Sheepish photographer goes to the dogs

animal rescue, dogs, photography, vermont

A show of my own

Fayston, Vermont. I am pleased to announce that I will be holding a pop-up photo show at Product Think Tank in Waitsfield, Vermont on Sunday, October 7 from 2-5 pm. “A Sheep Show: Photography by Rebecca Silbernagel” features photo portraits of sheep, along with a few cows, butterflies, and the local landscape. Also debuting will be my awesome line of greeting cards, which include one of each of my dogs. Product Think Tank is located in the Mad River Green Shopping Center, next to the Waitsfield Post Office.

Sometimes, things just happen. Several months ago, a friend of mine opened up a boutique of knitwear she designed. She asked me if I had any photos of sheep she could display with her lovely wool knits. Thanks to one of my readers who invited me to her sheep farm a couple of years ago, I did. But the prints I made were 8 x 10 (smallish), and I only made two if them. Would you like me to take more photos, I asked my friend. That’s when she had the idea for a pop-up sheep show, and I realized that I had a summer project.

If you are in Vermont, I hope you will stop by and say “Hello.” I will have photo prints ready for your frame and a few are ready to hang, plus my collection of greeting cards. See what you think of my portraits as you browse the beautiful knitwear in the shop.

Take your best shot at my Canicross Photo Booth

Have you tried the photo booth portrait shoot from last month’s post? I’d love to see your photos! If you haven’t had a chance to make your own photo booth, I will be at the 8th Annual Canicross Run/Walk in Williston on October 20. The event, organized by Long Trail Veterinary Center, will be at the Catamount Outdoor Center – this is the ONLY day dogs are allowed there. Choose either a 5K or 2.5 K distance, with or without your dogs. The event begins at 9:30 am and I’ll be there until almost noon.  It is a fundraiser to benefit Golden Huggs Rescue (from where I adopted my pack) and the Catamount Outdoor Center. At the Photo Booth, I will be asking for additional small donations to Golden Huggs Rescue. For more information or to register, please click HERE

Photo Gallery

September is my favorite month because the days are usually warm and the leaves begin to turn. It’s still summer, but different: brighter, more flavorful.  Here are a few photos from the last month.

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Picture Perfect: Head shot Holiday Cards

dogs, How-to, pets, photography

Simple design using head shots I took then created this composite image with Adobe Spark Post

Fayston, Vermont. The Halloween candy is in the stores, so that means it’s time to prepare your end of the year holiday cards. You’ve had a lot of practice since my last how-to photograph dogs blog post, so hopefully you have saved a few favorites. If not, don’t worry! Here are a few tips for taking a “studio” head shot in your own home with your cell phone that you can use for your card. No snow required.

What you’ll need, in addition to your fully charged smart phone:

  1. A clothes hanging rack. Not a sweater drying rack, but a tall, adjustable rack on which you normally hang pants and dresses.
  2. Pant hangers – the kind with clips. Or drapery clips. I used pant/skirt hangers.
  3. A festive and clean backdrop. A tablecloth or large throw/blanket works well. I used a plaid fleece throw, but if you choose a solid color you don’t have to worry as much about hanging the backdrop super straight. If you live near a fabric store (I don’t), buy a few yards (3-5, depending on the size of your dog and if you want some floor coverage) of velvet – try a dark red or blue or black. A roll of craft paper works, too. Use a seasonal color for whatever holiday you celebrate. Maybe you want to make a Halloween card AND a holiday card!
  4. A tripod for your mobile device is also recommended, especially if you want to be in the photo, too. Mine is a Joby GorillaPod, purchased a few years ago for around $25. Search Amazon or B&H Photo for a similar gadget.
  5. A room with lots of natural light that’s big enough to set up the clothes hanging rack and space to take a photo. I used my palatial master bath/laundry room because it has large windows and a lot of floor space. The garage with the door open also works for this project. Or, if it’s a nice day, find a flat spot in your yard without direct sunlight.
  6. Treats, squeakers, or whatever you need to get your dog to look at the camera. Lucy responds to my Donald Duck voice. If you are feeling ambitious, gather other seasonal props, such as costumes, scarves, hats, lights, etc.
  7. Your dog, after you’ve set up your studio.

Rack and hanger set up

My iPhone tripod, with an old phone

Studio Assembly

Clip the long end of your fabric to the hangers and hang on the rack. Take care to hang the fabric straight if you are using patterned fabric. The clips should hold multiple pieces of fabric so you can flip one over for a new look. (See image, below.) Perhaps you’ve seen a “photo booth” at a party or fundraising event – this is a down-and-dirty simple version.

Tip:  If you want the whole dog in your picture, puddle the fabric on the floor so that the floor doesn’t show in your photo. Have doggo sit or stand on the fabric puddle. You can also use a second piece of matching fabric for the floor.

Set up a test shot to make sure you know where to sit to take the photo and where your dog will sit. Use a stuffed animal or a backpack as a stand-in and take a test shot. You’ll need to be about four feet from your subject. (My phone camera warns me when I’m too close or too far. Apple thinks of everything…) If you don’t have enough room, pick up the rack, fabric and all, and find a new location.

Adjust the backdrop to the light source, if necessary. I changed the angle of my backdrop slightly after my initial test.

Test shot for lighting with Charlie Brown

Take your shot

Now it’s show time. After you’ve exercised your dog, it’s time to take photos. I had to wake up Linus and motivate him to leave the couch.

  1. Bring doggo into your “studio” and have him sit in front of the backdrop. Set up any props or costumes.
  2. Use the “Stay” command while encouraging ear perk with a squeaker or small treat held near the camera lens.
  3. Select the Portrait setting if you have it.
  4. Hold the smartphone camera level with your dog’s eyes. On the screen, tap on your dog’s eyes.
  5. Then snap! For best results, use the tripod to prevent camera shake.

This will likely take a few tries, but your dog will love the attention. Stay positive and task focused. Reward and praise your dog! If you’re not seeing the image you like after a few takes, try again later.

Plan B: If your pooch is used to being held (and has trouble with “stay”), consider being in the photo with her. Figure out where you are going to sit and do a test shot or two. Now the tripod is mandatory. With your phone in the tripod, set the timer on your smartphone camera for three seconds. Gather your dog and sit on your mark, looking at the camera (or kissing, laughing and of course smiling) until the shutter clicks. If three seconds is too short for you to find your mark, try 10 seconds on the timer.

Caveat: My dogs are NOT used to being held. After setting the timer on my smartphone, I crawled over to sit next to test subject Lucy.  She saw this as playtime and began enthusiastically licking my face. (I should have known this was going to happen – it’s why my dogs are banned from the room when I need to stretch.) My photos were a hot mess of blonde blur. Bonding, 10; quality photograph, 0.

Plan C: Consider asking a family member or friend to help by hitting the shutter button. Bribery (um – reward) works for people, too. Coffee is a fine offering for my help, but you might try wine. Invite your helper to use your studio, too! Swap out the fabric for a new background and a different look.

Edit time (or, fun with apps)

One you have taken the photo you like, it’s time to let doggo finish his nap while you edit. Simply using iPhoto’s magic wand (or whatever photo app you use) and a bit of cropping will improve your image, but with a few more clicks, you will create more professional looking results.

Tip: Browse through the printed photo card choices online and pick out a few favorites before you crop. Knowing what aspect ratio you’ll need will save you from re-editing if you choose a card that calls for a 3:2 image but you’ve made yours 1:1. Wait a minute – what? 1:1 aspect ratio is square – the top and sides are the same. 3:2 is the size that will yield a 6 x 4 inch print – a rectangle. Your phone is 4:3. Aspect ratio is the width to height comparison of a photo.

For printed photo cards, you have a lot of online options, including Snapfish, Shutterfly, mpix, and Nation’s Photo Lab, to name a few. Many companies offer dog specific cards. If you don’t have a favorite printer already, ask a few friends who send great cards for recommendations. Once you browse the cards and make your choice, simply upload your photo and choose quantity.

For a complete and easy-to-use photo editor, one of my favorites is Snapseed. Snapseed is a Google product found for free on the App Store and also available for Android. It has editing “tools” and filters, called “looks.” Sometimes I need to lighten my image before I apply a filter, so I go to the “tools” section before going to the “looks” section (filters). Snapseed lets you save a copy or modify the original, and it lets you undo edits even after you’ve saved them.

Magic wand and cropping in iPhoto

Image brightened and Snapseed portrait filter applied

Another editing app I use is PicsArt. PicsArt has many fun filters and easy-to-use editing tools, plus it has a cut-out feature. If you want to remove the background on your headshot, tap the scissors icon, then swipe your finger over the areas of the image you want to keep. Fine tune the cut-out with the eraser tool. Apply the filter and you’ve just created a sticker that you can add to another image. Or, you can change the background to a solid color or a pattern. I used PicsArt to create the image of Linus, below right.  Even though the background of my original image was simple, the plain black gives the image more punch.

If you have some down time and really want to play with photo editing, try Enlight Photofox. I have the older, paid version of Enlight; Enlight Photofox is free but has subscription-based add-ons. Either Enlight or Enlight Photofox will let you layer images to create something completely new. Don’t be afraid to play! I had a long wait at the doctor’s office, so I followed one of the tutorials to create this stylized portrait of Linus (below).

To make a funky digital card for social media, try Photo Lab –  you pick a frame, then add animated effects and type to your headshot. (See Linus image at the bottom of this post.)

For a more sophisticated look, take a look at Adobe Spark Post. It’s another graphic design and collage app I like for graphic layouts such a digital holiday message for social media. I used Spark Post for the title image.

PicsArt collage of Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy

Tip: If you are using more than one headshot, make all the heads the same size. I need to resize Lucy in the above collage.

Design note: Many of the card designs are so colorful that your photo in black and white makes an elegant finished card. (See image at the top of the article.) Duplicate your image and make it black and white by using your photo editing app. Upload the black and white version to see which way you like it. Some of the card makers will let you edit your photos, but I feel that I have more control (and better results) if I make a second version to upload.

P. s. Why am I writing this post in September? This home studio set-up also works great for showing off your dog’s Halloween costume!!! Plus, if you have your holiday card ready to go early, you’ll likely find a great price on printing and have one less thing to do once December comes. Because it’s all about the cookies, really.

Finally, please share your work with wagmorevt.com! I’d love to see your dogs! I’ll add your photos to a future post. Thank you.

Have fun!

Linus head shot in Photo Lab. Scrooge effect is all Linus…

Sound bites

dogs, pets, photography, Uncategorized, vermont

Linus, Charlie, and Lucy pose for a Father’s Day tribute

Fayston, Vermont.  “You know they all bark when you leave the house,” my son reported. “Even Lucy.”

My son is home from college for the summer.  My work schedule has become temporarily more demanding, so he’s been home with the dogs more than I this month.

“Linus sounds like he’s being tortured – it’s part howl, part bark,” he continued.

“Then Charlie chimes in with a high-pitched alarm bark. It’s annoying.

Lucy adds a low grunt, more of a mild complaint,” my son concluded.

“No wonder the neighbors don’t talk to us,” I replied.

“I don’t think so. Their dog barks, too,” he said.

“Do the dogs stop barking when you come downstairs?

“Yes, but sometimes not right away.”

This news surprised me because we take the dogs for a long walk in the morning before leaving. They are usually all sound asleep when I close the door behind me. Last spring, before my son came home, I forgot my phone and had to return to the house, only to find all three dogs asleep, right where I left them. They came to greet me blinking and stretching from being stirred awake.

But I am not usually gone as much once June hits. This year, however, household projects are left undone; vacation plans scrubbed; day trips canceled. I had to take a personal day so that I could accompany my son on a photo assignment for his internship. The extra money I make will be nice when the holidays come, and the end to my crazy schedule is near. But tell that to my dogs.

I look forward to setting my summer rhythm to the beat of tail thwapping. And less barking.

Photo Gallery

Linus at home

Osprey overhead, DAR State Park

Lucy on our morning walk, after a night of rain

Super Charlie in flight

Swallowtail Butterfly

Lucy, DAR State Park

Hay was cut on the very next day

Receiving line, Fayston

Old apple tree frames a very Vermont scene, Waitsfield

Linus in the lupines

Three’s the Charm

animal rescue, dogs, photography
img_8223 copyright rsilbernagel

Lucy, Linus, and Charlie Brown at home.

Fayston, Vermont.  Wagmore is three! Well, almost. Launched three years ago on National Puppy Day, I started the blog to tell stories about my dogs and about those I meet in my community. Although I don’t have as much time to sniff out stories as I’d like, we’ve had a wonderful time exploring and sharing. I am looking forward to another year of happy tails!

For me, the highlight for this past year was seeing the photos of my readers’ dogs. As has been my custom with my anniversary post, the words are few and the photos are many. Have a look through the gallery of images from the past year.

National Puppy Day is March 23, 2018.  We will be taking a long walk and indulge in an extra cookie (or two) as we continue our training. Perhaps you will add (another) dog to your family. Or donate to your local shelter or rescue organization. (I shop on Amazon Smile to benefit my rescue – it’s easy to sign up.) Consider buying some new dog toys or a comfy bed for your pooch. Or meet a neighbor to take a walk together. Or, take a portrait of your dog… How will you celebrate?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolution Revolution: Seven Habits for a Wagtastic Life

dogs, Healthy Living, Joy, Resolutions
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Charlie Brown with his band mates Linus and Lucy on a recent winter walk

Fayston, Vermont.  Perhaps you’ve made a few resolutions, and you’re still on the wagon. I didn’t make any resolutions. Nope. Can’t break a promise I didn’t make.

Except for this: I vowed to continue the healthy habits I reinstated last year. I started using the gym last fall. I work there, so I should practice what I appear to preach, I thought. I’m now more active because the elliptical machine knows my name. I’ve cut my soda consumption way down, and notice I feel better when I don’t drink it. I’ve made a few other dietary tweaks so that I look and feel better, so there’s my incentive to keep it going. I’ve lost the weight I gained over the summer when my arthritis pain dragged me down, both physically and mentally. The pain is manageable, but still there.

My dogs have helped me keep my healthy habits because they have a keen sense of time and how to live a happy life.

The Pack’s Seven Habits for a Wagtastic Life:

  • They remind me when it’s time for a walk. And that a walk at sunrise is beautiful.
  • They make time for play. They take time to explore.
  • They always know when it’s supper time, and they remind me to eat and to enjoy my food.
  • They realize a reward for good behavior is mandatory. But too much of a good thing is too much.
  • They insist that regular massages (belly rubs, head rubs, etc.) are necessary for well-being. But they also let me know that bathing and grooming can be skipped, occasionally. (So much time spent on my hair when I wash it every day – it’s o.k. to skip that once in awhile…)
  • They know sleep is key to recovery. And that a nap helps pass a rainy day.
  • They show and accept affection and gratitude with joy, every day.

If you’re looking for inspiration to make changes in the New Year, look to your furry friends. They will share their wisdom with you, if you listen.

Putting on the dog this holiday season…

animal rescue, dogs, holiday events, Uncategorized

Happy Howlidays! Lucy looks festive in her garland of candy cane lights.

Fayston, Vermont. Whether you dress your dog in a holiday outfit to match yours or you wear the reindog headband because your pooch just won’t, celebrating the holidays is not just for humans. I’ve pulled together a short list of Vermont dog-friendly holiday events plus a couple of special events that benefit dog rescue organizations. (I plan to be at the Ugly Sweater Party at Prohibition Pig to benefit Golden Huggs Rescue. All three of my dogs were adopted through GHR.) Search your area for similar events if you can’t make it to Vermont!

To do with your dog(s):

Snaps with Santa
Saturday, December 10; 11 am – 2 pm
Pet Food Warehouse, 2500 Williston Road, South Burlington
Bring a donation for Claus for Paws.
More info: http://www.pfwvt.com; 802-862-5514

Dog Mountain Holiday Celebration
Saturday, December 16; 10 am – 5 pm (Tree lighting @ 4, bonfire @ 5)
143 Parks Road, Saint Johnsbury, Vermont
Free!
More info: http://www.dogmt.com/Events
1-800-449-2580

8th Annual Dog Parade & Canine Costume Party
Sunday, December 31, 1 pm
Sugarbush Resort, 102 Forest Drive, Warren, Vermont
$10 cash donation to PAWSitive Pantry
More info: http://www.sugarbush.com/events/dog-parade

To benefit dog rescue organizations:

Making Spirits Bright
Thursday, December 14; 6:30 – 9 pm
The Automaster, 3328 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, Vermont
Tickets: $35 per person, http://www.passion4paws.yapsody.com
Silent Auction proceeds benefit Passion 4 Paws

Ugly Sweater Party
Thursday, December 20; 4 – 9 pm
Prohibition Pig Brewery, 2 Elm Street, Waterbury, Vermont
Half price tacos if you wear an ugly sweater and for every house draft beer purchased, ProPig will donate $1 to Golden Huggs Rescue

A final note: As always, be careful of what you feed your dog – all those rich holiday treats might make your dog’s event experience memorable not in a good way. And be careful of what you consume so that you and you loved ones arrive home safely…

Wishing you all the season’s joys and a Happy New Year!

 

Line Item Missing

dogs, photography, travel, Uncategorized

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus in their orange vests on a recent walk in a Vermont state park. Their leashes are at my feet.

Fayston, Vermont.  My apologies for once again not sticking to my first-Wednesday-of-the-month schedule. Our power was out for a couple of days last week, and our internet was down for over a week. I’m finally back on-line with a new, faster modem. But leash lines, not power lines, are this post’s topic.

Do you carry a leash?

My town’s leash law allows dogs to be off-leash if they are under voice control. I have yet to meet a dog during our wanders who is actually that obedient. Admittedly, mine are intermittently obedient. Know that I love to let my three dogs off leash. It is wonderful exercise for them as they run at least three miles to each one I walk. They are very happy to explore and play with each other. I have a couple of places where I can do that without too much worry, but the best place is on my own property, which is mostly wooded and has a trail looping through it.

We are working on the command “come.” Each of my dogs does fairly well when I work alone with one of them, but when they are together, not so much. Linus and Charlie Brown have selective hearing. They are usually not far; they are too busy to come. We have much work to do.

When we are out (and my dogs are on leash), we occasionally encounter unleashed dogs. “Oh, he’s friendly” – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line from an owner of an unleashed dog. That might be true, but one of my dogs is reactive.

Linus meditates…

Linus is not always friendly. He barks at dogs on t.v.  While we are working on that, too, it is the top reason I have him on a leash when we leave our property. It is also why I time my walks to avoid the other “regulars” in my neighborhood. Sometimes we meet, however, and it’s hard. My neighbors are extremely patient and understanding. 

So, while your dog might be friendly, another dog might not be – please keep that in mind when you let your dogs off leash on a public trail. Always carry a leash, and leash your dog when you come across others. Please.

Another reason for keeping dogs on leash during November in Vermont is because it is hunting season. My dogs look adorable in their orange bandanas and vests, but underbrush could conceal and camouflage them. A tired hunter might react simply to movement. To be safe, I keep my dogs leashed.

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Charlie perches atop a hay bale for a portrait

Third, some folks might not want to meet your dog, even if doggo is very friendly. About a month ago, I brought Lucy to the reservoir to swim. The park had just closed for the season, but it was a warm, sunny day. Lucy was on leash as we walked to the water. About 50 yards away, another woman was working with her young dog. The dog was much more interested in Lucy than the owner’s commands and treats. The lady persisted in struggling for his attention. Lucy was oblivious as she just wanted to swim.

Swim she did. I had brought my camera and started to take pictures. I noticed a hilltop that would provide a scenic backdrop for a Lucy portrait. After a bit of swimming, I leashed her to walk up the steep hill to see the view. At the top we were immediately and enthusiastically greeted by two off-leash black labs. Their owner was calling them to no avail. The meeting was friendly, but I was overwhelmed by our new friends. In the happy frenzy, I became tangled in Lucy’s leash between three large, wet, jumping dogs and was nearly knocked to the ground. The owner asked me not to unleash Lucy because her dogs had been attacked by off leash dogs.

Oh, the irony…

Lucy at the Waterbury Reservoir, post swim and Lab greeting

Picture Perfect Dog Portraits, Take 2

dogs, How-to, photography, Uncategorized

Lucy on a sleepy Sunday morning

Fayston, Vermont.  Still struggling with taking a decent photo of your dog? To follow up on my post from May 7, 2017, Picture Perfect: Tips for Taking Dog Portraits, here’s a simple exercise to start you on your way to taking better dog portraits. Yes, a little homework – it is back-to-school time – then, please send your assignment photos to wagmorevt.com and I’ll post them next month.

The assignment theme: “Let sleeping dogs lie”. I heard from some of you that your dog just won’t sit still long enough for you to take a decent photo. Training tips aside, let’s remove the action bit as much as possible and start with a tired pooch.

Step 1: Take your dog for a good walk. The light will be best for photos in the early (early-ish) morning or early evening, so time your walk with your mission. Tidbit from Captain Obvious: Pick a day that’s not raining or about to rain. You want good light. Wet dog is your call.

Step 2: When your dog settles down for a post-walk rest, take out your camera or smart phone. Hopefully your dog will be some place where you will have natural light, like through a window or outside on your deck. Turn on your camera or the camera on your phone.

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Charlie Brown does not like mornings. To take this shot, I steadied my smart phone on the deck while I crouched super low, almost lying down, to take the shot.

Step 3: Set up your shot. Focus on the dog’s eyes. (With the smart phone camera open, tap on the screen over the dog’s eyes.) The dog’s eyes will probably still be open, and that’s good. Figure out which way the light is hitting your dog’s face, and set yourself up so that you see that light on your dog’s face. Hold your camera/phone at dog eye level, which might mean getting down on the floor. I do this all the time…

Step 4: Take the picture! Take several pictures: Try different angles, like above and below your dog, and take multiple shots. Try moving in very close for just the face, then farther away for the whole dog.

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Linus rests after his morning walk, Note how the soft light coming through the windows hits his face from the right side and behind him.

Step 5: Edit your image. Simply using the auto-enhance feature in iPhoto (or whatever you have) is often all you need. If you still have a lot of shadows, move the shadows slider in iPhoto to the right to lighten the shadows. Use the brilliance slider to lighten up dark photos, too. Cropping unnecessary bits will help your composition by “focusing” the attention on your subject.

Step 6: Send your finished image to wagmorevt.com! I’d love to see them, and I’ll share them in next month’s post. Please tell me your dog’s name, your name, and where you took the shot (town, state, and then anything else – living room, under the bed…) Your deadline for inclusion in the next post is Sunday, October 1, 2017.

Email photos and information to: silvernaildesign@gmail.com

Note: If you don’t have a dog, improvise! A cat, a teddy bear, your spouse;-)

Have fun!!! And, happy snapping!

Shades of Pet-Friendly

dogs, travel, Uncategorized

Lucy at sunset, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Fayston, Vermont. In my last post, I wrote about my upcoming road trip with dog Lucy and my college-age son to visit my parents in the Midwest. The trip involved crossing the US-Canadian border and hotel stays in several different locations. The trip went well, most of the time. Here’s what I found:

Border Crossings
My research told me that I needed to bring Lucy’s health and rabies shot records, $30 to pay the Canadian fee crossing into Canada, and her food in its original bag so that the ingredients could be easily determined. What actually happened is that I was not asked about the dog at all. No fee collected. No need to show health papers. No search to determine food ingredients. Most of the border agents’ questions were regarding weapons, which I did not bring. I didn’t even bring my golf clubs or a fishing rod. We enjoyed unremarkable crossings.

Having Lucy along likely made the crossings easier.  On our return across the border into Vermont, the United States agent asked the usual questions in the usual no-nonsense-just-the-facts-ma’am manner. Until he asked me to roll down the back seat window and met Lucy. His face morphed into a giant relaxed smile as he reached into our car to pet Lucy. Lucy wagged with excitement. “Welcome home,” he said and waved us through. As we drove off, he shouted: “I love Lucy!”

Lodging
I made most of our hotel arrangements well ahead of our trip.  I searched for pet-friendly hotels, and Best Western made it easy with most locations listed as such. I also used BringFido.com, through which I found a boutique hotel, the Old Stone Inn, in Niagara Falls, Ontario for our first night.

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The Old Stone Inn’s courtyard

I highly recommend The Old Stone Inn in Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side.  Lucy was warmly welcomed with a special gift of a travel dog dish, treats, and souvenir door hanger.  The room was large and the beds were deemed “the most comfortable ever” by my son.  We were allowed to leave Lucy in the room – I had brought her crate – while we walked around the falls.  We ate a delicious supper of burgers and local brews from the hotel’s pub in the attractive courtyard. The hotel’s location was ideal: just a short walk down a wooded path to the falls. The hotel was charming and the staff was friendly.  We were off to a great start!

 

After a long day of driving, we made it to Indiana, where I had made a reservation in a Best Western just off of I-80 near Chicago. Pet-friendly meant something else here. Upon arrival, I was asked to sign a pet agreement, part of which was to have our room inspected by a maid before we were allowed to check out. Dogs were not supposed to be left alone in the room, but when I said I had a crate, they didn’t press the point. We were tired and didn’t want to leave the room that evening anyway. Where would we go? Instead, we devoured a delivered pizza and enjoyed local brews from the hotel bar. We could hear another small dog barking all evening and into the night (wonder if the dog was left in the room alone?) but luckily Lucy did not bark in return. The maid was afraid of Lucy, but we passed inspection.

After several days staying at my mom’s house, we were back in the car headed to Sturgeon Bay, in Door County, Wisconsin and another Best Western to meet up with my dad and step-mom. Again, I was presented with the dog agreement at check-in, but this time the staff person was adamant that I do not leave the dog in the room alone, under any circumstances – not even to go to breakfast, which was included in our room fee. No maid inspection requirement at this property, however.

I was flustered and frustrated. My dad and step-mom were staying in the same hotel – that was the point. We planned to stay three nights. I was not told of the pet policy details when I made my reservations through the Best Western central reservation toll-free number, and I didn’t know what to ask at the time. But not being able to leave Lucy for a few hours was not going to work with the activities my family wanted to do. Add to that, we were assigned a room right next to the pool and the breakfast room. Bacon smells, kid noise, and water splashing sounds and they expect my golden retriever to not bark?! I canceled the last two nights and plugged in my computer to find another hotel.

Using the pet-friendly filter at Expedia.com, I found a room at The White Birch Inn. The room’s decor was something of a marvel, locked in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, with mauve carpeting and wallpaper borders. But I would be allowed to leave Lucy in the room if I left my cell number. At check-in, I was given a token for a free drink from the bar. Breakfast was continental, and the first day, I enjoyed a bowl of beautiful fresh berries. The room was large and clean, and the price was right.

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Lucy in front of one of the many murals in Sudbury, Ontario.  The murals are created as part of an annual music and art festival.

Our last night of the trip was also in a Best Western in Sudbury, Ontario. The hotel is located on the same street as the police station and across the street from a small park. Again I was given a pet policy form to sign upon arrival, but leaving the dog in our 5th-floor room while we went to breakfast on the first floor was o.k. Or we could go just about anywhere else, as long as no one complained about the dog barking. The desk manager laughed when I told her about the room inspection clause I encountered in Indiana. As Best Westerns are independently owned, she explained, the pet policy (and its enforcement) varies from property to property.

 

The Lodging Upshot
Smaller inns will likely have more generous pet policies. It takes a bit more time to comb through search sites and requires a few extra telephone calls to find a good fit. Know what you are going to be doing helps filter, too – the Sturgeon Bay Best Western would have been fine if we had planned to be out all day hiking with Lucy.

Be prepared to pay a small additional fee for each pet. Fees were well-disclosed during the reservation process. Some hotels have a size limit for the pet, so pay attention to that detail if you have a large dog.

Food & Play Finding dog-friendly casual dining was pretty easy. We found several restaurants that welcomed dogs at their outdoor seating areas. Culver’s, a Wisconsin favorite with locations also in Minnesota and in Michigan, even had water bowls set out for four-legged guests. Try the cheese curds… In Sturgeon Bay, we ate dinner outside on the water at Waterfront Mary’s and Sonny’s. We also enjoyed take-out and either ate in the hotel or sat in a public park that allows dogs.

If you go to Door County, Wisconsin, be sure to visit the dog beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park. A day pass cost us $11 for the car, which we paid for at the ranger station. We enjoyed an afternoon on a beautiful, clean, sandy beach on the shores of Lake Michigan. Lucy swam and swam and swam.

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Lucy at Alimagnet Dog Park, Burnsville, Minnesota

When visiting a new town, check local community websites to find dog parks and leash laws. The town where my mom lives has a big dog park, Alimagnet Dog Park, with a pond for dog swimming and a walking path. The park is fenced, so dogs are free to be off-leash. Plus, dogs are allowed off leash during the warm months in all of the town’s outdoor hockey rinks with a gate. My mom lives in hockey-crazy Minnesota – a lot of off leash spaces!

 

While bringing Lucy made the trip more difficult in some ways – and certainly created a problem for our family visit in Door County – it also made it easier to meet people. Lucy basked in all of the extra attention as people of all ages told me delightful stories about their dog “at home.”

My morning walks with Lucy were quiet times to explore and wander. I found some of the murals in Sudbury, Ontario while my son was still sleeping. I watched the sun rise over the ball field where I used to play as a kid. While walking Lucy at dawn along Niagara Falls, I met a man from Michigan who told me about his dog, a 130 lb. chocolate lab. Named “Fudge.”

I want to meet Fudge.

Note: The manager at the Sturgeon Bay, WI Best Western did pay me a visit the next morning and offered to let me keep the dog in the room unattended, but it was too late at that point as we were already packing up to go to the White Birch Inn.

Images, below: Lucy at Whitefish Dunes State Park; Fire tower in Sturgeon Bay and a view from it; Sturgeon Bay waterfront and drawbridge; white thistle that is rare and specific to the Whitefish Dunes area; Lucy on the dog beach of Lake Michigan; Spoon Bridge and Cherry with Minneapolis skyline; Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Sebastian Joe’s, Minneapolis; chillin’ with my pal Snoops at Valleyfair, Shakopee, Minnesota; Niagara Falls from the Canadian side; and Lucy at Niagara Falls at dawn.

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And away we go

dogs, travel, Uncategorized
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Lucy studies the map.

Fayston, Vermont. For the first time in many years, my summer calendar is OPEN. Blank spaces for days and days. No work, at least not much. No events. At least none that I HAD to attend. No obligations. At least none that I’m aware. So when my mom asked me to visit her back home in Minnesota instead of her flying East, I said o.k.

What if I drove? I posed this question out loud one evening last March when my son was home from college. He said if I drove, he’d go, too. What? Really?! He said we could take our cameras and make a road trip out of it. Over the next several weeks, I kept asking him if he still wanted to go. I expected he’d think about all those hours in the car with mom and change his mind. He didn’t.

Well, you can’t leave me with three dogs all that time, said my husband. I can’t take them all to work with me.

Which one don’t you want to take to work? I asked. Lucy was his answer.

So now my trip home is a two-week road trip with my son Erik and dog Lucy on a route that will take us through Niagra Falls and a bit of Ontario. After several days with mom in Minnesota, Lucy, Erik and I will meet up with my dad and stepmom in Door County, Wisconsin before looping back through Ontario then Montreal, Quebec, then home to Vermont. I used the on-line AAA TripTik route planner, which made the task very simple.

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Sorry, Charlie. I will miss you terribly – we’ll Facetime! And you’ll have lots of fun with Linus. I’ll miss Linus, too.  Lucy’s not nearly as good of a lap dog.

Preparations have preoccupied me for weeks. I researched and read Canadian and U.S. information about crossing the border with a dog: Dogs must be in good health and a rabies certificate from the vet must be presented to the border agent along with payment of a $30 fee. I coordinated our plans with my parents, finalized our route, and then made hotel reservations at pet-friendly places that welcome bigger dogs. I also needed to attend to other travel details: obtaining a copy Lucy’s vet records (that was easy – thank you Dr. Roy’s office); arranging an oil change for my car; emptying a ridiculous amount of old photo files from my computer to make room for new photo files; changing some money so I have Canadian funds to pay the pet fee at the border; and shopping for a new pair of sneakers.

The car is packed. My camera battery is fully charged. And away we go!

I will post a photo gallery from our trip in next month’s article here on wagmorevt.com. For daily road trip photos, please follow me, @skimor, on Instagram!