are also covered picnic areas where you can set out water and food bowls away from the parking lot and other travelers.

At rest stops, you’ll encounter all kinds of people. Some like dogs, some don’t. As a courtesy — and for your dog’s safety — keep your dog on a leash. It’s tempting to let your dog run free after he’s been cooped up in the car, but don’t. No matter how well trained a dog is, he may not be able to resist dashing after any critter he may see. Squirrel! Or he might run off when spooked by a loud noise such as the roar of a diesel engine.    

Of course you packed plenty of plastic bags for picking up after your dog during rest stops. Use them. It’s rude, not to mention unsanitary, to leave a mess.

Don’t force your dog on other dogs or people. And if you have a large-breed dog, please keep it at a distance from small and toy dogs, who can be intimidated by the presence of a larger animal. Or vice versa. People with children should do their best to make sure the kids don’t rush up to an animal and startle it.

If you’re taking a long trip, you may have to stop and spend the night at a motel or hotel. Fortunately, more and more motels welcome pets. Most charge a pet fee of $10-$20 above the standard room rate, although a few let pets stay for free. Some charge a $10-$15 fee per night per pet. Therefore, it’s a good idea to do some research before you hit the road.

The website can help you find pet-friendly accommodations, plus you can check out the websites of specific motel/hotel chains to learn their policies. But even if a chain accepts pets, it’s advisable to contact the motel at which you plan to stay to verify its policy. Motel managers can set policy for individual establishments and some prohibit pets.
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Whether driving across town, state or country, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says the primary rule of travel is “never leave your pet alone in a parked car.” An animal can suffer heatstroke in a matter of minutes.

“It only takes 10 minutes on an 85-degree day for the inside of your car to reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit, even if the windows have been left open an inch or two,” the ASPCA warns.

Even on a mild 70-degree day, the interior temperature of a vehicle can become as much as 20 degrees hotter as the outside.

Wishing you all safe and happy journeys.

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat.


Today’s resolution: Play hard, rest happy

3 Jul

Jack, an Aussie mix belonging to my sister Sherri and brother-in-law John, puts his entire being into his morning run — loping, spinning, charging headlong across the expanse of the sometimes-soccer field at the Castaic Sports Complex. Life is sweet.

Jack rests happy after a fun run. (2011/RO)

Creature Feature: Stink is in the nose of the beholder

29 Jun

Published May 5, 2010, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

My daughter has a beautiful, huge black Labrador-Golden retriever mix. We have kept Ricky several times for her. When we keep Ricky, he likes to play in our large backyard. The trouble is that he quickly gets out of the fenced-in area, goes immediately to the yard next door and rolls in the worst-smelling something you have ever smelled! He goes to the same spot every time. Why would a smart dog get into something that smells worse than anything?

What smells stinky to you may be a scent from heaven to a dog because he’s a creature of smell. Dogs — who have 220 million scent receptors in their noses compared to humans’ mere 5 million — live to sniff and snuffle.

They also love to roll in the objects of their olfactory delight. But why? I asked animal behavior consultant Arden Moore, the author of 19 books on dogs and cats and the founder of, for her thoughts.

“No one really knows why dogs roll in smelly stuff, but there are several theories,” Moore says. “One is that this is an instinctive behavior harkening back to pre-domesticated days when hunting dogs would bring back information about available food to the rest of the packs. The thought was, if they found decaying fish, perhaps fresher fish would be found nearby. Some modern-day dogs may have retained this behavior even though it has lost is once-necessary function.”

Another theory, she says, is that dogs roll in stink to provide a disguise that will improve their hunting opportunities.

“What better way to catch a rabbit, say, than to smell like one, even a dead one, rather than like a dog? This canine camouflage technique also may be employed to hide their doggy scents from other predators.”

While a pet dog doesn’t need to hide from predators or hunt for his dinner, he still retains the instinct and desire to roll in smelly things. Sometimes, fortunately, the object of his stop, drop and wallow behavior isn’t discernible to the human nose. Other times, as you’re well aware, the smell is so bad it’s as if you can see it — a dense, angry miasma of stink.

Unfortunately, no matter what you do, a dog will roll if he feels the need. But you can try to eliminate or make an prime rolling spot unattractive to the dog or restrict his access to it.

If Ricky is getting out of your yard while he’s unsupervised, you may need to consider letting him outside only when you can stay with him. You may also try to create a more effective barrier to the neighbor’s yard.

Another possibility is to enlist your neighbor’s cooperation. You could ask if he will allow you to treat Ricky’s rolling spot with an unappealing scent that will lessen the dog’s attraction to the spot.

“There are some scents that dogs don’t like very well. Among these are citrus smells, such as lemon, lime, and orange, and spicy smells like red pepper,” Stanley Coren says in his book How Dogs Think (Free Press, 2004). “They particularly dislike the smell of citronella, which is why it’s used in sprays to keep dogs away from certain areas.”

Dogs are so put off by the scent of citronella that it’s used in anti-bark collars; each time the dog barks, the collar releases a spritz of citronella. Coren says this deterrent does work, but only briefly. When the dog becomes acclimated to the scent, it’s no longer effective.

But since Ricky won’t be around the citronella scent often enough to get used to it, it could be effective in your situation.

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Family section.

Today’s resolution, by Simone: Keep your friends close, but your toys closer

25 Jun

Let's play! (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution, by Simone: Respect the power of the ‘head tilt’

13 Jun

“As a persuasive maneuver, the classic ‘head tilt’ never fails. Do it with the right degree of cuteness and the world is yours — treats, toys, belly-rubs… even people food. But use it judiciously. Too much head-tilt lessens its awwww-someness.” — Simone

Tilt your head just so for maximum impact. (Photo of Simone/RO)

Today’s Resolution, from Simone: Always look cute for there could be treats

31 May

If you've got it, flaunt it.

What to know when traveling with your pet

24 May

SUMMER vacation is no longer just for two-legged travelers. Room service menus for Fido, massages for over-stressed terriers and tabbies, cushy beds for canines: many hotels have been ratcheting up the pet amenities. Best Western has even hired Cesar Millan of National Geographic Channel’s “Dog Whisperer” to be the chain’s pet travel expert.

The problem is getting your pet to the destination. In recent years, transporting pets on commercial flights has grown more complicated — and more expensive. All major carriers have significantly raised the fees they charge for bringing pets onboard, matching, or in some cases, surpassing, the $100 surcharge each way they typically charge for children flying alone. Fees vary depending on whether the pet flies under your seat, or as checked baggage or cargo, which involve extra handling. American, Delta, United and Continental charge $125 each way for pets in the cabin. United charges the most for pets traveling as checked baggage: $250 each way or $500 round trip. READ FULL ARTICLE

Creature Feature: Preventing dog bites

18 May

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Family, 1E, May 18, 2011

By Rhonda Owen, Special to the Democrat-Gazette

My 9-year-old dog looks like a little bear or a stuffed toy so when we’re out in public, it’s not unusual to hear a small child yell, “Puppy!” and dash headlong toward her.

I’m quick to step between these youngsters and Simone. While Simone doesn’t have a problem with children, she doesn’t appreciate being grabbed, screamed at and popped on the head, all things that excited kids without “dog manners” may do.

 The body-block technique came in handy recently when a girl about 3 or 4 years old rushed at Simone, shrieking and with hands outstretched. I had to block the girl three times before she settled down enough for me to explain how to approach and pet Simone. Her father, looking embarrassed, thanked me afterward.

I’m always willing to teach a child how to safely approach Simone (or any dog) but the ideal scenario is when a parent walks his child over to us and asks. Then, after getting permission, the parent talks his child through letting Simone sniff her closed hand before gently stroking or petting Simone on the shoulder, chest or side — not the head. Most dogs don’t want a stranger touching their heads.

Simone may not be thrilled by a child’s attention, but she allows it. But not all dogs will react as well. A dog that’s uncomfortable or fearful and doesn’t have what experts call “bite inhibition” may actually strike out and bite.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, which has designated May 15-20 as “National Dog Bite Prevention Week,” says children are the most common victims of dog bites. The association lists ways parents can educate kids about dog bites at

For more tips, I talked with Pamela Reid, a certified applied animal behaviorist and vice president of the Animal Behavior Center of the American Association for the Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals. READ FULL ARTICLE

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Today’s resolution, inspired by Simone: Me, me, me

15 May

I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” — Oscar Wilde

Free to be me — Simone (Photo/RO)

Today’s resolution: Premeditated mischief

30 Apr

Border collie Luna (a companion of friend Kari) thinks about the fun to be had with a fleece toy. Formerly of Scotland, Ark., Luna now charms the people of Oregon. (2008 photo/RO)