All posts by Pamela Douglas Webster

About Pamela Douglas Webster

Pamela Douglas Webster is a contributor to A Traveler's Library. She hopes to inspire people to enjoy travel with their pets in her monthly Pet Travel Thursday feature. Pamela blogs about dogs and their people at Something Wagging This Way Comes.

Tales of An Adventurous Sailing Dog on the World’s Oceans

Pet Travel Tuesday

Destination: Oceans of the World

Book: A Sea Dog’s Tale: The True Story of a Small Dog on a Big Ocean (2012)

By Pamela Douglas Webster

[NOTE: WIN THIS BOOK and read more of Pamela's thoughts about sailing dogs at Something Wagging This Way Comes.]

Sailor and adventurer Peter Muilenburg tells the story of cruising with his spirited, sailing dog in A Sea Dog’s Tale. The story takes the form of a memoir of a life well-lived. And the dog at its center provokes the storyteller and his reader to weigh the risks and rewards in leading the well-lived life.

Muilenburg spent years building a sailboat at his family’s home in the Virgin Islands, and then took off with his wife and two sons to cruise the world in their new, floating home.

Well, not quite a home. After all, they didn’t have a dog.

This is a Schipperke puppy.

A Schipperke pup, not Santos.

A fellow cruiser with a litter of Schipperke puppies convinced the young family that their boat needed a genuine boat dog. Schipperkes had been bred historically to live aboard canal barges and serve as watch dogs. For a modern-era cruiser in an iffy anchorage, a noisy alarm dog could be the difference between keeping a dinghy motor and losing it to an opportunistic thief.

Peter knew that having a dog aboard would complicate their lives. But the boating breeder made a convincing case. And besides, who can resist a puppy?

Santos soon earned his place aboard by being a good crew member. He served as watch dog, provided entertainment, and was often the first spotter of land.

But the dog was more than a crew member for the Muilenburgs. He also gave the family a way to test, justify, and reflect on their chosen lifestyle.

What was life for? Experience, love, and adventure? Or responsibility, substance, and security? It was hard to have both….The trouble is, it’s hard to assess in process. Hindsight is so much clearer.

By watching a dog’s life, maybe we could get perspective on our own–while there was still time.

Duke is cruising as a dog in the San Blas Islands.

Duke is cruising with his people in the San Blas islands aboard the sailboat Karma.

And what a life that dog had. Santos had so much excitement, in part, because of his family’s adventurous choices. The oceangoing Schipperke was kidnapped, fell overboard, swam in a crocodile infested river, was hit by two cars, and lived to bark about it. (Apparently cats aren’t the only animals with nine lives.) The Muilenburgs nicknamed the indomitable dog, Perrito Macho, loosely translated as “little dog with big balls.”

Besides worrying if Santos would survive his latest scrape, readers may find one other aspect of the book challenging.

Loki is the Brittany Spaniel on the boat Infinity in the San Blas Islands.

Loki, the sailing dog aboard Infinity in the San Blas Islands.

Muilenburg, who trained as a historian, peppers the book with obscure references. And sailing terms are baffling to non-sailors. The reader who is not familiar with Plutarch, the Hanseatic League, and Zoroaster, or who wouldn’t know a halyard from a windlass, might want to keep a dictionary nearby.

I found the book an entertaining armchair adventure that left me thinking about risk, and about the challenge of balancing my responsibility to provide for my own dog’s safety with my desire to give her life-enriching adventures.

In the month I recently spent aboard a sailboat in Panama’s San Blas Islands, I got to meet several families who cruised with dogs (and one with a cat) aboard their sailboats. I learned of the difficulties of keeping food or fishing enough to feed a pet miles from stores. I heard the challenges of choosing routes based on where dogs would be welcome in marinas or anchorages. And anyone who has reluctantly walked a dog will relate to the challenges of providing four walks a day (following a dinghy ride to land) for a dog who simply can’t adjust to “going” on a rug on the deck of a boat.

Jack was the boat dog on the sailboat Gilana.

Jack on the deck of the sailboat Gilana.

And yet, every comment about the challenges of having an animal aboard was accompanied by the admission that all the extra work was worth it for the love and enjoyment of having a beloved pet for company.

Muilenberg would obviously agree.

The family’s travels could easily have filled a book without Santos. But the sailing dog with a big heart made their boat a home. His presence made their adventures unique among volumes of sailing adventures. His spirit and love of life served as an example to his family, friends, and even those of us who only know him through this book. And that’s not a bad legacy for a little dog.

Photo credits: Schipperke is from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license. Jack on Gilana is used with permission of Laura Brasler. Other photos are provided by Michael Webster.

Disclaimer: Links to Amazon provide a handy way for you to shop, and they are also affiliate links, meaning when you do your Amazon shopping through these links, I earn a few cents. Thank you for your support.

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The Horse Boy – Seeking Shamanic Healing for Autism in Mongolia


Pet Travel Tuesday

Destination: Mongolia

Film: The Horse Boy (2009).

By Pamela Douglas Webster

 

 

Ed. Note: See Pam’s Companion article on the healing powers of animals at Something Wagging This Way Comes.

How do you heal an autistic child?

How do you comfort a child whose brain causes him to have several tantrums a day? How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t speak? And how do you cope, day after day, with a five-year old who refuses to use a toilet?

Rupert Isaacson and his wife, Kristin Neff, researched every option for treating their son Rowan’s autism. Nothing helped. Continue reading

Dog Man – The Savior of Japan’s Akitas


Pet Travel Tuesday

Dog Man (Japanese Akita)
Destination: Japan

Book: Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain, by Martha Sherrill (2008)

By Pamela Douglas Webster

See Pam’s thoughts about Breeds at Something Wagging This Way Comes. 

Weakened by wars and deprivation, the Japanese people nearly lost a precious piece of their cultural heritage in the early 20th century: their Akitas.

An informal count in 1945 identified only 16 of these primitive dogs in the entire nation of Japan. Starving families in the mountainous, snowy region of northern Japan ate the dogs for survival and sold their pelts to line military officers’ coats. Continue reading