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Dogs Love Rafting…

Not my dogs. But I’ve seen big yellow labs having a great time on the water. When I proposed to my girlfriend and she said yes, I suddenly had an instant family: Two step dogs and two and three quarters step cats. The cats are no big deal. Feed ‘em. Pet ‘em. Clean up after ‘em. But the dogs are a different story. Nicole likes to take the little fluffy darlings with her when she goes up to the mountain, out to the beach, through the woods. And as Nicole and I have been having a great time out and about and on the water, she thought maybe we could teach some old dogs some new tricks…She was mistaken.

Technically speaking, a Subaru Outback is a station wagon. It is not, however, the Country Squire I spent my childhood driving across the country with my parents, three siblings, German shepherd and everything we needed for a month at the lake. Loading a Subaru Outback with everything you need for an overnight river trip is a snug fit but it works. Loading a Subaru Outback with everything you need for an overnight river trip and two mid-sized dog takes a little imagination. I suggested we tie the dogs to the top of the car with the frame, cooler and dry bags, but that wasn’t met with the sort of positive response I was hoping for. So the dogs would need some room inside the car and they seemed to be totally incapable of squeezing in on top of the kind of overnight package I’d put together in the past. It was obvious I would have to make some concessions.

To begin, I chose a smaller raft (the 13’ Avon Drifter) and decided on a day frame with only one bay (for the cooler) instead of a frame with an extra bay for the drybox (as I no longer had room in or on my car for the drybox). The boat, kitchen bag, dry bag o’ wood, water jug, dog stuff, and dogs all got stuffed into the back of the ‘Back. The frame, cooler, personal drybags and oars all got tied to the top. And for the two and a half hour jaunt up to Chili Bar, I longed for the days of the Country Squire.

When we first pushed the boat from shore Bonnie and Indigo (my step-dogs) were all kinds of bright-eyed and bushy tailed, waiting with bated breath for this new adventure to unfurl itself before them. Unfortunately, what unfurled in the first half mile, was not the big frisbee-like unfurling that they had been, no-doubt, anticipating.

The South Fork of the American was running a little over three grand that day in mid-April, which is a great level if you want to put in a few miles. Higher than your typical summer weekend flow, 3K adds a little meat to some of the rapids and washes out others. When I stuffed the bow of the little Avon into that first hole at Meatgrinder, the puppies made it immediately clear this was not what they signed up for. Fortunately for them, there was barely another 20 miles and two days left on the trip.

As the lion’s share of river trips any intelligent rafter will go on happen in the summer, a serious concern is hyperthermia – the overheating of your dog. And the biggest advantage of any decent doggy life jacket is the carrying handle – with this you can easily dip your pooch in the drink for a nice cooling off and then pull them back aboard, letting them show you their appreciation with a satisfying shake. We, of course, didn’t have any worries about overheating as we were rafting in temperatures in the mid-60s. After that first deluge of whitewater, the poodle cowered into a hypothermic ball of shivering wet hair and the Aussie crawled on to my lap, unimpressed with my need to row. Nicole and I were genuinely worried about the condition of the children, as their lack of a good time was quickly becoming our lack of a good time. Fortunately, we soon discovered the secret of canine happiness when we pulled the boat to shore. Once on dry land, life sprang back into them as they ran around peeing on everything that couldn’t move out of the way. We filled their little water bowl with river water (don’t ask), tossed the frisbee a bit and the little furmeisters were as happy as ever. The frequent landing of rubber on sand, it appeared, was the key to happy animals.

At camp, we repeated the transformation of the cold, lifeless lumps into frisky, inappropriately barking dogs once again (if this had been a hot day in July, we would have made the dogs wade to shore, preventing their feet from burning on the blistering hot sand). We set up our tent, laid the dog bed at the foot of our doublewide sleeping bagand then I threw the frisbee until my wrist finally could flick no more. The following morning our poodle, who is not normally much of a morning doggy, had an especially hard time getting out of bed (like she’d been pulling the oars all day).

I would have to say the second day went considerably better for the dogs than the first, as I made a concerted effort to keep the little barkers dry. Never-the-less, even with my added effort to pull hard so there was nary a drop on their shiny little coats from the various holes and waves that we threaded between on the second ten miles, I think this first rafting trip for the dogs may also be their last. If only I could talk Nicole into a lab.

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