Chico the Boat DogBoating, CHARACTERS, Critters & Wildlife, GUEST BLOGGERS, SERIES — By Vicki Lathom on June 18, 2011 at 01:35
By guest writer Vicki Lathom. Photos Copyright © Vicki Lathom.
BEFORE CHICO WAS a boat dog, he was to be a show dog. Chico’s Sheltie super-parents, winners of many national AKC shows, looked like a good start for their child’s future.
But it was not meant to be. His chart of projected growth showed a future Chico to be too tall. So, he became a kind of special rescue dog, sold at six months because he wasn’t show quality.
Enter Vicki, boat lady, seeking attractive, healthy Sheltie. Adaire (his given name) was already house-broken and ears made floppy with tape. A beautiful specimen.
Bonding with Adaire was not easy, and changing his name to Chico at six months probably didn’t help. When I brought him home, he’d stand off, eyeing me from a distance. A friend familiar with dogs said he’ll bond if you put his nose in your armpit—and it worked.
I’ve been sailing for forty years and have always had a boat dog, or rather, a dog who could tolerate a boat. My dogs all happen to have been Shelties, but that really makes no difference. The first one was a substitute for a baby sister. My only child, Jim, age five, whined, “I need a sister.” I asked him if he would settle for a dog and, after about a minute, he said OK. Enter Lassie.
Over the next forty years, Lassie morphed into Ginger, who morphed into the current boat dog, Chico.
My husband and I sail a 43-foot Irwin ketch named Cantabile, a musical term for singing softly. The reason: Barry used to be a music major.
Since we live in Annapolis, Md., we mostly cruise Chesapeake Bay, but we went to Maine last summer and the Abacos in the Bahamas this past winter. Chico also went to the Bahamas and carved out his life on Cantabile in a marina resort in Marsh Harbor. Chico doesn’t seem to mind where he is as long as he’s with us. I think I could carry him around in a large bird cage in the back seat of the car and he’d be happy as long as one or both of us were in the front seat.
Chico is considered laid-back by some and a snob by others. He’s very adaptable and I take a little credit because I’ve never allowed myself to think he couldn’t be comfortable in the human world, no matter where or when. I never treat him like a glass menagerie, anxiously coaxing him into the vet’s office like some owners. I handled his being on the boat the same way.
Regarding the boat, a question that I always get is, where does he do “it”? On the bow, I say. I have no intention of rowing a dog ashore. I assumed he would adapt, even if it took 48 hours at first, if we just calmly wait him out. There’s a trick to it, but let’s just say it involves getting his scent on the bow.
Once you give in and start rowing them ashore, you’re dead. There’s nothing more pathetic than a human being in a slicker rowing a wet dog to a little beach. That is, if there is a beach. It’s usually a swamp full of mud and ticks, or the beach has a “No Trespassing” sign backed up by two large Dobermans.
The only time Chico is a problem is when the dock we’re tied up to is much higher or lower than the boat. Getting a 30-pound animal across the divide between boat and pier is high anxiety. This was the situation at the Abaco Beach Resort marina and I knew it was only a matter of time before Chico went into the water.
As I gingerly stepped off Cantabile one day when the tide was really down, Chico’s back paw missed the dock and he went in—and me with him. The only thing positive to come out of this was I learned he could swim. Since I still had his leash, he couldn’t doggy-paddle away from the dock.
Of course, I called for help, but people don’t hear you when you’re down between boats in slips. After much too long and I was sure this was it, someone heard me and we got Chico in the dinghy and back up on the boat.
Was Chico upset? Of course not. He shook himself off and turned to the dock, ready to try again. I had a late-morning glass of wine.
So, thinking of boating with a dog but not sure it’ll work? To be fair, it’s easier when the dog starts as a puppy; he or she doesn’t know the difference. On the other hand, it might be possible to turn a landlubber dog into a boat dog if you can “wait him out” and be very laid-back in the process.
I am not a dog whisperer, just an owner who believes that pets can be more adaptable than we think. Chico lives his life wherever we go as a kind of bowsprit, nose literally pointing ahead to wherever he’s going—forever calm and trusting, like all of us humans wish we could be.
Kota, a Sheltie puppy, became the author’s fourth boat dog, making the Cantabile his home while cruising in the Bahamas with the author this winter. Now about six months old, Kota is also picturesque, but with his own take on being a boat dog. He is courageous to the hilt.
Vicki Lathom has been a writer and sailor for 40 years. She retired from being director of public information for Montgomery County, Md., in 1996, and went to work for Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer as his speechwriter. Vicki has also done freelance travel writing and photography for such publications as SAIL and Maryland Magazine. She is currently a writing instructor for two graduate schools at the University of Maryland. Vicki is a staff writer for MilliversTravels.com.
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