Friday, May 30, 2014

Making Friends at Natural Bridge

Charlie and I have been working with a trainer to help her with some of her fear-aggression issues with other dogs. We've been making some good progress, but I need to keep introducing her to new dogs in safe situations to build her confidence. The hard part about this process is finding other dogs for Charlie to meet with owners who understand proper dog-meeting protocols and taking the time to do it right.

A few weeks ago, I came across a photo on Facebook of a dog on the Ice Age Trail. I immediately connected with the owner of this dog - another girl hiker who has hiked some segments of the Ice Age Trail with her dog, Loba. (Loba, by the way, is Spanish for "she-wolf"... is that cool or what?!)

Since Hannah and her dog, Loba, live in a city that I drive through regularly, we quickly made plans to meet for a hike at Natural Bridge State Park.

Introducing... Loba!

Hannah understood Charlie's issues and was a willing participant in working with us. The first meet-and-greet went well and even though Loba is a few years younger than Charlie, she was very respectful of Charlie's space and we had a great hike together.

The day was hot and humid so we didn't hike as far or long as I would have liked, but we did experience the magnificent sight of the 35 ft. tall natural sandstone arch that gives this state park its name. The arch, carved from wind, water and natural erosion over time, is a sight to behold! I could have spent a long time admiring the beauty of this landmark, but after a long weekend visiting with family I really just wanted to get on the road and head home.
Me and Charlie

Hannah and Loba (with Charlie photo-bomb)

If you're in the southwestern part of Wisconsin and have time for a long, scenic drive, I highly recommend winding your way through the back roads to visit this state park. It's a place full of history and scenic views, making it a perfect spot to stop and stretch your legs on a road trip.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Safe Travels!

As everyone hits the road this holiday weekend, please remember to drive safely! Keep your dog in a secure place, whether using a doggie-seatbelt or crate, to prevent distracted driving and stay off your cell phones while driving. We all have somewhere to be and would like to get there in one piece. Thank you!

With that being said, YES - Charlie and I are hitting the road this weekend. We rarely travel on holiday weekends, but we're actually heading to southwestern Wisconsin while everyone else is heading north. Hopefully that means the traffic will be light.

We'll be visiting family and friends and having an early birthday party for me. I bought Charlie's friend, BB, a new toy to replace the ones that Charlie has broken, but she's already stolen the new toy.

And I'm pretty sure it had eyes a few minutes ago. Oh well... 'tis the life of a dog toy.

We've made plans to meet up with some new friends to hike a very special place on Monday and can't wait to tell you about it when we return! I'm also curious to see if Charlie's recent sessions with a behavioral trainer will help her make new friends. We shall see!

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Year of Number 4?

I meditate sometimes... actually I'm trying to get better at this, at quieting my mind at night before bed. But I tend to make excuses to avoid this activity, even though I feel much better when I do it. Most of the time I can't still my thoughts and my mind just won't stop thinking about stuff.

I realize that the practice of meditation will eventually help quiet my mind, but I haven't gotten there yet. I guess that's why I like hiking and walking so much... it's more of a moving meditation. Sitting quietly isn't something I do well unless it involves a cup of coffee and a good book.

Anyway, last night while I was "meditating," I started thinking about the number 4. I'm turning 40 next month and probably mulling over my mid-life situation more than usual. And as I started thinking about numbers, I realized there are a lot of number 4's this year!

1.  I adopted Charlie when she was 4 months old.
2.  This is the 4th year that Charlie and I have been together.
3.  Charlie will turn 4 in October this year.
4.  I'm turning 40 in about a week.
5.  The year is 2014.
6.  I just realized that my favorite author, Dr. Seuss, wrote 44 books.

Okay, so that last one was a little weird, but the other ones are pretty cool! If I were to play the lottery, I'd be picking a lot of number 4's!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hartman Creek State Park

Charlie and I took advantage of our "ticket to adventure" and headed down to Hartman Creek State Park today. Last year, we had a tiny little taste of this park when our hike on the Hartman Creek Segment of the Ice Age Trail ended there, but after that long, hot hike we didn't have any energy (or time) to explore the rest of the park.

I'm happy that we chose to return for further explorations because there is a lot to explore there! Tons of trails and beautiful lakes awaited us. We kept a leisurely pace today since we had friends along that couldn't keep up as well with our regular pace, but we had a blast anyway!

Charlie hiked, played fetch and swam in the crystal clear lakes. She was covered almost to her head in thick, black mud at one point but quickly rinsed off when we went swimming again. Charlie had such a full day of fun, sunshine, fresh air and exercise that she has been sleeping ever since we got home.

I think she'll be happy that tomorrow is Monday and I go back to work; she needs a recovery day! Since this park is only an hour drive from our house, we'll be returning very soon to explore the extensive trail system and cool off from summer's heat in the welcoming water.

Hope you all had a nice weekend too!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ticket to Adventure

Each year I get a state park sticker and while the image on the sticker changes every year, the possibilities residing within it consistently excite and amaze me! My long-time readers might even remember that this blog started with a state park sticker. And while I dedicate most of my hiking time to the Ice Age Trail, the state parks and forests are always a close second.

For a small fee of $25, Wisconsin residents can visit any state park or forest in our state for a calendar year simply by affixing this sticker to your windshield. Imagine all the adventures you can have for TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS!!! The possibilities are endless.

And yet I'm amazed when I look around at cars in parking lots and see that very few, if any, have a state park sticker. I long for the opportunity to share my adventures with these people and get them excited about all the natural beauty at their fingertips, just waiting to be explored.

And so, as you head out next weekend to celebrate the "unofficial" start of summer - Memorial Day Weekend - I hope you'll consider purchasing a state park sticker (wherever you may live) and support these beautiful places set aside for our personal enjoyment.

Get out and explore your world - purchase your ticket to adventure! And don't forget your canine companion!


Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Night Rainbows

It's been a long week. Stressful, irritating days at the "day job" and evenings spent working in the dog treat bakery left Charlie feeling a bit neglected. The only thing keeping me going today was the knowledge that I finally had an evening off and I planned to spend it playing with Charlie at the off-leash dog park.

My city doesn't have an "actual" dog park, but there are three parks that have off-leash hours in the morning and then again in the evening between 6 and 9. One of the three parks is actually an island.

I absolutely love having Charlie off-leash on this island. It's situated below the dam in downtown Wausau on the Wisconsin River just before the river becomes Lake Wausau. It's a seldom-used park, even in the height of summer, which means we typically have the place to ourselves. There's only one bridge leading to the island, making it easy to see when other people arrive and I never have to worry about Charlie running off. There are beautiful big old trees on the edge of the island and a huge grassy space in the middle with a couple benches and picnic tables. Sandy shores are available for swimming and fishing and it's a haven for birds of all species. There also seems to be a huge family of woodchucks here, but they pretty much disappear when people (and dogs) arrive.

It's our own little island paradise!

Today was chilly again so I correctly assumed there would be no one else at the park. Charlie and I leisurely strolled around the perimeter as I tossed her tennis ball over and over. She took a few short breaks to wade into the water, getting a drink or just cooling off.

After about an hour of playing and walking, I put Charlie's ball away so she would just relax and explore on her own. I found a soft grassy spot under a still-bare oak tree and laid down on a bed of blooming violets, using my earmuffs for a pillow (yes, it's still cold enough to need earmuffs!).

I watched white clouds slowly march across a blue sky with the setting sun peeking through with rays of sunshine, illuminating buds waiting to bloom on nearby tree branches. I listened to the roaring water of the dam and the softer waves lapping along the shore. Charlie's paws thundered toward me occasionally as she checked to see if her ball was available yet. The songs of birds drifted around me and echoed off the steep river bank of the mainland.

So many birds! I saw an eagle, hawk, crane, woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, crows, robins and so many other little birds that I had no name for. Their songs lulled me into a peaceful reverie. I stretched my arms up, cupped my head with my hands, and let my entire body relax into the shape of the earthy slope beneath me.

I was so comfortable and at peace, I could have fallen asleep. But I began to notice dark clouds moving in toward the northwest. Dark, wispy tendrils of clouds began to snake across the sunset, almost resembling smoke from a fire. The wind picked up slightly and the already cool air, took on a chilly, damp quality.

Not quite ready to leave, I watched the dark clouds begin to dance with the white clouds as the sky took on an ominous glow that only comes from a storm cloud mingling with a sunset. Tiny drops of rain splashed on my face as the outer edge of the dark cloud arrived so I quickly leashed Charlie and we headed back to the car.

Still enjoying my zen mindset when we arrived home, I inhaled the unique fragrance of rain-damp asphalt and smiled. Turning my head toward the sky, letting the tiny raindrops fall on me, I noticed a full rainbow slowly getting more and more vivid as the setting sun made one last appearance for the evening.

All the stress of this week just melted away with an hour appreciating the song of birds, the sound of water, the smell of damp earth and the joy of a Friday night rainbow. What a wonderful way to begin a weekend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Full Flower Moon + Flower Essences

The Full Flower Moon lands on Wednesday this week, although you wouldn't know it by looking around Northern Wisconsin where we are still quite flower-less. Even though we're lacking in the blooms department, I like the imagery that accompanies this month's moon. Flowers.

Dog artwork by Todd Young (

When it comes to seasons in Northern Wisconsin, you just kind of get used to having patience. The trees will burst into full foliage and flowers will bloom overnight... one morning in the next couple of days, everything will suddenly be summer. That's how it goes here.

The temperatures are definitely milder and we're experiencing quite a bit of rain, so it's no doubt that the new season will arrive very soon. Charlie and I have been walking a lot more lately and exploring new neighborhoods, the arc of our travels getting wider and farther each day.

Having been cooped up so much this winter, I'm working on resocializing Charlie to the multitude of sights, smells and sounds that grow more numerous by the day since she's been a little skittish with things that never used to be an issue.

I've also been reading Dogs Naturally magazine the past few months and am learning a lot about essential oils and flower essences to help dogs with behavioral issues and <ahem> realign their chakras. I know, I know. I thought this was all a bunch of hocus pocus at first but the more I read, the more I believe this stuff actually works and I want to continue learning about it.

My curiosity about natural remedies prompted me to purchase a bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy from the local natural pet store. Bach Flower Essences come in 38 different formulas with Rescue Remedy being the most well known. The combination of flower essences used in Rescue Remedy were created specifically to address stress in emergency or crisis situations but can also be used to treat chronic conditions when appropriate.


It's a pretty small bottle and as you can see from the picture, it's priced at $17.99. There is a little dropper attached to the cap so you can measure the dose very accurately... but don't worry, you can't overdose on this stuff since it's all natural and non-toxic.

I had an opportunity to give this stuff a try the other night after one of our neighborhood walks. As I said, Charlie has been a little skittish with noises lately, so when we walked past a house that was under construction, the automatic nailer (an air tool?) scared the crap out of Charlie. Her ears pinned back against her head and she shot forward as if to bolt to the nearest safe place. I tried calming her down with some treats, but she wasn't having it.

Ten feet later, a motorcycle revved its engine as it drove by and Charlie again shot forward with her ears pinned back. To make matters worse, a car back-fired on the next block. Charlie was in a frantic state by now, whipping her head from left to right looking for the next sign of danger, continually pulling forward on the leash struggling to get home.

Unfortunately home was another four blocks away and she practically dragged me the whole way. I felt terrible for her but there was nothing I could do to soothe her.

As soon as we got home, I ran upstairs and got the Rescue Remedy. I applied four drops to the top of a dog biscuit and offered it to her. Amazingly, within a couple of minutes she was laying down and seemed calm. She was still panting but her ears were relaxed and her eyes no longer had that wild, scared look.

Since the remedy can be given orally with food or mixed into the water dish, I decided to add a couple drops to her water as well. She watched me put the drops in the bowl and came over to check it out, and after sniffing the water decided it was safe to drink.

Bottom line: this stuff works. Results of using Rescue Remedy would probably be difficult to see in use with chronic conditions, but for emergency situations, the proof was plain to see. I'm going to start carrying this little bottle in my poop-bag pouch during our walks from now on. It's so easy to use and the effects were immediate.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dog Moms are Mothers Too!

I'm a dog mom - and proud of it.

I made a choice a long time ago to not have "human" children, but dogs have been an important, and constant, part of my entire life. Which is why I consider myself a "dog mom" with no apologies. I don't care if people think I'm the "crazy dog lady" or if I spend most of my free time with my dog or that I've basically rearranged my whole life to revolve around my dog. This is my choice.

In many ways being a "dog mom" is very much the same as being the mom to a human child. I make sure she eats nutritious meals, worry when she doesn't feel well, stress about stupid little things (like the time she had a "bulls-eye" spot on her belly that I thought was a deer tick bite which the vet later told me was just a black fly bite and not to worry), spoil her with too many toys, home-school her with trick-training books, take her to the park, give her baths, and pretty much think about her all day long.

This is what moms do. And I'm so lucky and grateful to be Charlie's mom.

Charlie may not be able to create refrigerator art, but she decorates my floors with her muddy paw prints which is just as darling.

Charlie can't vocally tell me that she loves me, but I know she does because her tail wags in her sleep and she pierces my soul with her warm brown eyes after a long day of hiking or playing at the park, so grateful for the fun day she's had.

If you are a dog mom, take a moment today to honor all the things you do for your dog and congratulate yourself on creating a beautiful life for your dog. Unlike human children, we know our "kids" come with an expiration date. Make this a memorable day and bask in the innocent joy that dogs exude and live in the moment, as dogs do. Let them remind you of your own childhood innocence and appreciate the love they give.

You're a dog mom, and you've made a difference in the life of your dog. Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 2, 2014


The days are getting longer and warmer which is allowing us to take longer and more leisurely walks in the evening. After the long winter, we're really enjoying this!

But tonight, as Charlie stopped every ten feet to sniff a tree or fire hydrant, I got to thinking...

If a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 times better than a human's, why do they have to take so god-damned long to sniff another dog's pee?!!! She's like a wine snob dissecting the various notes of a fine French wine!

Anyway, I know I could take charge of the situation and tug her away from the smells and keep us going at a quick pace, able to walk more miles in a shorter time. But I'd hate to take away her enjoyment of being out and checking her pee-mail. After all, she's patient enough with me being on the computer checking my own e-mail when she'd rather be playing.

Life's made up of a lot of "give and takes"... for both humans and dogs!