Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Dogs On Board - 25 January, 2016
We have two dogs onboard Rockhopper. They are Ozzy and Jonesy. Oz (full name: Ozmodius T. Fogwhistle) is a rescue, but
we believe that he is a full-bred Miniature Fox Terrier (he may actually be a Toy Fox Terrier, but we don't tell him that - he
already has self-esteem issues). Jonesy is a store-bought Long-haired Chihuahua. The story of how Oz and Jones joined our
pack will have to wait for another day. Right now, I'd like to talk about the more generic idea of "Dogs On Boats."
We get asked periodically about the benefits and costs of having dogs on board. The benefits are pretty easy - you get to
have dogs on board. That is a purely subjective benefit. If you like dogs or you need to have a friend who won't judge you -
you need a dog. If you don't like dogs and you already have all the friends you need - you don't need a dog. Case closed.
The costs, on the other hand, are fairly hefty and not subjective at all. First off, you have to feed your dog. Now, when I was a
kid (back in the Dark Ages, when the mastodons roamed and we had tho change the television channels by actually walking
over to the television), a family owned a dog because it ate the scraps and kept the floor cleaned. Any food that fell on the
floor, you had to wrestle the dog for. Now, dogs have to have special food. Oz is gluten-intolerant and allergic to chicken. We
know this because, if he eats chicken, he spends the next three days licking the pads of his feet. According to his vet, that is
where he itches. Jonesy will only eat what Oz gives him permission to eat (Oz is older and wiser, apparently). Both of the dogs
will eat dry kibble, but they like (according to Suzanne, the pack leader) to have a can of wet food once a day - twice a day, if it
has been stressful.
Now, all of that food has to be stored on board. Wet food comes in little pop-top cans, so that's fairly easy to store in with the
human foods (but you do NOT want to get them confused). The dry food, on the other hand, has to be carefully prepped. The
dry food comes in a bag that does not like a moist environment. Suzanne takes each twenty-five pound bag of dry food and
splits it up into individual one gallon zip-lock bags. We used to vacuum seal the bags, but that tended to be more trouble and,
if the bag didn't seal correctly, a waste of food.
Of course, once the food goes into the dogs, it has to come out again. Oz weighs about 8 pounds and Jonesy 10, so taking
them to shore is not a big problem. However, there are a lot of times when going to shore is not convenient. So boat dogs
generally learn to do their business on the boat. Luckily, Ozzy came to us house-trained and quickly adjusted to the idea that
he should go in a large plastic box that we keep in the galley, at the foot of the companionway stairs. In retrospect, that was
not the best place to put the bucket, but that's what Oz wanted and so it worked.
Jonesy took a while and he still prefers to use the foredeck for his "cogitating," as my grandmother used to say. He will use the
same box that Oz does, but not if Oz has used it recently. He is more likely to go back to the aft head, which is the one that
Suzanne and I use. He has gotten so used to going there that we put a separate pan back there for his use. It is hard to
argue with his logic, since we use that room for the same business.
In order to keep the dogs' waste issues to a minimum, we use dog training pads. These are sort of like thin, flat diapers that lie
in the box and absorb anything that comes out of the dog. They are not particularly expensive, but we do go through a lot of
them - at least four per day. We have to store these before they get used and since they are designed to absorb wetness,
they have to be store fairly carefully. Lastly, while we have found several brands of these, Suzanne is absolutely convinced
that only the brand we buy from Wal-Mart works well. So, we need to stock up when we can.
Some people have taught there canine crew members to use a piece of indoor/outdoor carpet or fake grass. We tried this with
Oz - we got a commercial piece of grass that was doused with the appropriate pheromones to let him know that he was
supposed to go there. He held his bowels for three days rather than use it. We gave up before he exploded.
The next area of cost is vet bills. We have two vets for the dogs, one in Vero Beach, Florida, and one in Maryland, where we
spend our summers. Between them, they keep the dogs in vaccines and heartworm medicine. The total we spent on vet bills
last year was over $1,200. That did include getting Oz's broken leg fixed (another story). However, we routinely spend almost
a thousand dollars (one Boat Buck) on well-dog care. Again, when I was a kid, it seemed rare that the dog ever went to the vet
and, a lot of times, it was one last trip to go to the Great Puppy Farm in the Sky.
That leads to one last issue. Just as "dragons live forever, but not so little boys," puppies eventually get old. Oz is over eight
now and was seriously abused as a young dog. We worry that there may come a time where the kindest thing we could do
would be to end his suffering. This is especially true in a marine environment, where a moving boat may result in an injury too
great to treat on board.
Renee Petrillo, in her book "A Sail Of Two Idiots," tells of having to euthanize her beloved cat. She gets some bad advice and
uses a techniques that causes the animal great suffering. I don't know Renee (Renee, if you ever read this, call me - I'd love to
talk) but the impression I get is that the act scarred her emotionally - as it would any of us. Unfortunately, in America, you
cannot get a small animal "safe euthanization kit." Apparently, it is something you can get in Europe. We have not gotten
anything like that yet, but each year, we talk about it a little more in-depth.
OK, so those are the more immediate costs. I can't even imagine what it would be like to cruise with more than two dogs, or a
large dog, or - God forbid - cats! However, given all of the costs, we would not have it any other way. There is no cost too
great for Oz and Jonesy - and we all know that.