Thursday, June 12, 2014

Taking Risks in the Outdoors

Recently I saw a picture on facebook of a dog in a Ruffwear climbing harness doing some serious mountain climbing.  Ropes and all.  My first thought seeing this picture was how cool!  In fact it still is.  Based on the reactions of the comment section of that picture it was in fact not the reaction of others.  People called it animal abuse, cruel and dangerous.  After some googling I learned the dog's name is Whisper and you can check out more info and some really cool pictures on her owner Dean S. Potter's instagram here.

I get a little defensive about this because I am someone who regularly is criticized for the activities I choose to do with my dog.  Maybe it is because I have a small dog, but we are often stopped on trails and told how cruel it is to take a chihuahua out into the wilderness.  People thought that backpacking is too much for her too.

In fact some people in the toy dog community think it is too dangerous to ever let a dog on the ground outside because they could be taken by a bird of prey or attacked by a bigger dog.  I have met multiple people IN PERSON whose little dogs never leave their house.  They potty inside, they live inside and that is it.  Do I judge the shit out of those people?  Yes.  Do I think many of their dogs are simply miserable and neurotic for being stuck inside all the time?  For sure.  In the end though I am perfectly ok with these people owning dogs.  Caring, loving and doing the best you can is what matters when it comes to owning a dog.  Those little ones that never see the outdoors are probably happier than many dogs that are chained up, ignored or otherwise actually abused.

Then there are the people on the other end of the spectrum.  The people like the owner of that mountain climber.  Their dogs go everywhere with them, get to sniff and hike and see the outdoors.  They have the sun on their back and their people at their side.  The main argument people seemed to have against this climbing dog was that she didn't get to choose to take the risk.  It is ok for people to do risky activity but not dogs, because they have no choice in the matter.  Well a few thing there-
  • We made dogs.  Dogs exist because we bred them.  Huskies want to pull because we bred them to want it, chihuahuas want to cuddle because we bred them to serve as hot water bottles for us.  Collies want to herd because we needed them to move our food animals and pointers want to point because we wanted help spotting game birds.  They don't just wake up one morning thinking "geeze I really want to dedicate my life to the human race."  They.  Just.  Do.  We took their choice out of the equation when we domesticated them.  
  • Dog's do not exist autonomously to people.  Except for the very rare occasion of a feral dog or a street dog they are totally reliant on people in every way.  They don't make any decisions about their healthcare, food, or even about their friends.  Even when dogs are given choice (and I do think that is imporntant) we are deciding that this is something we are going to let them choose about!  If my dogs had a choice in the matter one would eat all day then die of bloat and the other one would collect every person she ever met and glob them into one pack that never separated and all slept together in a cave with her eating nothing but pork.  If you believe that domestic animals should not exist (I'm looking at you PETA) then ok.  Valid argument, I can handle that even though I don't agree with you.  If you are however a person that ever takes your dog for a car ride then how can you say anything about choice?  Does your dog know how many roadway deaths there were in your state this year?  Do they weigh the pros and cons of a harness vs a crate vs just being free in the car then decide the method that they think is the safest?  I don't think so.
That pretty much sums up what I feel about that subject.  Then I saw another picture of the same dog, Whisper, BASE jumping.  You can see a picture of her and read about her owners rationale on that here-
Seeing that made me have a lot of complicated feelings.  BASE jumping is not an activity that I have a lot of respect for.  I personally have never met a BASE jumper that I felt was an emotionally stable person (they may be out there but not that I've met).  It is a dangerous sport- so dangerous that people tend to say it is not "if" you die but "when."  There are very few activities that I would put the foot down and stop my husband from doing but that is for sure one of them.  To me it is right up there with  those preachers that handle venomous snakes.  I don't care what BASE jumpers say- people who are BASE jumping are doing it knowing that no matter how careful they are they might die.  You can read this study where they find the fatality rate of BASE jumping is approximately one in sixty participants.  That is part of the rush, if they didn't have at least a tiny death wish they would be skydiving or climbing or white water rafting or any other of hundreds of outdoor adrenaline junkie sports that are not as death wish-ey.  Those may be my feelings but I am for sure not going to stop anyone from doing it as long as they are an adult and their insurance pays for the search and rescue.

I can just hear people reading this thinking I am some sort of couch sitting outdoor hating person who "just doesn't understand."  I guess I can't really prove to the internet that is not true except to say that I just made a holster for my bear spray and I travel in circles where the pros/cons of BASE jumping is something that actually gets discussed.

But we still have the idea of that DOG jumping.  It bothers me a lot.  I would not do it.  Why can't he just leave her with a friend at the bottom of the mountain?  Hire a dog walker?  His rationale of either with me or locked in a car he gives in his article is nonsensical to me.  You could arrange for an activity for her while you base jump for sure.  HOWEVER- after thinking on it- I say good for her owner Dean.  That dog loves them and loves the outdoors and as he said in his article she would rather be out base jumping with them than stuck at home.  In the event that she goes splat on the wall of a canyon with her owner it would be unfortunate.  Thing is that dog has a better life than so many others out there and she would go down with her best friend doing something that she obviously loves to do (even if it is just because her owner loves it).  Above all else I believe in personal choice, leaving risk assessment up to individuals and enjoying life- not living in a padded room.  I can not very well in one breath defend taking a chihuahua camping in rattlesnake territory because "what kind of life would she have locked inside away from all danger" then tell another person that they can't base jump.

I just had to get out my opinions on this one.  Please share yours- I really want to know what people think about this!


  1. I guess I'm one of those people who truly doesn't give two shits with what other people do with their dogs. :p The one exception to that is dominance training, but otherwise I honestly do not care what anyone else does with their dog. Shut up about what I do with mine (I get the same thing about small dogs staying inside, even though I have a hound and a herder, no toys), and I'll be quiet about what you do with yours.

    1. I'm with you Nola! Sometimes I think "mind your own business" is something people are forgetting to do!

  2. I think we agree with Nola. Each to their own. Have a fabulous Friday.
    Best wishes Molly