About Carrie Dow

Carrie Dow

Carrie Dow is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Islands, International Living and Go World Travel. She also published a children's book about her annoying cat called Morning, Miss Moo, available in hard copy and digital format from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. Mom to an English lab, a Queensland healer mix and a reformed alley cat, she hopes to make the world a little smaller by reporting on its companion animals.


Latest Posts by Carrie Dow

Winter Adventure: Dog Sledding at Colorado’s Snow Mountain Ranch

February 5, 2014 by  

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A cold breeze rushes around the group of people standing outside. The place, near Winter Park Colorado. The wind blows a bit of snow from the trees and smoke from the fire pit. The guests are too busy oohing and aweing around a pack of dogs to notice the chilly air. The dogs, all Alaskan Huskies, are furry and adorable as they lick mittens, swipe kids with their tails and lean against people’s legs. Their blue eyes pierce through the surrounding snow. The dogs are not there for amusement, however. They are here for some serious business. These animals are sled dogs and soon they will be pulling these people on a thrill ride.

Snow Mountain Ranch is a part of the YMCA of the Rockies and one of the largest family camps in the US. In summer months, people come here to spend a week in the wilderness hiking, biking, fishing and playing sports. However, this is a year around ranch and winter offers skiing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing and the activity to be performed today, dog sledding. Steve Peterson, Head Pastor for Snow Mountain Ranch is also an expert musher and has run sled dogs for decades, including participating in the arduous John Beargreese Marathon Race in Minnesota. Pastor Steve uses dog sledding as a metaphor for life.

“Every dog is important,” says Pastor Steve. The dogs run must run together, turn together, and carry the sled’s load. Like many things in life, it takes a team to do that. While teamwork is important, Pastor Steve says that all sleds must have a leader. Lead dogs must maintain the pace, keep the other dogs in line and avoid distractions. Applying those skills to our lives can make us better leaders.

Pastor Steve gives the group of eager guests a tutorial on dog sledding basics and how the sled, harnesses and rope lines work. The dogs are attached to “gang” lines on the collar, but then they are also harnessed to tuglines attached to the sled.

The weight of the sled is evenly distributed around the dog’s chest and back. He also talks about the importance of a key piece of equipment, the snow brake. The dogs don’t want to stop running and although a musher may tell the team to stop, the dogs may not stop as quickly as needed. The snow brake, which works like an anchor, brings the sled to a quick halt. The guests are then taught the proper way to approach dogs, always from the side, not from the front.

“Unless you want to a head butt to the chin,” says Pastor Steve. “I’ve had one and it’s not pleasant.” After the training session, people used that training on the pack of dogs waiting outside. The dogs are surprisingly small; not much taller than an adult’s knee, but their powerful legs and robust chests belay an inner strength that their size does not. The dogs’ speak directly to the point of Pastor Steve’s dog sled sermon.

“Dog sledding has taught me three important lessons,” says Pastor Steve. He says those lessons are letting go of things that hinder performance, the importance of nourishment and what it means to commit to something.

Dog sleds need to be light because the dogs can only pull so much weight. Pastor Steve takes only the bare necessities when on the trails because too much weight will hinder the dogs’ performance. He says if people get rid of things that weigh them down, be it physical or emotional, it will allow them to do more in their own lives.

The dogs’ health is maintained through proper nourishment. Pastor Steve feeds the dogs a stew-like meal of high quality beef that he orders in 50 lb. frozen blocks. He chops the blocks into chunks, adds hot water and some high quality dog kibble to create a stew.

The meal is high in protein and hydrating. Proper nutrition keeps the dogs performing at their best and helps them live long, healthy lives. Proper nourishment, both physically and mentally, helps humans to perform their best as well.

What may be the most important lesson is committing to a goal. Although the trail may be long and the weather harsh, those who persevere can accomplish anything.

These dogs live to run and the excitement of a morning sled pull is visible in their every tug, howl and bark. A group of ranch staff helps Pastor Steve prep the sled and tie the dogs. Ten dogs will haul the sled today and its passengers were a group of students along with moms and dads and their excited kids. It was going to be a busy day for the dogs.

The guests are grouped by family and weight and then given numbers to determine their order. Each would be given one turn on a dog sled trail that runs near the ranch’s library and ski shop. One adult stands up behind the musher while kids get to ride on the sled. The 2-mile ride lasts only 15-20 minutes, however the dogs seem to stretch these minutes with each stride of their legs while slicing through the wind on the trail. Those few minutes will not be forgotten.

To experience a dog sled ride for your family, contact Snow Mountain Ranch and book a stay in the ranch’s main guest lodge or in one of the many yurts and multi-bedroom cabins on the ranch’s 5200 acres. Rides are given Thursday and Saturday mornings.

The presentation starts at 8:30 AM and the rides begin after 9 AM. Riders are assigned a number and a bonfire and hot chocolate are available to keep guests warm while they wait. Cost is $25 for single riders and $40 for doubles who are guests of the ranch. Double riders must be from the same family and combined weight must be under 250 lbs. Guests staying at Snow Mountain Ranch get first priority for rides, however, non-guests may sign up to ride. The non-guest fee for dog sledding is $65 per person or $120 for two and includes a day pass to the ranch. To book a ride call 970-887-2152.

The Pacific’s Palmyra Atoll, A Place Where Sharks Outnumber People

May 20, 2013 by  

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About halfway between Hawaii and American Samoa in the middle of the Pacific Ocean lies a string of pearls call the Palmyra Atoll, a place where sharks outnumber people. Palmyra Atoll is an unoccupied equatorial Northern Pacific atoll administered as an unorganized incorporated territory by the United States federal government. The variable temporary population are staff and scientists employed by various departments of the US government and The Nature Conservancy, as well as a rotating mix of Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium scholars pursuing research.

Palmyra is one of the Northern Line Islands (southeast of Kingman Reef and north of Kiribati Line Islands), located almost due south of the Hawaiian Islands, roughly halfway between Hawaii and American Samoa.  For the last 18 years or so, a special dog has made this place his home where he spends his days hunting sharks and entertaining scientists from around the world.

Consisting of a ring of some 50 islets and 15,000 acres of shallow and submerged reefs, Palmyra is one of the United States’ best kept secrets. Referred to as an atoll because it is not quite large enough to be called an island, Palmyra has a long and colorful history, including use as a Naval base during World War II. In 1898, President McKinley annexed the atoll as part of the Territory of Hawaii, but for some reason lost to history it was not included when Hawaii became a state in 1959. The atoll was sold to the Fullard-Leo family for $15,000 back in 1922. Half-private, half government property, the atoll was in legal limbo until The Nature Conservancy purchased it from the family for $30 million in 2000. In 2009, Palmyra became part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Now the atoll is part wildlife and coral reef reserve and part science lab with visits year around by those who study Pacific marine life.

What makes Palmyra interesting is that as part of the agreement with the family, the Nature Conservancy agreed to take care of some special island residents, Dadu the shark-hunting dog and several island cats. The Conservancy agreed to take care of these animals so they could live out the days on this dreamy patch of paradise. I talked to Laurie Moore, The Nature Conservancy’s Director on Palmyra about this special dog. She says Dadu was kept as the pet of a former resident and care taker of the island who lived alone on Palmyra. When the Conservancy took over, it was a special condition of the sale that the Conservancy take care of him.

“Almost everyone who has met these animals falls in love with them and enjoys their company,” says Moore. “At one time Dadu even had his own Facebook page. Many researchers who have visited Palmyra feature photos of Dadu on their own pages and blogs.”

While Dadu is getting on in years, Moore says that he was quite a hunter in his early days. “In his younger days he could be seen leaping in the shallows chasing sharks.” Because of his advanced age, Dadu is on a special soft food diet that is easy to digest. The food is delivered along with the atoll’s other supplies as well as food for Tigger the cat, who is also getting older. Moore thinks she might be 15 years old. Although getting too old to chase sharks, Dadu still has pretty active days.

“Dadu spends most of his time enjoying the love and affection of the people who are on the atoll,” says Moore. “When he feels up to it he takes walks to the beach, where he loves to play in the shallows and rest in the shade.

Dadu sleeps wherever he likes and has beds in several of the buildings, but he is most often found in his bed near the kitchen area, where people congregate for meals. Like most of us, during the hottest parts of the day he stays in the shade and takes dips in the ocean to cool off. In the evenings, he sits with the researchers as they relax after dinner and watch the manta rays and mullet swim in the shallows.” Not a bad way to spend one’s retirement years.

While tourists need special permission to visit the atoll (it’s a 5-7 day journey by boat from Hawaii), the research facility does take in volunteers to help with projects, but it is not an easy assignment to get. People must apply and there need to be openings during ongoing research. Learn more from the US Fish and Wildlife Palmyra site, where you can learn how to visit by charter boat.

For those who have been there, Palmyra is a special place.

“Palmyra Atoll is one of the most spectacular marine wilderness areas on Earth,” says Moore. “[When] The Nature Conservancy bought Palmyra the owners had previously turned down offers to have the atoll used as a nuclear waste site and a casino.” Moore continues, “Today, Palmyra is a national wildlife refuge and marine national monument and the Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service work together to manage and protect it. It is also the most natural marine laboratory in the world. What we can learn at Palmyra – about global climate change, coral reefs, marine fisheries and many other pressing environmental issues – promises to inform conservation management for island ecosystems throughout the Pacific and around the world.”

In the meantime, Dadu will keep all those researchers, who are a long, long way from home, company and keep his eye out for sharks.

Credit: Mike Hennessey/The Nature Conservancy (fish) and others Natural Conservancy. Aerial view: Credit: Rob Shellenberger/Nature Conservancy.

Meet The Ancient Egyptian Mau, Oldest Breed of Domesticated Cats on the Planet

December 12, 2012 by  

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The Egyptian Mau is one of the oldest breeds of domesticated cats on the planet. So old, there are pictographs from the tombs of ancient Egypt depicting theses small, yet highly prized creatures. One papyrus from 1100 BC shows the Egyptian god Ra in the form of a spotted cat beheading a rival along with even earlier drawings from thousands of years ago. The word “mau” is Egyptian for cat and may have come from the noise they made while hunting.

Although most evidence is lost to history, the Mau is considered the direct descendant of the African Wild Cat, the animal from which it is believed all modern domestic cats developed. Domestication occurred between 4000 and 2000 BC. The Mau is only one of two domestic cat breeds with naturally occurring spots (the other the Bahraini Dilmun Cat). Ocicats and Bengal cats are modern crosses between other cats or cats and wildcats that create spots. The Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) considers the Mau to be a living relic.

Cats were revered in ancient Egypt and played an important role in religion, mythology and even everyday life. The cats were regarded as stealth hunters and were important for clearing rodents and were especially adept at hunting birds. But they were also worshipped as gods and even mummified for a life after death while their families would shave their eyebrows in mourning. Egyptian law also protected the cats and harming one was punishable by death.

Like most ancient cat breeds, through the centuries, purebred Maus grew smaller in number as cats and mankind spread around the Earth. But the Mau, like most “exotic” cat breeds such as the Siamese and the Burmese, had a resurgence in popularity in the early 1900s and appeared in cat shows around Europe. By World War II the Mau once again became rare with only a handful of them found in Italy. However, a chance meeting with modern royalty changed the course of Mau history.

Shortly before WWII, Princess Nathalie Troubetskoy of the Russian monarchy was living in exile in Italy. The story says that a young boy gave her a silver spotted female kitten that he had been given by a Middle Eastern diplomat. She named this cat Baba. Using her political connections, she learned the cat was an Egyptian Mau and she obtained several males from the Syrian Embassy and began breeding the cats herself. In 1956 she immigrated to the US bringing some of the cats with her and established a cattery. It is believed that all North American Maus can trace some of their ancestry back to her original Italian finds. Her cats were accepted into the Cat Fanciers’ Federation in 1968 and in 1972 a silver Egyptian Mau bred by the princess became the first Mau named Grand Champion of the Canadian Cat Association. The Mau was accepted into the CFA in 1977.

Egyptian Maus are extremely dignified, graceful and intelligent beings. They come in a variety of colors from black to blue although only Silver, Bronze and Smoke are allowed in championship competition. Even if not eligible for showing, all Maus make excellent pets as they are lovingly devoted to their families. Maus are covered with random spots and also have the tabby marking “M” on their foreheads and at least one “necklace” marking around their throats. Their eyes are green and have “mascara” lines around them, which make look like their wild ancestors. It is also believed that the elaborate mascara the ancient Egyptians wore was to make their eyes appear like the Mau. Another interesting fact is that Maus are the fastest domestic cats having been clocked at a top speed of 36 MPH.

While the Egyptian Mau’s exotic looks are what first attract people to them, it is their personalities that keep cat lovers wanting more. They love to play with toys, even fetch, and while not talkative, they do let their families know what’s on their minds. While these cats are quite popular in North America and Europe, with kittens fetching thousands of dollars for breeders, the Maus of Egypt are having a more difficult time.

With the recent troubles in Egypt the Egyptian Mau is once again under duress as many cats are living on the streets in their native country and suffering from poisoning, malnutrition and disease. The Egyptian Mau Rescue Organization (EMRO) is based inCairo and dedicated to rescuing this living antiquity. The organization assists both local and international adoptions of tame Maus along with vet clinics, boarding and humane education. The organization is a registered non-profit in Egypt (NGO or Non-Governmental Organization) and receives funding only through private donations. To learn more about the organization, visit their website or their Facebook Page. There is also a special webpage for North American Mau adoptions.

America’s East Coast Pet Rescue Post Hurricane Sandy

November 14, 2012 by  

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More than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy mowed over the Eastern Shore, The Human Society of the United States is still hard caring for pets separated from their owners.

Currently, the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) has rescued more than 250 animals from New Jersey and New York and they are sheltering over 480 animals in three emergency shelters for people who cannot keep their pets with them while they cope with the cleanup.

The good news is the HSUS has reunited over 200 pets with their families. However, there is still a lot of work to do.

Here are current stats from the HSUS:

  • Handled more than 1,000 calls for pet assistance on hotlines in New Jersey and New York City.
  • Took in more than 400 pets while their owners worked on recovery.
  • Currently care for over 450 pets - cats, dogs, ferrets, rabbits, birds and others – in emergency shelters.
  • Rescued over 250 from the hardest hit communities.
  • Returned over 200 pets to their owners.
  • Sent over 50 staff members and volunteers to New Jersey and New York City.
  • Partnered with over 30 agencies to help animals.
  • Set up three distribution centers in New Jersey to provide pet food and supplies to families and shelters.
  • Currently operate two emergency animal shelters in New Jersey and one emergency shelter in cooperation with a local agency in New York.

For those who still need help for their pets there are two rescue hotlines available. In New York City call 347-573-1561 and in New Jersey call 855-407-HSUS.

Full recovery from Hurricane Sandy is still months away and the HSUS, along with local partners, continues to need help rescuing and caring for animals during this crisis. Ways to help include volunteering (see their special requirements for volunteering), donating supplies or donate money.

A California Black Bear Now in Custody

September 19, 2012 by  

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A California bear has been taken into custody because he keeps straying into populated areas. However, a plan to move him to a wildlife refuge in Colorado has been put on hold because of dispute over a federal law on the transportation of wild animals.

Meatball the bear has been making headlines around the world because of his love of human food, specifically the food for which he is named. He was found in a private swimming pool last week and that was his third capture in as many months in a suburban area instead of the national forest where he is supposed to live. Video of Meatball’s capture is so popular he has over 20,000 followers on Twitter.

Pat Craig of The Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS) in Colorado has been trying to the get Meatball into a rehabilitation program at the sanctuary. Colorado statutes allow the transfer of bears, however a federal law does not. Craig believes the statute is misinterpreted and TWAS authorities are working to find a resolution.

“Our goal is that we get this cleared up, the rules changed or repealed, and then we get to go out and get Meatball within a few days and get him going on his rehabilitation,” says Craig. “You know winter’s coming up and his life is hanging in the balance. So we’re really excited about getting this done quickly.”

Carol Singleton of the California Department of Fish and Game wrote in an email, “We are working with several wildlife sanctuaries and animal care facilities to find a permanent placement for the bear in California.” Meatball is currently being kept in a cage at the Lions Tigers & Bears animal rescue near San Diego, however, that organization has reported that they do not have the room to keep him permanently.

Bears who traverse into human communities for food, are relocated back to their natural habitat. If they return to the populated area, they become “nuisance bears” and are normally euthanized because they cannot be relocated again since they have lost their fear of humans and grown dependent on human food. However, Meatball has such a famous following online and on TV – he was featured on “The Tonight Show” – that officials are looking to relocate him to a sanctuary rather than face the public scrutiny of putting him down.

Since Black Bears populate large areas of North American, more and more suburban areas are coming into contact with them. For those who live in areas with bears the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife recommends the following tips for keeping bears out of your house and your community:

  • Store trash in bear-resistant containers or only put out trash the morning of pick up, not the night before;
  • Keep food, even dog food, indoors to prevent bears from smelling it;
  • Clean BBQ grills after each use or store them inside;
  • Keep garage doors closed even when home;
  • For those who have fruit trees, pick any fruit before it ripens and pick up fallen fruit promptly;
  • Keep pets and livestock in secure enclosures at night;
  • Feed birds only when bears are hibernating or bring bird feeders inside at night or hang them 10 feet off the ground and 10 feet away from anything bears can climb.

 

 

Drink Beer and Save Animals

September 6, 2012 by  

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Love drinking beer? Love exotic animals? Then I have an event for you. On September 7, 2012, Denver Zoo held their 15th annual Brew at the Zoo fund raising event to celebrate two great Colorado institutions – Craft beer and courtly animals.

Brew at the Zoo is Denver Zoo’s second largest fund raising event according to Tiffany Barnhart, Director of Communications. The zoo’s main fundraiser, called Do at the Zoo, is a formal cocktail party featuring potables with high end spirits. However, Brew at the Zoo is a casual affair featuring premium beer, delicious food and a live band.

The event began with some up close visits with strange, but small wildlife hand held by zoo staff at the entrance. They included a possum, a Harris hawk and a turtle. Then it was on to the beer. The zoo featured a suds safari of over 40 breweries, mostly from Colorado, with some other states sprinkled in while 15 local restaurants provided tasty treats from pizza to cheese plates to BBQ ribs.

During the hour and a half of dusk, it was easy to view the animals, such as bears, peacocks, seals, and monkeys, but as the sky turned dark, the animals went to their indoor enclosures to rest for the night. I wonder who was entertained more; the patrons admiring majestic wild creatures or the animals watching all the silly humans?

Brew at the Zoo specifically benefits the Red Apple Fund for Life-Long Learning, a program that helps individuals in all economic situations participate in Denver Zoo educational programs. Denver Zoo is home to 3,800 animals representing more than 650 species and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Tickets for this year’s event were $70 General Admission and $100 for a VIP Event Preview open an hour before the regular event. Designated Driver tickets were $30. Barnhart was pleased to tell me that the event sold out for the third year in a row, some 3,300 tickets.

That made for a crowded event with some long lines at the tents, but a cool evening and beautiful surroundings made up for the long waits. Everyone received a small four ounce plastic glass for use during the event and then we all received a large glass logo mug as we left.

Denver Zoo isn’t the only zoo in the country offering this fun event (but they have been holding it the longest). Zoos all over the country have beer festivals, which serve the dual purpose of raising badly needed funds while providing a unique experience for the beer drinker. Find a beer festival at a zoo near you. Upcoming events include:

Woodland Park Zoo, WA – Thursday, October 4, 2012

Akron Zoo, OH – Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Other zoos have already had their beer festivals for 2012, but look for these upcoming zoo beer festivals in 2013:

  • Atlanta Zoo, GA (May)
  • Maryland Zoo, Baltimore, MD (May)
  • Nashville Zoo, TN (June)
  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, DC (July)
  • Louisville Zoo, KY (August)
  • Miami Zoo, FL (April)
  • Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, SC (August)
  • Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, PA (August)
  • Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Syracuse, NY (August)
  • Dallas Zoo, TX (September)

Photo credit:  Carrie Dow