Skip to comments.Kayaking a dog's life
Posted on 08/20/2006 7:26:12 AM PDT by nuconvert
Kayaking a dog's life
BY CAMMY CLARK
STOCK ISLAND - The boaters heading out Cow Key Channel to the Atlantic could not believe their eyes. Traveling alongside the mangroves was a fleet of 12 kayaks, all carrying four-legged passengers, most of them quite soggy.
Sweetie Pie was one of the many dogs who could not wait for playtime at the sandbar. The 1-year-old Maltese, unconcerned about messing up her white curly locks, jumped out of the kayak not long after it left Hurricane Hole Marina.
In the Florida Keys, dogs on boats are about as commonplace as bait, beer and bikinis.
But the new Doggie Paddle Club is the area's first ''dog-specific tour,'' according to Sue Cooper, co-owner of Lazy Dog Island Outfitters, which operates the two-hour jaunts.
The club was the brainchild of employee Colby Gwyn-Williams, co-owner of Paws Printing Images, which creates an annual Dogs of Key West calendar.
In just a month, the weekly dog kayak tour has become so popular that additional tours are being added Monday and Thursday nights at 5 p.m.
Some locals aren't surprised.
''Key West is so dog-friendly you can get a fur fix on every corner,'' said Nancy Davis, who was paddling recently with her husband, Bill, and a Boston terrier named Winston, after Winston Churchill.
The Davis' beloved Rottweiler, Petunia, died recently, and the chance to spend time with pug-nosed Winston, who was borrowed for the ride, was comforting.
Other eager dogs were standing by in case somebody wanted to borrow them. The kayaks are $15 per person -- but pooches ride free.
''Dogs just bring smiles to people's faces,'' said Cooper, who for the past nine years has brought her white and black-faced border collie, Molly, on tours she has guided.
But Molly, now a truly lazy dog at age 12, never before had so much canine company at the sandbar.
Molly mostly watched as the younger dogs played. The bigger dogs chased old tennis balls. Sweetie Pie rode atop the back of her new boyfriend, Monty, a German shepherd.
Dogs from all walks of life are welcome.
There was Drago, a German shepherd training for a career in law enforcement. And there was Rufus, an 11-week-old mutt, who is taking his sweet time learning to be housebroken.
Susan Prince, who started a group called HEART -- Help Encourage Animal Responsibility Today -- rescued the abandoned big-eared, long-tailed Rufus from ''running amok in the shrimp boat yard.'' Now she's trying to find him a good home.
The 14 dogs on the tour seemed to get along amazingly well. Gwyn-Williams said most knew each other from private training classes with Raul Hernandez, who used to work for the state as a K-9 instructor.
At the sandbar, it was high tide, but that didn't seem to curb the fun and the splashing.
Most dogs are natural-born swimmers, though Hernandez said some breeds such as the English bulldog have difficulty in the water.
''They tend to be heavier, and, even if they can swim, it's a lot easier if they wear a life jacket,'' he said. ``But most dogs swim great. We as owners think they can't.''
It didn't take long for Nigel, a Lab mix, to jump out of the kayak into the water. Kelly Mack, Nigel's owner, said she usually has to leave him at home when she guides kayak tours for tourists.
''He jumps out after every bird,'' she said. ``He loves going after the ones that look like saltwater ducks. Then he tries to jump in other people's boats -- and not everybody wants a wet dog in their boat.''
After an hour of play at the sandbar, it was time for owners and caretakers to paddle back through the mangroves. The dogs were a little less rambunctious, apparently a tad tuckered out.
Back at the dock, the dogs got a freshwater shower to wash off the salt. It was a great day, except for the owner who soon would discover that Rufus mistook his orange towel for a fire hydrant.
For information about the Doggie Paddle Club, log onto www.lazydogkeywest.com.
What a fun day! My dogs and I would like to do that.