Dog owners make up a large, and proud, contingent of the greater Outside, Inc. workforce. But as much as we like to brag about our dog-friendly, active lifestyles—publishing stories about running with our dogs, adopting multiple dogs, taking dogs on 1,600-mile road trips—everything isn’t always sunshine and rainbows with our pups. Here, we come clean about the most embarrassing, exasperating, and stressful moments we’ve ever shared with our canine companions.
One Whole Towel, Coming Right Up
My Chocolate Lab, Meru, is a sweet, tender creature. She cuddles with babies and spends most of the day snoozing on a chair in the living room. But she is also a lab, and if left to her own devices would probably eat a lightbulb. (The list of non-food things she has eaten is long and includes: compost, a roll of garbage bags, and a diaper.) One day, my girlfriend and I went skiing before work. Ever since a few ski edge-related stitches as a puppy, Meru has not been invited to come skiing with us. Before we left for the mountain, my girlfriend prepped her sourdough starter for a fresh loaf of bread and left it on the counter under a kitchen towel. You probably see where this is going. Meru got up on the counter and inhaled the starter. We came home to an empty bowl, cracked on the floor. We looked around. The kitchen towel was nowhere to be seen. We rushed Meru to the vet and told them that this knucklehead had eaten a towel. They seemed more impressed than concerned and gave her something to help vomit it out. Up it came, completely whole, and the vet tech paraded it around the office, encouraging everyone to “check it out.” —Matt Skenazy, features editor, Outside
On February 14, just after 10 p.m., my husband Ryan and I returned home from celebrating our first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds. We were winding down, so I let my Rhodesian cattle-mix Roo outside to pee while I brushed my teeth. But when I opened the back door, a foul, sulphuric stench hit me. “Ryaaaan!” I called into the other room. “I think Roo got skunked!” On instinct and like an idiot, I stuck my nose into her fur and inhaled, just to be sure. (Wrong move.) Ryan rushed over, scooped Roo up, and carried her through the house into the garage. Then, we made a frenzied Google-search game plan as we ripped open kitchen cupboards to find anything to temper the reek: rubber gloves, dish detergent, baking soda, apple cider vinegar. We brought Roo to the shower and stripped down. Ryan soothed her while I rubbed all kinds of DIY “vet-approved” cocktails into her fur.
Nothing worked. There were suds and ingredients and towels and puddles everywhere. We finally gave up at 2 a.m. and hit the hay. It took us three weeks of scrubbing and laundry to eliminate the odor indoors, and the same amount of time for my nostrils to recover. We bought skunk shampoo and built a fence so we’re prepared for next time. But to this day, if Roo jumps into a river, she still stinks of skunk. All told, we laugh about it now, and I ’spose we did end up naked on Valentine’s Day—albeit, not as planned. —Patty Hodapp, interim digital director, Outside
Brunch? Way More Important Than Trails
We got Elmer, an adorable Stafforshire terrier, last August to provide some companionship for our older dog, Nika. Nika is my daily running companion, a dog who loyally follows me off leash and chases the occasional rabbit off trail, but who also comes immediately when called and is naturally reliable. Elmer? Not so much. Thinking he’d learn the ropes quickly from his new sister, I ended up losing him out on the trails on three of our first five runs. (I’m stubborn and a slow learner.) The first two times I got a call within an hour of frantic searching. On both occasions he’d wandered back to the dog park we run past on the way to my local trail system, and was discovered having a blast communing with his fellow canines. The third time, though, he wasn’t so easily found. I told a stranger on the trail of my plight and he immediately jumped into action, connecting me with a woman who runs an ad hoc search network in Santa Fe that specializes in finding lost dogs. I followed her advice, returning back to the place I lost him to wait—and not calling his name. (Apparently lost dogs get anxious from the calling, but will most often return to the spot they were lost.) An hour later I got a call from the good samaritan I’d met. He’d gone on Next Door and found the following post. Apparently Elmer had just smelled some bacon; he’d wandered off the trail and right through the front door of a neighbor who was preparing a family brunch. —Christopher Keyes, editorial director, Outside
The Last Thing He Needed
My dog disaster happened during a particularly poor run of personal bad luck. I was just getting over a case of COVID when I got a call from my brother, Max, who is a family practice doctor: our father had just had a serious heart attack. I booked a ticket home as soon as I could to be with the family. I went straight to my father’s bedside in the hospital from the airport and was relieved to hear he didn’t have any permanent damage to his heart after having four stents placed. After a meal with my brothers and a visit with my mother, who had been sick for weeks with a case of bronchitis, I was more than ready for bed. I was sharing a hotel room with Max and his wife Vivian. Also bunking with us were their two dogs, and Bonnie, my parents’ German Wirehaired Pointer. Max and Vivian’s dogs had a kennel to share, but my mom had left in such a hurry that she’d forgotten one for Bonnie. No matter, we thought, what’s the worst that could happen? At four in the morning we found out. Bonnie’s bowels loosened and she sprayed viscous diarrhea in a five-foot diameter around her on the hotel carpet. The smell was beyond sickly. Vivian and I cleaned up as best we could with the materials at hand, while Max took Bonnie outside. After 45 minutes we settled back into bed with the stench burning our nostrils. An hour later, she put on a similar performance in the bathroom, where we had contained her after the first incident. More cleanup, more singed nose hairs. None of us slept for the rest of the night. It was not the rest that any of us needed, and I will never forget the smell we had to live with for those sleepless hours. — Will Taylor, gear director, Outside
A Nasty Bite
A few years ago, my golden retriever Jingle—the sweetest dog who ever lived—started breathing heavily when she was sleeping beside my bed. When it didn’t stop the next day I took her to the vet, who noticed a red mark on Jingle’s stomach. The vet thought that it was probably a bite of some kind, perhaps a spider, and said that there wasn’t much to do except to apply cold compresses to the area and to keep a close eye on Jingle for further symptoms. I freaked out thinking that poisonous spiders might be lurking around and moved Jingle and myself into a hotel for the weekend while my house was fumigated by a pest control expert. Jingle seemed weak, so I rolled her around on a luggage cart at the hotel when she had to go out to pee. The red mark was on Jingle’s lower abdomen, and whatever the source of the venom was, it seemed to run down into her hind legs. Because over the next couple of weeks, she lost small chunks of flesh off of her back paws, leaving raw, open wounds. I took her back to the vet and Jingle stayed there a couple of nights so that they could watch her and treat the wounds to avoid infection. After she came home, I soaked her paws in warm water with Epsom salts to soothe her. She was about 10 years old at the time, and I was scared this might be the end for her. It took a couple of months for the wounds to heal and for her to regain her strength, but she made a comeback, and we had some great times hiking gentle trails. A year later, she got cancer and that did prove to be too much for her. —Mary Turner, deputy editor, Outside
Can Dogs Get High? Yep.
When Bowie was about six months old, he managed to get a weed pen off the mantelpiece over the fireplace. I forget where we were, but we came home to find him sprawled out on the couch, very damaged, very drained weed pen in his mouth. We took it away, but he got at least 75 percent of the oil out of the thing.
We obviously thought about giving him hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. But we’d been out for a few hours and figured anything he’d swallowed had long ago been absorbed. At that point, a vet couldn’t have done much, so we just stayed up and kept him under observation all night. And he just laid there, sprawled upside down where we’d found him, tongue lolling out of his mouth, apparently happy as a clam. I remember his pupils filling his entire eyes. In the morning, he was back to normal, if a little tired. Now we store anything marijuana related in the tallest, least accessible cabinet in our entire house. —Wes Siler, contributing writer, Outside
One Chicken Too Many
I was dating a sweet man here in Santa Fe and one weekend morning we took my dog Cabot, a Great Pyrenees mix, for a walk near his neighborhood. After the walk, I thought the perfect thing to do would be going out to breakfast at a local dog-friendly café. But my date insisted that we go to his house instead, where he wanted to cook breakfast for me. When we got to the house, he said Cabot couldn’t come inside because one of his housemates owned a cat. Cabot was fine with cats, I thought, but since the house had a fenced yard, I agreed to have her stay out there while we had breakfast. As we walked Cabot into the yard, I noticed a chicken coop—one of this guy’s other housemates owned several chickens.
Two things I must point out before this story goes where you probably already know it’s going: First, Cabot had been around a chicken coop before, and nothing bad had happened. Second, this was the most secure-looking chicken coop I’d ever seen. We both had no doubt the chickens were safe.
A mere five minutes later, from inside the kitchen, I noticed a chicken loose in the yard. My date and I then noticed that Cabot was inside the chicken coop. To this day, I have no idea how she entered. I also have no idea why, after we ran to the coop and found one chicken dead, my date appeared calm and tried to reassure me—I was freaking out and apologizing profusely—that “It’s okay! It’s okay! Do you know how many chickens die in America every day? This is nothing,” but then changed his tone severely after we found a second dead chicken. I guess two murdered chickens was too many, because he lowered his voice, refused to look at me, and said he needed to call his housemate. A few minutes later, he said, “I think you should go,” and a few hours later he canceled the rest of our weekend plans. That was the end of that relationship. — Svati Kirsten Narula, contributing editor, Outside
A Fur-ious Belay
Spending a spring break backpacking through Utah’s Paria Canyon with my middle-school daughters and Bronx, our trail-crazed Bernese Mountain Dog, was an irresistible choice. Regarded by many as the best slot canyon in America, Paria in April is a technicolor wonderland of blooming desert plants and mesmerizing redrock formations—a perfect place for five days of daddy-daughter bonding and backcountry wonder.
But choosing to enter Paria via Buckskin Gulch might not have been the most prudent decision. This deep, dark side channel is prone to flash floods and in some places only as wide as my 6’6” wingspan. Prudence, neglected, is sometimes fatal … and sometimes comical. We were fit, experienced wilderness travelers with many off-trail miles on technical terrain under our belts, but I’d failed to anticipate the logistical challenges of belaying a frantic 100-pound dog down a 20-foot-high logjam of boulders, trees, and sediment that had been washed into a chokepoint near the end of the gulch.
Climbing up the pile: no problem. Lowering the girls after fashioning a makeshift harness with a length of 7mm climbing rope I’d packed: no problem. Getting Bronx into the harness and encouraging him to scoot off so I could lower him: no dice. He was barking. He was whimpering. He even started howling, a heart-rending first. But there was no turning back, so I shoved him off. A few mad moments of scrambling later, he touched down, unharmed but forever terrified of climbing ropes.
A moment later, my daughter Hadley’s voice wafted up from far below. “Dad, there’s a tunnel through the rocks.” —Jonathan Dorn, SVP of Strategy & Studios, Outside, Inc.
Our dog Skye is an Australian Shepherd and it’s in her nature to herd. As a puppy, she would nip and bark at your heels if you were running or when the kids were playing. That was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was that one sunny day at the family lake house in Minnesota, she took charge. My young daughters were playing on a huge tube that was tied to the dock. Unbeknownst to us, over the course of the afternoon (and many water-soaked jumps from the dock to the tube) the rope had loosened and the tube was in danger of drifting away from the dock. Skye noticed and she stood at the end of the dock barking incessantly. It was annoying and seemingly for no reason—until the rope gave way and the tube drifted. Skye was ready. She jumped into the water, grabbed the rope in her mouth, and dragged the tube with the kids on it back to shore. There was never any real danger to the girls (we were sitting on the dock) but Sky’s instincts to keep her family safe were extraordinary. Needless to say, she was rewarded with extra snuggles and multiple treats. —Amanda Faison, interim health editor
The Soul of a Hunter
Hobbes wasn’t a hunter when we got him—after all, there isn’t much prey that a five–pound Chihuahua can take. He preferred cuddling in humans’ laps and barking at our neighbors’ dogs from behind the security of our living room window. All that changed one night during a visit to my in-laws’ house in Lincoln, Nebraska. My wife, Nat, saw Hobbes playing with something in the backyard and went outside to find him carrying a dead or possibly catatonic vole around in his mouth. She took it away, and we figured that was the end of that.
As it turned out, Hobbes’ first taste of blood had unleashed the beast inside of him. A few months after the incident with the vole, Nat walked outside to find Hobbes with a baby rabbit’s torn-off leg in his mouth and murder in his eyes. This time, she had to wrestle the haunch away from him as he snarled at her. More dead rabbits ensued: A mother bunny made a nest under our shed, and Hobbes figured out where the entrance was. He’d post up there, hiding in the brush, and wait for the kits to take their first tentative steps outside. I found the disemboweled, dismembered, and mortally wounded critters afterward. Each success only made him more ambitious: At one family gathering, my in-laws caught Hobbes attempting to drag away a live squirrel by the tail.
Inevitably, though, Hobbes picked a fight he couldn’t win. One day, I heard him yelping frantically and rushed outside to find him pinned under a neighborhood cat that was more than twice his size. I chased away Hobbes’ opponent and he slunk into the house and hid under the comforter to nurse his wounded pride. After that incident, he seemed to lose his fighting spirit—for a while at least. Lately, I’ve caught him hanging out by the shed again. —Adam Roy, executive editor, Backpacker
Just a reminder that the only Dog Disaster story that will stand the test of time was about a cat… A cat with the heart of a lion. —Alex Heard, editor-in-chief, Outside
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