Best Dog Crate Ever

Camping with Molly

Reading a blog post about how to get your dog ready for camping reminded me of the first time I habituated Molly to the idea of a tent.

I set up the tent indoors (it was still winter outside), Molly watching on and avoiding spring-loaded tent poles. She was only passively curious.

I wondered how she’d react to being confined inside the tent. Would she feel trapped in the small space? Would she be scared by the rustling noises of the tent fabric? Would she try to claw or gnaw her way out? Would she accidentally ruin the tent just by being her usual klutzy self? (She flunked canine agility.) Or would she stubbornly prefer the outdoor environment to the tent environment for reasons she wouldn’t care to communicate to me?

Whenever trying something new with a dog, I always review the worst-case scenarios. That way I’m rarely surprised by what happens and I’ve already considered ways to react to my dog’s reactions. It also makes me sound like a pessimist.

I finished setting up the tent and zipped open the door.

I tapped the floor inside the tent. “Molly, let’s go!”

Molly got up off the floor and sniffed around the tent door. Set a paw inside. Was mildly surprised by the crackle of the flooring material. Entered the tent. Walked a circle. Came back out again and smiled.

“Nice,” she said. Clearly because I was hoping for her approval. But the distant look in her eyes said, “So?”

I tapped the floor of the tent again. “C’mon, let’s go!”

Okay. She got in again. Walked another circle. Sniffed the corners. Her attitude still said, “And the point is?” Then, almost bored, she flopped down right in the middle of the tent and panted contentedly.

“Nice dog crate,” she said.

I smiled. My new tent had received Molly’s stamp of approval. Camping with my dog was going to work out just fine.

‘Cuz if Molly wasn’t going, I wasn’t going. That’s just the way Molly and I work. (And she knows it.)

During our subsequent camping trips, Molly has demonstrated that she thinks of our tent as a grand dog crate that she gets to share with her human. Best dog crate ever.

Sunday Drive

A campsite on the river

I love to wander. More often than not, I’ll head out the door with Molly and have no idea where I’m going, how long I’ll be gone, or what I’ll find. For whatever reason, I’m just compelled to see what’s out there. Wherever “there” happens to be on any given day.

The other Sunday, Molly and I got into the car after church. (Yes, Molly goes to church with me. Don’t you bring your dog to church?) I got behind the wheel expecting to go home.

Instead, I found myself cruising the highway out of town. I guess I was in a thoughtful mood. I find traveling–by foot or by car–conducive to thinking.

Pretty soon I discovered a quiet little road that wound past sleepy farmsteads.

Then I found a sign: “Boat Launch & Campsite.”

I turned in.

It was the tiniest little park on the edge of the river. Several picnic tables perched on the bank overlooking the water. A steep road led down to the launch.

Molly and I got out of the car and started walking around. (FYI, I go to church dressed for the possibility of unexpected adventures. For reasons which should now be apparent.) A short jaunt led us to a stand of some of the hugest cottonwoods I’d ever seen, and nestled beneath them, on the edge of the riverbank, a single campsite marked by a picnic table and a fire ring.

Yes, one campsite.

As in, no neighbors.

If you wanted a place to get away from it all, this was pretty much it. I’m guessing next summer is very likely to find my tent pitched underneath those ancient cottonwoods.

So maybe there is a point to pointless wandering. You never know what you’ll discover.

And yes, always go to church dressed for adventure.


St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. In fact, if you jump over to my Facebook page today, you’ll find it emblazoned with beautiful Irish proverbs in honor of the holiday.

I’m Scots-Irish–which is the same as saying I’m not Irish at all. If you read the history, the Scots-Irish were settlers from Scotland who moved in on the Irish in the 1600s and essentially reduced them to slaves before hopping over to America in the 1700’s and 1800’s.

So I’m not Irish. But I’m head-over-heels for Irish music. FYI, I’m probably the first and last person you’ve ever met who is specifically a fan of Irish banjo music. Such as the following:

But secondly, green is my favorite color. And on St. Patrick’s Day, green is everywhere!

Let me clarify. When I say green is my favorite color, I’m talking about a deep, soothing hunter’s green or a warm heather green. Not lime green. And, as a mater of fact, not Kelly green. Which is the most common shade of green running around on St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunate travesty, but I’ll let it slide.

So while everybody is celebrating with their chosen shade of green, here’s why I’m so thrilled about the color:

  • It’s a very relaxing color. I find it very peaceful.
  • It’s associated with the “go green” movement. (Take care of our planet!)
  • It’s the color that symbolizes life and living things.

But most importantly, green reminds me of being outdoors. I’m never happier than when I’m in the middle of nowhere, just Molly and me, surrounded by peaceful, living things. Green reminds me of some of my favorite places, like my deer trail and Fort Lincoln (which is very green in the spring!).

So whether you’re Irish or just wish you were, happy St. Patrick’s Day. May an adventure in the green outdoors never be far from you. (My stab at an Irish proverb.)

Finding a Mastiff’s Inner Kitten

by Danielle Hanna



I wasn’t there when Mojo, a young Mastiff, arrived at the shelter where I used to work. But my co-workers told me the first thing he did was offer to remodel our boss’s face. He was quickly deposited in a kennel with orders issued never to open his door if you were alone in the building.

Mojo was surrendered by his owners. They’d fallen for the cute puppy, but when he grew up into a dog-shaped lion … “We just can’t handle him,” they said.

I got to meet him the next morning. When I walked past his kennel, he lunged at the door. His back was as high as my hip and his head was the size of a spare tire. His bark was like an explosion. Definitely a ten on the Richter scale. I’ll admit … I didn’t know I could jump that high.

My co-worker Kristie had been at work an hour earlier than me. Now, I know all dogs love and adore Kristie–and I know Kristie don’t take no flack from no dawg–but I was pretty surprised to see her lead him to the outdoor exercise yard without getting eaten.

“He likes treats,” she said.

You hypnotized him, I thought.

Still … I loaded my pockets with treats. All morning long, every time I walked past Mojo’s kennel, I just tossed him a treat. Didn’t look at him. Didn’t try to threaten or challenge him in any way. Just tossed him a treat. Eventually, I started saying, “Hey, Mojo, just me,” just before I came into view so he would know it was me–with another treat.

Worked pretty good. By the end of the morning, Mojo had quit barking at me. He actually started quirking his head in anticipation. And I even ventured to give him a quick glimpse and a smile. (I still swear Kristie hypnotized him to earn his trust as quick as she did. Either that or a night in the cooler and the first face in the morning softened him up a bit.)

Next morning, I loaded up my pockets with treats first thing. As I ran past Mojo’s kennel to let some other dogs out, I said, “Hey, Mojo, just–”

Grrrrrrrrooooooof! He hit the kennel door like a battering ram. I’m pretty sure I felt the building vibrate.

I stopped right where I stood. Gave him a second to see it was me. But he kept snarling and charging the door. Seriously? Yesterday we were best buddies. (Mostly.) And today? He’d heard my voice. He could see me. I must have reeked of Milkbones and Beggin’ Strips. And he was having kittens. (Figuratively speaking.)

Okay. Now he was just pushing my buttons. Barking ’cause he liked to see how high I could jump.

Nobody at the shelter ever put up with that kind of behavior. And the sooner Mojo learned that, the better.

I lifted my face and met his eyes. I didn’t crowd his space or stand over him. I didn’t even frown. I just looked him in the eyes. Just to demonstrate that he could bark and snarl all he wanted, but I wasn’t afraid of him. (Okay, it didn’t hurt having a door between us.)

As far as scolding went, my course of action was about as bad as being spanked with a daisy petal.

So I was really surprised when Mojo started backing away. Still barking. But there was a different tone to his words now. “Wait … no … you’re supposed to jump and run away. This isn’t working right!”

And then … he peed on the floor. Right where he was standing.

“That,” I said, “was pathetic.”

He hung his head in shame the whole rest of the morning. But he got lots of treats, too. He even started taking them from my hand. By the end of my shift, I walked him down the hall to the exercise yard for the first time–Kristie on stand-by in case it went bad. But it didn’t. He sauntered along beside me with big, lazy strides and wagged his tail to see the outdoors. I felt like I was walking a lion! One of the most thrilling experiences of my life.

Now that I knew I could stand in the same space as him without losing an arm or a leg, I started his training. It was clear to me now that he was massively insecure (everything about him was massive), and obedience training would show him where the boundaries were, and hence how he could interact with humans with confidence.

He picked up “sit” and “down” in no time flat. And considering his size, I figured “heel” was a smart command to learn, too.

His next lesson was liking Darrell.

Darrell says he went to the dogs when he retired. He’s still out at the shelter every day, heat, cold, rain, or shine. If anybody could polish Mojo’s socialization skills, it was Darrell.

If only Mojo would come around to liking him.

I’d put Mojo out in the yard, and Darrell would sit in a corner trying to be small and non-threatening. “Hey, Mojo. Sure, there’s a good dog.”

Mojo would take one glance at Darrell, then look up at me with his cookie-sized eyes and rub my legs like a giant cat. “Make him go away,” he’d whine.

So. Pathetic.

Mojo's first walk

Mojo’s first walk

The first time Mojo went for a walk, it was on two collars and two leashes between Darrell and me. I was there because Mojo still didn’t trust Darrell. Darrell was there because Mojo would have dragged me across the county if he’d gotten the notion.

Gradually, Mojo got used to Darrell, and from there he improved exponentially, gradually accepting the rest of our volunteers and staff. He excelled so well in obedience, I eventually trusted him enough to take him for a walk solo. It really was like walking a lion. So. Amazing.

I was awfully sorry to see him adopted. I mean, I know that’s the whole point of a humane society. But there are those few special furkids you’ll never forget. I hear he’s a big lover now. And that’s the way it should be. The real Mojo.