Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pack Walk Snapshot: Amara Young

There are so many things that I love about our pack walking group.  I love the dogs.  I love the handlers.  I love the oldies.  I love the newbies.  I love the trails.  I love the post-walk coffee.  I love the conversation.  But most of all, I love the photos. 

And when it comes to photos, I don't think we could be any luckier.  Since the beginning, pack photographer Lp Reyes, has captured our walks through her lens.  Her photos are a weekly highlight. Each photo captures the essence of our walks in a way that is truly breathtaking.  Did I mention we were lucky?  It gets even better! 

Our treasured Lp and her faithful friend
Photo by Amara Young
Lp's photos and talent caught the eye of budding young photographer, Amara Young, who had heard of our walks through her friend and neighbor Jennifer Kroiss.  Soon Amara began joining us on our weekly walks as well.   From the first walk it was clear that Amara had a fantastic eye and innate talent.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to learn a little bit more about Amara through a question and answer format. 

And so, without further adieu, here are the words of Amara Young accompanying some of her favorite photos:

Q: When did your love for photography begin?  How long have you been taking pictures?

A: Well, my love for photography began when I was around 9 when I ordered my first hand held digital camera! At first, it wasn't for photography, I just loved bringing it around and taking pictures at family events and with friends. I had gone through four hand held digital cameras until just this past Christmas when I got my first professional camera! It is a Canon Rebel T3i. The camera really helped me find my love for photography. 

 Ms. Dixie always puts her best face forward
Photo by Amara Young

Q: What is your favorite part about photographing the pack walks?
A:  My favorite part of photographing the pack walks is seeing every person and dog up so early, but energetic and excited to be walking. I love capturing human and animal expressions and interactions! 

 What our walks are all about
Photo by Amara Young

Q: How is photographing dogs different from other subjects (people, scenery, abstract images etc)?
A:  Photographing dogs is much more difficult than taking pictures of people and scenery. Dogs are always moving and with so many different colored coats its hard to get the right backdrop for the dogs to look their best. People, for the most part, can stand still if asked and scenery doesn't move.

Mookie hams it up for an Easter shot
Photo by Amara Young
Q: What have you learned about your craft through the pack walks?
A:  I've learned that I really do love photography through these walks. It is very rewarding to look at the pictures when I get home and put them on my computer. Also, I have learned I love being on site for photography. It already has me thinking about traveling in my future to on-site events or disasters. 

Pack walk hunk Marshal knows that real men wear flowers
Photo by Amara Young

Q: Do you have a favorite breed that you like to shoot? What kind of dog really gets you excited to take their photograph?
A: I love taking pictures of all types of dogs! They are all so unique, just like people. The dogs I get excited about taking pictures of are, are the ones who "smile" while walking, it makes for a great picture.

 The woman behind the camera
Self-portrait by Amara Young

For more info on Amara Young private photography email

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Tail of Two Pitties

Walks, like good food, are best shared with friends. 

And we have met some wonderful friends over the past few months, both canine and human.

Two of these friends were pit bull owners and advocates, Mike and Melissa.  With them came two pack walk favorites: Tank and Dixie.  It has been a joy to get to know these dogs and watch them grow over the weeks.  So wonderful, in fact, that we had to share their stories with you.

Both Tank and Dixie were adopted from a phenomenal Twin Cities rescue A Rotta Love Plus where they were given a second chance at life.  Like many rescue dogs, their lives had not been filled with warm beds, soft pets, and dishes full of food.  Dixie had spent the the first 5 months of her life tied to a porch with no socialization, love, or attention.  Tank was found wandering the streets of Minneapolis and was pulled from Animal Control with only a day left to live.  You could say these dogs won the puppy lottery when they found their forever home with Mike and Melissa, but if you asked their humans, I know they would say that they were the ones that won the jackpot.

Hello Dixie
Photo by Lp Reyes

Dixie has been described as "too smart for her own good."  She is a quick learner and eager to please.  She loves hard and plays hard.   Obedience and tricks have never been difficult for her to master.  Dixie's greatest battle is that she harbors some fear and anxiety towards unknown women, something she and her humans have worked very hard to overcome.  To do so, they have spent countless hours socializing Dixie with all sorts of different people.  Socialization is what brought them to our group.  

Dixie displaying her amazing focus during a pack walk.
Photo by Lp Reyes
Over the weeks, Dixie has gained many valuable hours in the company of trusted friends.  She has never growled or cowered in the presence of a pack member.  She seemed to immediately understand that this was a safe place.  And in the safety of this space she has continued to thrive and grow.  We can't wait to see where the future brings Dixie.  She deserves all the great things in life and we know here family will make sure she gets them. 

Hello Tank
Photo by Lp Reyes

With a name like Tank, you don't really need an introduction.  Tank came barreling into Mike and Melissa's lives with an incredible enthusiasm about all things, but especially all things dog.  When Tank first caught a glimpse of a dog he would "turn into Tarzan," until he had the chance to meet them.  Problem was, due to no socialization, Tank had no idea how to do so properly.  With the help of Lynn at The Canine Coach, Tank began to work to tackle his dog reactivity.  After making huge progress with his training he was ready for a greater challenge and so he joined Dixie on a pack walk.

Photos by Lp Reyes

It would be difficult to forget Tank's first pack walk.  No one will forget his human's initial introduction: "Hi, I'm Mike and this is Dixie.  My wife Melissa is down the street with our dog Tank who is currently having a meltdown."  But even more unforgettable would be the events that would unfold on that day.  Midway through the walk, Tank was able to catch the pack and walk within a few feet.  By the end of the walk he was smack dab in the middle, a model of proper canine behavior.  Tank had found his place and his parents were beaming with pride.

The Dynamic Duo in Action!
Photo by Lp Reyes
Over the weeks Tank has continued to thrive and grow.  If you were to join our group you would never guess how far Tank has come, he is simply another member of the pack.  And though it may look effortless, countless hours and training have gone into Tank's success.

Tank's journey has been a highlight for many a pack walker.  Not because he is adorable (which, my goodness is he ever).  Not because he joined the group (which, is an amazing step in and of itself).  Not even because he made such amazing progress (which, is unbelievable to say the least).  I think it is because we all see a piece of our dogs in Tank and see ourselves at the other end of his leash. 

Photo by Lp Reyes

And that is why we walk together.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Pack Walk of Four on the North Shore

I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that my dogs and I missed this week's pack walk.

The good news is that we got to spend a weekend on Minnesota's beautiful North Shore.

And because no weekend is complete without a pack walk, we snuck quite a bit of that in with our own little pack as well.

Here are some of our more memorable moments:

Penelope poses while Mookie takes a beating by her tail...typical
Penelope enjoying the view of Gooseberry Falls

Hiking Carlton Peak in Superior National Forest
Enjoying the view

During the difficult parts of the climb we walked with one of us in the lead and one of us on the tail.  This gave the dog's room to walk in between.  They did fantastic staying on the trails and this was a great way to safely give them some off-leash training.

Mookie and Penelope enjoying the view from Britton Peak

Finishing our trip in
 Duluth at Canal Park

      "We iz good little travelers!"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Of Love And Loose Leash Walking

I have always loved training.  Loved it so much, in fact, that prior to adopting my two dogs Mookie and Penelope I decided to train my cat Simon.

Simon is the only cat I know that can sit, beg, paw, and answer the question "Are you hungry?" (Just in case you were wondering...the answer to that question is always yes).
I think Simon was pretty relieved when I finally became a doggy mom, if only for the fact that I would give up on his training and leave him the hell alone.  Simon has much more important things to do with his time such as  breaking into the garbage, sleeping, eating, and perfecting his plan to take over the world. 

And I have loved training my dogs.  In fact, I love training more with each passing day.  The fun thing about training is that you can never really be done learning.  Every accomplishment brings a new perspective, a new goal, and further insight into your faithful friend.

But I have a little secret to share.

At first, I did not enjoy teaching my dogs to walk on a loose leash.  In fact, I pretty much hated it.

I have some guesses as to why I did not enjoy teaching loose leash walking.

1) Loose leash walking took patience.  I am not patient.  I would explain why, but that just takes too much time and I am ready to move on to the next point (wink).

2) Loose leash walking was b-o-r-i-n-g.  As in "Wow Mookie I have noticed you are still walking and not pulling my arm off hur-fricken-ray, why do I have to keep watching you so you continue to do so?"

3) Loosh leash walking was frustrating!  I can't count the number of times I have trained and then un-trained my dogs with this skill (likely a result of reason #1).  One bad walk with good 'ol Auntie or Dad and we were back at square one!

But like anything worth doing, this was worth doing to exhaustion. And so I did.  And I did.  And I did. TO.  EXHAUSTION.

And then I gave up. 

I didn't really care if my dog's pulled anyway.  I mean it was totally a great way to pump up my biceps, shoulders, and back right?....right?  Wrong.  It was a totally great way to screw up my back and make my daily runs/walks a chore. Still, I couldn't quite get myself to recommit and so the daily battles ensued; both ends of the leash pulling merrily (or well, not-so-merrily) away. 

But then it happened.  I found a reason to reinstate my mission.

I had a change in perspective while reading the beautiful teachings of  Suzanne Clothier.  In her book Bone's Would Rain From the Sky, she details an owner's frustration with teaching her dog to walk "with her."  Reading the following line effectively 'rocked my world' and changed how I viewed loose leash walking forever:
"We don't think about the lack of respect implicit in the act of pulling, or the lack of leadership  that allows it.  Simply put, we may move through life spending far too much time simply tied to our dogs by the length of our leash, not bound to them through an investment of our attention.  At this most simple level of moving together, we reveal the courtesy and respect at work in the quiet unplanned moments of life."
Turns out loose leash walking isn't only about impulse control, repetition, and obedience.  Loose leash walking is also about love.  And because I love my dogs, I decided to commit to changing my ways.  I vowed that one day we wouldn't be bound by a leash, but by love, that we would share a connection so great that even a fat chirping squirrel could not break our bond. 

And suddenly it was no longer a chore but a dance.  Of course, at first it was a more like an unsightly stumble, but somewhere along they way we found our rhythm.  And then it happened. 

Penelope ignored a squirrel and chose to walk with me instead. And every single moment of training that lead up to that moment was worth it.

And though we may have our set-backs and moments when I have forgotten to stop pulling on my end of the leash, we have found joy in loose leash walking.  So we have committed to work together every day until there is a time when we find that:

"We are, at every step, together, without the need for words, bound by the heart's invisible leash, unmistakably connected."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oh My Blog!

Here in the Twin Cities we are blessed to have a huge abundance of dog related organizations, clubs, and businesses.  Because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate through the vastness of the dog-friendly community in the Twin Cities.

Simon used to get exhausted searching for things to keep his canine companions busy and out of his fur.

Lucky for Simon and Twin Cities dog lovers, there is a one-stop resource for all things dog in the Twin Cities; Sidewalk Dog.

Sidewalk Dog describes themselves as:
 "THE resource for all things dog-related in the Twin Cities. We've got the inside scoop on pet-related businesses, dog-friendly shops and restaurants, events, amazing animal rescues and nonprofits, local celebs' secret lives as dog lovers, and anything else that's interesting, funny or just plain cute in the local dog scene."
As huge fans of all things Sidewalk Dog related, you can imagine how honored we were to be featured on their website this week!  You can view the blog post here.

Special thanks goes out to Jennifer Kroiss who connected Twin Cities Pack Walk with this amazing opportunity. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And Away We Grow!

Let me preface this post by saying I am generally as excitable as my Aussie-mix Mookie.
For those of you who don't know Mookie, this photo pretty much sums up Sir Spaz-A-Lot accurately

Maybe the old saying is true, like mother like son.  To say I am excited about our growing group would be an understatement.  To be honest, as we circled up for our last two pack walks, I had to use every ounce of my being to refrain from turning into a bouncing, clapping, jumping nutcase (apparently impulse control exercises are not just for the four-leggeds).  In just three weeks our group had nearly tripled in size and what a group we had become!

Even more exciting was the fact that an incredibly talented photographer had joined our ranks and volunteered to document our weekly expeditions.   To that photographer (who is as modest as she is talented) I would like to take a moment to offer up the most abundant thank you in the universe. 

So without further ado, allow me to introduce our pack :

Murphy: Our Silver Fox

Handsome Luke & Adorable Adopt-A-Bull Molly

Princess Gabbi

The Lovely Hazel

Ms. Maggie Moo

Beautiful Jazmin

Sir Mooks-A-Lot

Pretty Pretty Penelope

Tank the Great

Darling Dixie

The Brodster

Gorgeous George

Madeline the Magnificent

Not pictured: Marshall (the faithful hound behind the camera)

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.           
What they didn't say was that the best journeys begin with friends who take those steps together.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Finding Our Footing

If you have stumbled upon this page, welcome! 
Stumbling into new things seems to be the way of this pack leader.
And oh! how lovely it is to stumble.

Having spent the past few months admiring the dog walking clubs springing up around the country, I decided we needed our own club in the Twin Cities.  Problem was, I had no experience organizing such a thing and didn't quite know where to begin.

So I went where any person goes when they need some guidance.
I talked to my dog-loving friends.

Their Advice:

Plan ahead.
Set up rules and stick to them.
Follow in the footsteps of those who have already organized successful pack walks.
Invite your friends.
Watch it grow.

Twin Cities Pack Walk embarked upon our 'maiden voyage' on Sunday, January 15th. 

                                                         Photo Courtesy of Brit Harob

With 5 dogs and handlers we braved a cold Minnesota morning and had a darn good time doing so.

And so we began the first steps of many miles to come.

A journey we hope you embark on with us.