We had moved from our last home on the Meramec River to a condo in the city. The first condo we had in the city was on the second floor of the complex, and facing the street was a "solarium" with all glass walls which gave us a great view of the activities outside. An event I witnessed one morning while relaxing in the solarium cemented our resolve to avoid getting a pet again. If you are squeamish, skip the next paragraph.
It was shortly after we had moved into our condo in the Central West End, just west of downtown St. Louis. The area has lots of shops and restaurants; in fact, we had over 13 restaurants and bars within a block each way of our condo. All of this activity made for great people watching most of the time. One chilly fall morning, an attractive woman came walking down the sidewalk, dressed in a very sharp and stylish pantsuit, being partially drug along by probably the largest Great Dane I had ever seen. The obvious goal for the reason of the walk was soon accomplished as the canine moose "assumed the position" and dropped a pile of excrement approximating the size of a football. While steam was still rising from this monstrous production, the woman dutifully whipped out a plastic grocery bag to perform her lawful responsibility as indicated by signs placed along the sidewalks about every 25 feet. The sight of that well dressed woman bent down grasping that steaming pile of dog doo doo with only a thin film of polymer separating it from her well manicured hand is one I'll never get from my mind. What amazed me about it was her ability to get it all with one scoop without it some extra squishing out onto her wrist.
I told you to skip to this paragraph. I decided that we were never going to be that person. Not only was the actual act of picking up after a pet in the manner described a revolting one in the first place, being a place of high activity, the CWE was also a target for muggers and purse snatchers due to a large amount of potential victims present. Venturing out in odd hours of day and night for "dog doo duty" was a little more risk than we wanted to take in exchange for an occasional tail wag.
It was partially due to this window upon humanity that we had that prompted us to move less than three years later. I once witnessed a purse snatching and I ran out in an attempt to apprehend the culprit, to no avail. One night I followed a suspected home invader while placing a call to the police after seeing the suspect emerge from the dark between two of the buildings where only someone up to no good would be at that time of night. I was right in my assumption that the person didn't belong there when I later learned that a man walked right into a first floor condo, but was luckily scared away by the resident. Being witness to other smaller, but equally annoying affronts to humanity, such as illegal parking or failure to pick up after a pet, helped persuade us to move to a high rise where the view was good, but human activities were too far below us to be of any concern.
While others in our building have pets, or had pets, the twice daily trips down the elevator for the trek across a street to the only strip of grass for blocks around certainly didn't appeal to us at all. So it remained until our move to the boat became eminent and the prospect of having a small pet trained to do business in a litter box of some sort renewed our interest in a dog.
If you've been reading this blog at all, you've already become acquainted with Holly, here sporting her new life vest and perched on the stairs to the flybridge on Swing Set last weekend. Holly was chosen specifically due to her small size as a companion for our life on Swing Set, and with good reason.
What inspired me to write this blog was some recent posts on the forum of the America's Great Looper Cruisers Association regarding choosing the perfect dog for doing the Loop. I've mentioned before about how some people cannot make a decision on their own and feel a need to ask others for advice on the most basic of subjects. On one hand, a boat dog is a boat dog, but some people think that "doing the Great Loop" requires a pet that is somehow unique to that experience. So on the other hand, I suppose spending a weekend on a boat with a pet and its specific requirements would be different than spending a few months straight onboard with the same pet.
Having a large dog onboard requires taking it to the shore at least twice a day if you are at anchor. This would be accomplished in a dinghy with no less reserve than a dedicated postal worker, be it rain, sleet, or snow. More consideration has to be made of an anchorage when this chore is on the agenda, as anyone who has taken a dog back aboard a dinghy after trudging around in mud up to its elbows in search of the perfect spot to mark its new territory can attest to.
It takes up more storage room for food to fuel a larger pet too if you are going to avoid begging and only feed your dog its own food. Holly currently has four 6 pound bags of Purina Pro Plan stashed away on Swing Set. This is approximately 6 months of meals for her at her 1/2 cup a day rate of consumption. In order to avoid stale dinners, we will still purchase a new bag as each bag is consumed, and we'll rotate the stock, but in case we are in an area where the selection of pet food is less than ideal, we can be secure in the knowledge that Holly won't be resorting to cannibalism when she eats breakfast. Does anyone want to hazard a guess as to what you might find on the shelves of any store in the Caribbean when it comes to pet food? It might very well be just that, pet food.
Holly's small size means less going in and less coming out. So I've indicated our plan of using our second shower stall as her litter area. It's working out nicely and we'll never have to either venture out in the dinghy for her business, nor will we even have to take her to shore at marinas, sometimes a frowned upon practice at the snootier establishments.
Her small size will enable us to just whisk her up the stairs to the bridge or out of the water onto the swim platform with one hand; she won't get much over 5 pounds. Trips to shore with her can be made with her snuggled in a back pack with her head poking out to take in the sights if we want, and will eliminate the need to set her down on sand when we beach the dinghy, preventing her from sand flea infestation. Don't get me started on flea warfare.
With Holly being a terrier mix, there is no issue of shedding to worry about. Swing Set is not a large boat, and we have no intention of sharing our space with even the smallest production of unattached dog hair. We have friends that we love dearly, and I know they will read this, but they know that we won't allow their black Labrador pets aboard our boat due to their hair shedding proclivity. We typically find short black hairs in our cockpit after rafting up with others that have pets, and it's safe to say those hairs didn't come from us. I won't elaborate.
I also want to be perfectly clear on this; rafting up with our friends with their pets is well worth an errant dog hair or two, we just want them to stay on their own boats, which they respectfully do. It will be interesting to see how Holly defends her new territory on Swing Set if we get a chance to raft up a few times this spring with our friends with other pets.
As Holly strikes a more fashionable pose to showcase her new life vest, I'll close on the subject of barking. Much is always made of the tendency of small dogs to be "yappers", like that specific tone of barking is more objectionable than another. Barking is barking, be it yap or howl. In the first place, we want her to bark occasionally. We certainly don't like continued barking though, but training will address that issue. I'm sure our dock mates at the Duck Club can attest to the fact that we have some ground to cover in our attempt to have Holly be quiet while we are away, but part of that is just her still being a puppy; as she gets more accustomed to our absence, she should reduce her complaints to the neighbors.
But as far as "yapping" in general, being a small breed does not always guarantee a certain barking trait. My first pet as a kid was a miniature poodle, inclined to have one of those well known yapper barks, but Paree didn't know he was a poodle and didn't realize that a certain bark was expected from his lineage. Paree learned how to bark from a neighbor's dog behind our house that was a hunting Beagle, and was fairly vocal about his talents. So Paree mimicked the bark of that Beagle, and I swear you couldn't tell the two apart when they communicated over the fence.
But barking being barking, we really wouldn't want a dog that talked, would we? I was talking with a friend the other night and the subject of Holly came up in regard to her training. (Lately the subject of Holly always comes up; we are sufferable in our conversations these days.) Our friend remarked to me that a dog is capable of a vocabulary consisting of 174 words or so. Meaning, of course, that a dog can understand 174 words, not say them. Being of a later hour, note that more than a couple of Bud Lights had passed my lips when I responded that I'd be more than happy for Holly to only understand 174 words, as Rosie currently is only capable of understanding 120. When Rosie reads this blog entry today, I'm certain to hear at least a few of those 120 words, you think?