America’s Favorite Pastime With Your Favorite Canine

Purina Pooches in the Ballpark

Pooches in the Ballpark 2016. Cardinals vs. Rangers

The Boys of Summer are finally back and we’ve got a list of all the MLB dog-friendly games plus a few tips to help you enjoy them. More teams than ever are hosting ‘bring your dog events’ and several teams are hosting more than one. Minor league parks are in on the action too, so don’t forget to check out your local club schedule for ticket information.

Tips

Please keep in mind that regardless of who your team is, the major league games typically sell-out quickly and at least a few do not allow walk-ups. At all games, be prepared to show proof that your dog’s vaccinations are current and be willing to sign a waiver.

Dog event at Globe Life

Bark at the Ballpark 2015. Texas Rangers.

We’ve been to two MLB games, Pooches in the Ballpark hosted by the St. Louis Cardinals and Bark at the Park hosted by the Texas Rangers. Last year’s ‘Pooches’ event had over 300 dogs in attendance, so dogs should be well-socialized and friendly towards people and other pets. You’ll need to keep your pooch on a leash at all times, pick-up any messes, and of course, be respectful of other fans.

Two other things to keep in mind are the weather and your pup’s stamina. Many of these games are taking place late in the summer and though most of the parks will have wadding pools or cooling stations of some sort, be prepared to make your pooch stays comfy and cool.

We always carry our own water bowl, and for these events, a cooling bandana and a gel cooling pad.

As for stamina, you already know a baseball game can last way more than nine innings. However, at many of these games, you can’t just walk up and go right in the gate. You have to check-in and that means waiting in line before the game. If you want the swag bag, another line. And all that noise and stimulation…? It can limit how much your dog can take. Consider whether or not your dog has 3-5 hours in him and whether or not you’re willing to leave a tie ballgame if he doesn’t.

Games

If you don’t see a game listed for your favorite team, it’s because I don’t have a date yet. The White Sox, Tigers, Phillies and Rockies all had games last year but haven’t announced when or if they’ll have them this year. The Braves are in a new park and apparently don’t want dogs in it. Hopefully, they’ll either change their minds or get back to it in 2018. You Braves fans- and anyone else without a dog-friendly game- ought to complain. On the other hand, Arizona Diamondbacks should have zero complaints.

I didn’t list their games because there are just TOO MANY!

That’s right! In 2016, PetSmart and the Diamondbacks partnered to create the first-ever season-long dog-friendly ballpark with a dedicated PetSmart Patio, PetSmart Park and the Dog Days of Summer program. This year that program includes 20 Sunday and Monday games that you can attend with your dog. Tickets packages start at $160 and include a semi-private space for four, access to All-You-Can-Eat hot dogs, soda, water, popcorn, peanuts, and chips for the humans, pup-approved ‘ice cream’ for the dogs and…an indoor (air-conditioned)/ outdoor baseball themed DOG PARK. I think we’ve found our next baseball road trip!

Now without further ado and in order of appearance, here’s the rest of the line-up…

  • New York Mets – Sunday, April 9th vs. the Marlins
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, April 11th vs. the Reds
  • Kansas City Royals – Wednesday, April 19th vs. the Giants
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Sunday, April 23rd vs. the Astros
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, April 25th vs. the Cubs
  • Washington Nationals – Saturday, April 29th vs. the Mets
  • Cincinnati Reds – Wednesday, May 3rd vs. the Pirates
  • Texas Rangers – Saturday, May 13th vs. the Athletics
  • Washington Nationals – Saturday, May 13th vs. the Phillies
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, May 16th vs. the Nationals
  • Seattle Mariners – Thursday, May 18th vs. the White Sox
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Saturday, May 20th vs. the Marlins
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Saturday, May 20th vs. the Giants
  • Kansas City Royals – Tuesday, May 30th vs. the Tigers
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, May 30th vs. the Diamondbacks
  • Miami Marlins – Saturday, June 3rd vs. the Diamondbacks
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Tuesday, June 6th vs. the Giants
  • Cincinnati Reds – Wednesday, June 7th vs. the Cardinals
  • Washington Nationals – Saturday, June 10th vs. the Rangers
  • San Francisco Giants – Sunday, June 11th vs. the Twins
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, June 13th vs. the Rockies
  • Washington Nationals – Sunday, June 25th vs. the Reds
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, June 27th vs. the Rays
  • San Diego Padres – Thursday, June 29th vs. the Braves
  • Seattle Mariners – Thursday, July 6th vs. the Athletics
  • Oakland Athletics – Friday, July 14th vs. the Indians
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, July 18th vs. the Brewers
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, August 1st vs. the Reds
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, August 8th vs. the Tigers
  • Colorado Rockies – Wednesday, August 16th vs. the Braves
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, August 22nd vs. the Dodgers
  • Cincinnati Reds – Tuesday, August 29th vs. the Mets
  • Kansas City Royals – Wednesday, August 30th vs. the Ray
  • New York Mets – Monday, Sept 4th vs. the Phillies
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, Sept 5th vs. the Cubs
  • Seattle Mariners – Tuesday, Sept 5th vs. the Astros
  • Washington Nationals – Thursday, Sept 7th vs. the Phillies
  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Sunday, Sept 10th vs. the Padres
  • Houston Astros – Sunday, Sept 17th vs. the Mariners
  • Cincinnati Reds – Thursday, Sept 21st vs. the Cardinals
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, Sept 19th vs. the Brewers
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – Tuesday, Sept 26th vs. the Orioles
  • Washington Nationals – Saturday, Sept 30th vs. the Pirates

Is your dog ready? Let’s PLAY BALL!

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Orlando Fresh & More Dog-Friendly

Lake Eola Fountain

The heart of downtown Orlando- Lake Eola.

Everytime I go to Orlando I find something new to love. It is an ever-evolving city and one that has been dear to my heart since 1990 when I participated in the Walt Disney World College Program. I often wonder why I ever left.

Fortunately, I have a very good girlfriend who still lives there and each year on the first Saturday of March, she and her husband host a huge crawfish boil. That is all the excuse I’ll ever need to leave the bi-polar spring weather of Northwest Arkansas and enjoy the constant sunshine of Central Florida.

There are at least two things I always do when I’m there. The first is visit downtown and the Lake Eola area; the second is go to Walt Disney’s World’s EPCOT Center. You can read about previous dog-friendly adventures in Orlando in The City Beautiful or if you’re interested in a WDW family vacation that includes the dog, you can check out my guest post for the Mama’s at NWAMotherlode.

I have new things to tell you about the aforementioned places, as well as my discovery of the brick-lined streets of the very dog-friendly downtown Sanford.

Downtown Orlando

Downtown Orlando covers a pretty broad expanse of space. However, Lake Eola and the surrounding area is where I’d choose to work and play if I lived there; there is always something happening.

Check out Movieola on Friday, April 28th on the East Lawn. They’re showing The Secret Life of Pets.

Swan diets at Lake Eola

Please follow the rules

I don’t know if I can pick just one favorite thing about Lake Eola but if I were to make a list, the swans and how much the city does to care for and protect them would be at the top. There are signs everywhere asking people not to feed them and in the spring, orange fencing protects each nest. I saw at least five swans, including a black one, nesting inside these protected areas. I really wish I was going to be there to see all the babies!

The other thing topping my list is pedestrian-only traffic- no bicycles or skaters allowed- and that makes strolling the .9 mile sidewalk around the lake a pleasure. There are a couple of restaurants located on the path and both, Spice Modern Steakhouse (ask to see the sushi menu) and Relax, are dog-friendly. This trip we opted for lunch at Relax Grill. Featuring mediterranean cuisine and an expansive list of cocktails, it’s a great place to quench your thirst and people watch. Dog guests are even brought their own bowls. I can’t say I whole-heartedly recommend the food but their Bloody Mary’s are great and on a pretty Saturday or Sunday, there is almost always a wait.

After lunch we ventured away from Lake Eola where we discovered Eola Wine Company. No lake view, but with a fenced sidewalk patio, it’s a great spot to try a new vintage or an entire flight while you take in the city. Even on a Monday afternoon just after opening, this place had a few guests and one small dog taking up space. I’m guessing it’s the perfect happy hour location and certainly beats rush hour traffic.

The last (new to me) find was Woof Gang Bakery and Grooming in Thorton Park. Offering gourmet treats, canine couture, pet themed gifts, and doggie fro-yo, you’re sure to find something for the discerning pet or pet parent in your life. Have a seat on the front porch of this cottage while you enjoy your treats or drop your pooch for a bath before grabbing lunch.

Obviously, there’s a lot of sitting, drinking, and people watching, and maybe THAT’S my favorite thing about the Lake Eola area. Whether on a blanket in the grass or at a bar overlooking the fountain, it’s prime real estate for lounging and almost every patio you see has a dog on it.

If you’d like to get out of downtown, then check out Baldwin Park for their family and pet friendly sidewalk festival every first Friday of the month. You’ll be able to browse through the booths of over 70 local artisans, as well as small businesses and non-profits.

EPCOT

EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival

Welcome Spring Fun, Food and Flowers! EPCOT main entrance.

Unless you’re Pluto, EPCOT isn’t dog-friendly, though I did see more “service dogs” this year than I’ve ever seen in the past. Since Walt Disney World is supposed to be the happiest place on earth, I’ll stay off my soapbox, but suffice it to say…I’m pretty sure some of you are taking advantage of the system and you should read my 5 dos and don’ts of dog travel and leave your pup at Best Friends.

EPCOT Lady and the Tramp topiaries

Lady and the Tramp make their return to Italy

Since EPCOT isn’t a dog-friendly place, I won’t bore you with the details of the Twinings Green Tea frozen berry mint julep or the sugar cane skewered shrimp marinated in coconut lime curry or the stunning topiaries that are the hallmark of the International Flower and Garden Festival. If you pick up a Garden Passport at the main entrance, it will tell you everything you need to know and where to find it. #FreshEPCOT

The one thing you do need to know is…

Guest Services is on Twitter and their responses to your tweets (even if you’re just teasing them) are pretty fast!

Back in the old days, if guests had a question like “How many lights are on the Electric Light Parade?” there existed what I called the ‘Rat Phone’. Because the proper answer is NOT “I don’t know,” regardless of how busy you are, there existed a phone with an operator on the other end. Any cast member- that’s a Disney employee – could pick up that phone and in minutes come back with an answer to just about any question a guest could ask.

“What time is the 3:00 parade?”

The very Disney answer to that question is “That depends upon where on the parade route you are seated,” followed by the explanation that though the parade does start at three, if you are sitting toward the end of the route, you will not see the first of the parade until later.

Now guests can just tweet questions and problems directly to a team of cast members, many of which are former College Program Alumni, who are ready and waiting to help you.

The 2017 Flower and Garden Festival runs through May 29th and if you’re headed that direction drop me a line. I’d be happy to point (using two fingers) you in the direction of my favorite drinks, I mean spots. I even know exactly where to charge your phone if it dies.

Sanford

If you’re an Orlando travel pro, you might already be avoiding the chaos of Orlando International and flying into Sanford (SFB). I highly recommend it. With bike week and spring break both starting, I was through TSA and at the bar in less than 10 minutes on my return flight. But it’s not the airport that is my new discovery; I’ve been flying there for several years. It’s the small downtown riverwalk area – all located within a two-block radius of Magnolia Square – that I’ve been missing.

Be sure to visit the brick-lined streets of this quaint, dog-friendly, waterfront town and enjoy a slower side of tourism in Central Florida.

As we roamed in search of a restaurant we wanted to try, I saw lots of dogs dining with their folks. All of them had water bowls that appeared to have been provided by the establishments. Amid conversation and distractions, I think we passed our breakfast destination twice. A little bigger than a hole in the wall with accommodations for I’m guessing 30-ish people, we finally found The Tennessee Truffle.

Dear Tennessee Truffle:

Please get some cafe chairs for outside. Put mine and Henri’s names on the back of one and save us a spot. And some bacon. We’d like to have all the bacon.

Happy Tails,

Denise

Y’all! This place was SO good. From the lemon-verbena sweet iced tea to the homemade biscuits and house-cured bacon, if I weren’t too old to use ‘fleek’ in conversation, I’d tell you that they were.

Chef Nat Russell brings his southern cuisine and charm straight from Memphis and was behind the walk-up counter taking orders. Old church pews provide some of the seating at chalkboard tables and Memphis-inspired artwork hangs on the brick walls.

I couldn’t resist trying the BLT and added a fried egg at Chef Nat’s suggestion. My girlfriend had the salmon with a side of perfectly cooked grits that came dressed with sorghum and crushed pecans. Like most southern girls, I’ve always drowned mine in butter, but I promise sorghum will be making an appearance on my table the next time I make grits.

Tennessee Truffle is fairly new to the Sanford food scene but I’m predicting they’ll be around for a bit. Fingers crossed for a dog-friendly patio expansion!

Art walls in Sandford

The exterior walls are art

With a very full belly, some sweet tea to go and a little time before my flight, we decided to wander. Be sure to visit, Arthur, the Frenchie, who guards the gallery at Jeanine Taylor Folk Art. He’s super-friendly and will happily accept your scratchies. Stroll through the gallery to discover everything from a mermaid riding a marlin to a wooly sheep footstool. When you leave be sure to take notice of the exterior walls which are an extension of the gallery.

You’ll also discover special events in Sanford, like the Sanford Pints and Paws Craft Beer Festival, which we missed by one day, and a farmer’s market every Saturday from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Those are my kind of hours!

2018

I’ll be back in Orlando next year, hopefully with Henri in tow. We’ve already planned a girl’s day at EPCOT and we’ll be the group of 40-something women in princess costumes. In the meantime, rest assured that I’ve got my eye on things; I can’t wait to see what pops up in and around The City Beautiful between now and then.

 

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Dog-Friendly Fayetteville Makes U.S. News Top 5

Razorback Stadium

Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Home of the Razorbacks. Fayetteville, AR

Once again, our hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas made the top 5 in U.S. News and World Report “Best Places to Live’. Last year we were number three and this year we round out the top five behind Austin, Denver, San Jose and Washington, D.C. We may have slipped a bit but that’s pretty good company.

For those of you wondering what makes Fayetteville so great or how U.S. News decides, Kim Castro, executive editor at U.S. News said, “When considering a move people are concerned about finding a job in their field (we don’t need any more dog trainers), earning enough to afford a home (I can keep the lights on), sending their kids to good schools (we have several doggie day cares), and feeling like a part of their community (philanthropy, politics, and sports- you pick). The Best Places to Live ranking takes all of that into account- the metro areas that do well are the ones with the strong job markets and high quality of life.”

Dog-friendly bar is full

Window seats are taken at Brewski’s on Dickson St

I live downtown in Fayetteville’s historic district. We’re a mostly liberal group- as evidenced by the political signs that occasionally appear in my neighborhood- but we aren’t crazy radicals; we like HSUS but PETA is a little out there. On Sundays, Henri and I can walk to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for the 7:30 a.m. pet-friendly mass, or we can sleep late and Sunday Funday downtown on Dickson Street. We can walk to at least three dog-friendly restaurants and in five miles hit three breweries along our trail system with a fourth currently under construction.

 

If you want to branch out and drive, the options are endless, especially if you factor in the rest of Northwest Arkansas and all the dog-friendly options in Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville. We are, right now, at Sassafrass Springs Winery in Springdale. It’s where we go when Mommy needs to write but Henri needs to roam. It’s not the only dog-friendly winery in our area, either; it’s just the closest to our house.

In addition to dog-friendly restaurants, wineries and breweries, Fayetteville has some great festivals- most of them being relatively dog-friendly. By “relatively”, I mean they allow dogs but you might want to consider whether or not your dog will be happy there. For instance, SpringFest is OK for dogs, there’s even a dog parade, but Block Street Block Party has gotten really big (and AWESOME!) and although dogs are allowed, I did NOT take Henri last year.

We have LOTS of specifically dog-friendly events though.

The Humane Society of the Ozarks hosts the Dogwood Walk at Gulley Park and the Family Play Day at Sassafrass Springs every year and Fayetteville Animal Services benefits from the annual Pup Crawl on Dickson Street. Northwest Arkansas’ minor league ball club has Bark in the Park events and there is usually more than one church or organization hosting a Blessing of the Animals in honor of St. Francis of Assisi in October. We have TWO dog-friendly Mardi Gras krewes- one in Fayetteville and one in Eureka Springs (about an hour away and super dog-friendly) ready to ‘laissez les bons temps rouler’ for you and your dog.

Fayetteville's off-leash hiking area

Off-leash at Lake Wilson

The only thing really lacking on the dog-friendly scene in Fayetteville is dog parks. We only have one on the west side of town. However, if you and your dog like a little off-leash adventure, on the southeast side of town, looping Lake Wilson, we have a trail specifically designated as an ‘off-leash’ hiking area.

The other things you can find in Fayetteville, and all of Northwest Arkansas, are beautiful trails. From the 37 miles of paved trail stretching from south Fayetteville to Bella Vista to the more rugged adventures of the Ozark Mountains and the nearby Buffalo River, you can walk, hike or bike in a variety of nearby places. We have several rivers to paddle and 487 miles of natural shoreline on the 44 square mile Beaver Lake. My favorite marina is less than an hour from my front door and you can catch us there year ‘round.

Ever been snow sailing? Eagle watching? You can do that here.

All of that being said, the thing I like most about Fayetteville/Northwest Arkansas is the central location. Henri is too big for airline travel- HE IS NOT CARGO!- but we are less than a 12 hour drive from a lot of cool places…Sante Fe, Chicago, Austin, and my personal favorite, the beach.

I started writing this post on a sunny day at Sassafrass Springs and I’m wrapping it up on a rainy day, sitting inside with Henri at Core Brewery, which perfectly sums up my point.

Number 5? We think we’re number 1. If you can’t beat us, join us!

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Christmas on the Water

Strolling in the sand

Walk-about on Biloxi Beach

I’m not sure if I should start with “Happy New Year” or “My apologies.” This was supposed to have been a pre-Christmas post featuring fun holiday activities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that you could enjoy during the holiday season this year. I mean last year. In 2016.

If you were following us in December and read Casino on the Coast then you know we headed to Harrah’s Gulf Coast casino in Biloxi for a four-day weekend adventure. You also know it’s a great (dog-friendly) casino with rooms over-looking the water and perfect Cosmos.

What you don’t know is there is way more to do in Biloxi, MS than beaching and gambling, and even though you’ve missed the holiday season, I encourage you to go there and create your own adventure. Mardi Gras is coming up and Biloxi knows exactly how to do that- they even have a Mardi Gras museum where you can play in the costumes!

Reason for the Season

There were lots of reasons to choose Biloxi for our Christmas trip but I didn’t know that until I actually started planning. What began with a dog-friendly casino on the coast and a lighted boat parade on Saturday night, turned into a holiday arts and crafts fair, open-houses, new food and new friends.

Though we’d planned to arrive in Biloxi before dark, we weren’t cruising down Beach Blvd. on Hwy 90 until almost 7 p.m. That put us in great luck though, because we drove right past 2 schooners from the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum already staged for Saturday night’s Christmas on the Water Lighted Boat Parade. We turned around for a sneak peak at the decorations and a few photos and though I wasn’t entirely sure I could pull it off, I wasn’t convinced I couldn’t- I was hoping for a run-in with a captain and maybe a boat ride.

Mike Sekul at Schooner Pier

A stop at Schooner Pier for a sneak peak

I didn’t know it at the time but the boats were docked at Schooner Pier, which we would be able to see from our hotel room window. We parked the car and while Mindy got out some camera equipment, I let Henri take a lap in the sand.

THE SAND! That’s when we saw the No Dogs sign. No dogs?! What?!

Apparently Mommy was distracted by the idea of a dog-friendly casino on the beach with a boat parade and didn’t do enough research about the actual beach. Harrison County and their ‘No Dogs’ policy includes Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Long Beach.

Harrison County Beach Authority

No Dogs Allowed

We’d been in the car 9 hours. It was dark. We went on the beach. Without a leash. It must’ve been the ocean air but we totally went against Ray’s Rules. Ray is a wise friend who contends that you should ‘only break one law at a time.’ Though technically, if dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, there probably isn’t a need for a leash law. Also, the sign says ‘ordinance’ not law. Both my Mom and attorney will tell you that I’m really good at justifying things.

Henri pooped. I picked it up. We’re rule breakers, not heathens.

A Day of Rest

I always try to schedule an easy day after a long drive so the first order of business on Friday morning was sleeping late. I was up before Mindy and doing my best to be be quiet. She’d already told me she could sleep through anything as long as no one was bleeding or dying, and I envy my mom friends’ ability to sleep like the dead. I also know for most of them it rarely happens. I took Henri to potty, stopped in the lobby for fruit and bagels, then returned to our room to drink my coffee and stare at the water in silence. Most of my mornings begin this way, I just don’t usually have the ocean as my backdrop. Or bagels.

We lazed a good portion of the morning and finally got out the door around 11:00. Our plan was simple: lunch at Shaggy’s then find a beach where Henri was welcome. We’d be back to the casino in time to clean up, make Tito’s Happy Hour before 7, and our dinner reservations at 8.

Before lunch we detoured back to Schooner Pier to get a closer look at some of the boats. Folks were busy with last minute decorations and preparations but Captain Ron of the Mike Sekul took some time to chat with us.

Boarding a schooner

All aboard on the Mike Sekul

One of two 68′ two masted gaff-rigged schooners, the Mike Sekul is an authentic replica of a Biloxi oyster schooner and part of the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. It had been chartered for Saturday evening and would be “sailing” in the boat parade. Both the Mike Sekul and the Glenn L. Swetman have hefty engines for the sake of efficiency. However, if you go out with them and the wind is right, you’ll be encouraged to help hoist and man the sails. Walk-on sails are available throughout the month and you will need to call for times. The cost is $30/adult, $15/child, and well-behaved dogs are welcome. Though it’s not required, your dog should bring his own PFD.

Since Capt. Ron needed to get back to his preparations and we couldn’t find anyone else on the pier to bother, we headed to lunch.

Close to the casino and right on the beach, Shaggy’s has received numerous culinary awards and accolades. Obviously, it’s best attribute is the location. And the drinks. Oh! And the fried green tomato stack with crab cakes. And…

The first thing I noticed was all the SEC team flags flying from the railing in front of the restaurant. All of them except Arkansas, that is.

Shaggy's deck overlooking the water

A perfect view

I wasn’t willing to give up raw oysters over it but as soon as I was seated I inquired. The hostess laughed as she laid down our menus and pointed to the Razorback flag inside over the bar.

Our waitress appeared quickly with a bowl of water for Henri and a few suggestions from the drink menu for us. Beer, wine, frozen, frosty, beach-y and non-alcoholic kids daiquiris were all available. I went basic with a bloody mary to compliment my raw oysters and Mindy ordered a Shag-a-rita ’cause somebody should always order the signature cocktail.

I think the best thing about doing trips with a human friend is that you get to eat more stuff. I couldn’t have consumed a half dozen raw oysters (and they brought me extra), a Shaggy’s Stacker of fried green tomatoes and crab cakes, and Beach Tacos all by myself. It was all delicious and Henri even got to have a little leftover blackened Mahi from the tacos.

While dining, I took the opportunity to chat with our waitress about dog-friendly things to do in the area, where to go, etc. I asked where she took her dog when they went to the beach and she said, “Right here.” “This beach?” I asked. “I thought they didn’t allow dogs on the beaches in Biloxi.” She explained. Technically, they don’t, but during the off-season there is precious little beach patrol. In fact, right before we arrived there was a Border Collie playing frisbee out there. She said there’s usually at least one or two dogs on the beach at any given time, and really, no one minds. I think Henri must’ve heard her, because although he’d been eyeballing the stairs since we got there, he was now starting to get restless.

Sign? I don’t see a sign. Do you see a sign? There’s a sign over there but I don’t know what it says.

We walked right off the deck, ditched our shoes and put our toes in the sand. The waitress said we could.

Playing in the sand

Enjoying some beach time

Then came the moment. The moment I knew things were different. The first time Henri ever went to the beach he was SO excited. He splashed in the water, he dug in the sand, he made lap after lap, jumping over sun-bathers while I apologized and they laughed. That was three years ago. Just three. Henri was happy but at his age one fast lap was all he needed to be content. We strolled down the beach together in search of a tourist shop we’d seen and hoped they’d be dog-friendly. I needed a swimsuit so I could make use of the hot tub later and Mindy had promised her daughter a purple seashell.

Sharkheads on Biloxi Beach is dog-friendly with a sign on the door that says pets must be carried. Either that’s more of a guideline than a rule or we looked well-behaved, but they allowed us to come inside. If you forget the beach necessities, need tourist tchotchke, or make promises of purple shells to 3 year olds, go here.

The sun was just beginning to set as we returned to the car. I determined that we had just enough time for a ‘drive-by’ of the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival located in Jones Park about 20 minutes away. I was curious but I didn’t want to miss happy hour or be late for dinner unless it looked really fabulous.

It appeared to be your typical Winter Wonderland, lights in the park, holiday attraction. Live music, train rides, funnel cakes, visits with Santa, and a ferris wheel from which you can see the whole park would be a great family outing or a romantic date night for lovers, but Mindy and I weren’t interested in holding hands and with my proclivity for distraction, I knew we’d miss dinner. It might have been worth missing $2.00 Cosmos, but Henri was tired and I wasn’t interested in the gamble.

Rue Magnolia Art District

Henri waits while I shop

Patiently waiting on Mom

Christmas on the Water marks the official opening of the holiday season for the city of Biloxi. An annual event that began as a small lighted boat parade in 1986, the event has grown into a weekend of family-oriented holiday fun. Part of that fun is Christmas in the City, an arts and crafts festival along the Rue Magnolia Walkway. That’s where we headed Saturday morning. We met several other dogs, chatted with vendors, and were pointed in all the right directions by locals.

Croatian dessert

Yes, I ate an entire dozen

First stop, we were told, HAD to be the table in front of Mary Mahoney’s restaurant for a Puscharte.

That’s Push-ah-rata, if you’re southern.

Made by the Slavic Ladies Auxillary of Biloxi, it is a Croatian dessert of apples, oranges, lemon, pecans, raisins and spices, fried then coated with an almond glaze. It’s like a fruitcake and a donut hole got together and had a really moist, delicious baby. The baking of these tasty treats is the ladies’ big yearly fundraiser and as of December 3rd there was already a waiting list of over 100 to purchase 2016’s treats. If you’d like to try these fabulous desserts, you can call the ladies auxilliary to get on next year’s order list. Right behind me.

The second suggested stop was Mary Mahoney’s for gumbo. The restaurant had already been recommended to us by locals at Harrah’s Magnolia House bar on Friday night and we were told all their food is amazing. The other thing that is amazing is the New Orleans style courtyard. It so distracted me that I forgot about the gumbo.

The cornerstone of this courtyard is a centuries old Oak tree that stretches its branches across the brick for shaded, dog-friendly dining. Ivy grows up the walls and bits of moss drip from the trees. When you think of sipping a cold cocktail in the Old South, this might be the next best thing to exchanging scathing gossip with Scarlet O’Hara on a wrap-around porch.

Many of the businesses located in what is known as the Rue Magnolia Art District are art galleries that were either closed, blocked by vendors, or not dog-friendly. Our meandering eventually lead us to The Radish Loft, a small shop selling a variety of home goods and fashions. We appreciated them being dog-friendly but if your pup is bigger than Henri you may have trouble navigating the store. Henri and I plopped down in the white wicker porch chairs and waited on Mindy, who returned with a Mississippi mug and something called Pecan Pie in a Jar. Our next stumble-upon was the Mardi Gras Museum.

Occupying the first floor of the Magnolia Hotel, the Mardi Gras Museum of Biloxi is an ever-changing museum evolving with each year’s celebration of Mardi Gras. Wall panels depict the history of the hotel- the oldest on the Gulf Coast- as well as Mardi Gras in Biloxi and mannequins dressed in the costumes of past kings and queens are displayed in every room. Much to my delight and Henri’s chagrin, it also has a try-on room where guests of the museum can play in some of the costumes.

Henri quickly tired of my attempts to photograph him with things on his head and that seemed as good a reason as any to get on to our next destination. I was trying to cram way too much into our day and finish it all with enough time to relax a bit at the hotel before the boat parade Saturday night.

Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs

Merry Christmas from Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs is one of those hidden coastal gems and one I’d never heard of until I needed a dog-friendly beach near Biloxi. The town is now right up there with Apalachicola and the Forgotten Coast in my book and I can’t wait to return. I mean, how do you not love a quirky little town with a free-roaming band of roosters?! The next time I’m passing through or planning a stay or thinking about retirement, I’m going to focus on Ocean Springs where practically every place is dog-friendly.

Conveniently located just over the bridge and only about 7 minutes from Harrah’s you can easily have the best of both worlds: quaint shops and moss-draped trees line Washington Avenue, two beaches that allow leashed dogs are just a hop, skip, and a jump from the shopping district, and back across the bridge, casino entertainment awaits. If you’ve no interest in staying at a casino, then check out The Inn at Ocean Springs.

The Inn at Ocean Springs has four rooms right in the middle of the shopping district and plans to open six more at a second location, The Roost at Ocean Springs, in April. All rooms are dog-friendly with no size limits, just the stipulation that your dog is well-behaved and if left alone is crated and quiet. Although we didn’t stay there, it seems a very charming retreat and an excellent alternative to a casino stay. Anna was very helpful with information about their locations and things to do in Ocean Springs.

The first shop we noticed was an art gallery featuring jewelry, pottery, and blown glass. The windows sparkled with holiday décor and the only thing warmer than the ambience was the welcome we received. I wasn’t sure if such a place would allow an animal with a wagging tail but they waived us in and offered us cocktails. It was their holiday open house!

Artist Bob Bows

Bob Bows takes a break to say hi to Henri

You can’t (and shouldn’t) miss Hillyer House. There’s a giant mermaid out front- she was sporting a Santa hat the day we went- and owner Paige Riley features works of art from over 300 local, regional and national artists. In addition to shopping and sipping, we got to meet and chat with Abilene, KS artist Bob Bows about his Turtles of Hope, which are said to give owners courage in the face of diversity.

 

Our next discovery was Coastal Magpie, a store with an “eclectic mix of vintage and modern industrial furnishings, fine art, unique crafts, and one of a kind gifts”. They also have metal dog art and a very honest and friendly staff. While purchasing a stocking-stuffer for my Mom, Henri distracted the staff with his charm and I forgot to get my change. Upon returning to our hotel, I realized the mistake and called the store to let them know that if they were over at the end of the evening I thought perhaps I’d not gotten my change before leaving with my purchase. They assured me they’d call me back if that was the case and they did. When we went back the next day, they’d even restocked their dog treats for Henri.

Other Ocean Springs highlights include Two Dogs Dancing pet boutique, where Henri got some gourmet treats for his nightly turn-down, and several restaurants and cafes with dog-friendly patios. Leo’s and Government Grocery are two of the more popular spots for doggie dining and both have outdoor spaces that are covered.

The best thing about Ocean Springs is that you are only a few minutes from the beach. In fact, if you’re a walker, Front Beach is less than a mile from The Inn.

Both Front Beach and East Beach allow leashed dogs and, as I mentioned, it’s less than 7 minutes from the casino. Front Beach was one of the stops we made on our way out of town on Sunday and one of the first places I’ll return if and when I ever go back.

There wasn’t a lot of sandy shoreline but Mr. BJ, who walks his dog, Foxy, there everyday, said there’s usually more. We had quite the storm Saturday evening and it was still pouring when I took Henri to potty Sunday morning. Not only had the tide come in a little further than normal, the fog had yet to lift, creating a peaceful, quiet scene. Aside from the no-see-ums that chewed up my ankles, we practically had the beach to ourselves.

Public fire pit

Front Beach fire pit is an invitation to linger

I’m not sure what the sun bathing on Front Beach would be like on a warmer day, but with a public fire pit, it is exactly the reason I always have a few tailgate chairs- Razorback, of course- in my trunk. I suspect that at the end of a warm spring day as the sun sets and the temperatures start to cool, this is the perfect place to linger and just be.

Last Stop

Our last stop in Biloxi was a gas station and thankfully they sell beer on Sundays! I always grab a few sixes of Yuengling anytime I’m east of the Mississippi River. We can’t get Yuengling in Arkansas but with my parents planning a move to Destin at the end of this month, I expect to remain fully stocked in this department, as well as be passing back through Biloxi in the very near future.

A few things I’ll be checking out on our next trip include the new Blind Tiger on the Great Lawn at Harrah’s, a cruise on one of the schooners or a Biloxi Shrimping Trip, and LOTS and LOTS of time in Ocean Springs.

Hey, Ocean Springs! Do y’all need a resident dog trainer? I can do roosters, too.

A note about the boat parade: Although the parade was part of the reason I chose Biloxi for our Christmas trip, it was by no means the highlight of our adventure. After joining the crew of the Big Bobber in Oklahoma a few years ago and seeing those boats, I had pretty high expectations from a coastal parade. Sailboats, barges, and sea-worthy yachts decorated with lights galore made spectacular scenes in my head, but unfortunately, not on the water. If you’re already in or near Biloxi, go see the parade; if you aren’t close, it isn’t worth a special trip.

To view more photos of our trip visit us on Facebook and be sure to LIKE our page. If you really want to stalk us, then follow us on Twitter and/or Instagram @MyTravelTails.

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Casino on the Coast

harrahs-on-the-water

A view of Harrah’s from the Schooner Pier Complex

There’s a dog-friendly casino on the beach where the oysters are fresh and the Yeungling is cold. I’d call it Heaven but let’s face it, if it were really Heaven, I might not have gotten in right away. Fortunately, I was able to make a reservation at Harrah’s Gulf Coast Casino in Biloxi and spend a whole weekend Christmas’ing on the gulf coast.

We actually started planning our trip to Harrah’s about a year ago when some girlfriends of mine were there trouble-making and saw a dog. That alerted me to the fact that this was someplace Henri and I needed to go. I reached out to the marketing department but the hotel was just beginning a major renovation that wouldn’t be completed until late spring. They got busy. I got busy. The ball got dropped, and then it was football season and we were left trying to find an away game weekend.

Blah, blah, blah. December.

Turns out it was the perfect time to head to Biloxi. Not because of the weather but because of the season. In only three nights, we managed to catch a lighted boat parade that cruised right past the hotel, a Christmas arts and crafts festival, and a holiday open house. Not to mention good food and finally finding a bartender who can make a Cosmopolitan as good as my Dad’s.

Welcome to…

The Playground of the South

Playground of the South, Redneck Riviera, whatever you call it, Harrah’s Gulf Coast is the place to be if you’ve got your pooch in tow (and even if you don’t). This boutique casino offers everything you need for a few days of anything you choose with an ocean view. Fine dining? Check. Sports bar? Check. Golf course? Check. Spa? Yes. Gambling? Duh. And if you want to head to the beach, take in some maritime history, or a do a little shopping, it’s all nearby. What’s more…valet at Harrah’s is FREE so getting in and out is a breeze!

Pet Stay room at Harrah's Gulf Coast

Double Queen Pet Stay with a gulf view

Unlike a lot of places, when Harrah’s says pet friendly, they mean it. There are seven rooms set aside specifically for guests vacationing with pets. They feature tile flooring (reason enough for requesting one even if you don’t have a dog) and are all conveniently located in one area on the second floor.

Potty Station at Harrah's

The sign says “Potty here”

For potty duties, head to the ground floor, go out the door, hang a right on the sidewalk and walk straight to the designated area. You can’t miss the green space with the potty station and it couldn’t be more convenient. The property is owned by Harrah’s and designated for their furry friends. I’ve suggested they fence it for absolute perfection, but it’s pretty great regardless. I don’t know of any other hotel that has this type of space.

One warning: You WILL need to check your pooches paws after walks here. There are lots of burs. I pulled several out of Henri’s paws and stepped on one or two that had been shed onto our hotel room floor.

If traveling with a pet (not a service animal) be sure to mention you need a Pet Stay Reservation. You can also request treats and a hang tag for your door. It isn’t included on the amenity form but it is available. I was told this is an “area of opportunity” and I suspect you’ll see changes to this in the near future.

Black lab mix is casino guest

Pilot is a Harrah’s regular and his Mom gave us some tips

Pets are limited to two dogs under 50lbs per room and there is an extra $50.00 per night fee. Dogs are allowed in the lobby and hallways, and no one seemed to mind if we sat in the cafe, but pooches are not allowed in the pool area, casino, or dining areas. There is one other casino on the strip that allows pets, but you can’t leave your pet in the room unattended. That’s not very vacation friendly, if you ask me. Henri has no use for gambling.

Speaking of which…

Harrah’s Gulf Coast boasts one of the LEAST smokey casinos I’ve ever visited and the craps dealers are patient with learners; I’ll skip the discussion of my success at blackjack. 16 gets me every time.

Knowing I’d spend at least some time at the gaming tables, I came prepared with a trash bag in my suitcase (a little trick I learned from my parents) for my smoke smelling, casino floor clothes, but I didn’t need it. Granted it was off-season on the coast but we made it to the floor both Thursday and Friday nights, and my allergies did not suffer. Another place I visited both Thursday and Friday, and I admit it, Saturday too, was Magnolia House.

Magnolia House

Magnolia House by Kelly English is Harrah’s fine dinning restaurant. My first experience with their service was Thursday night when we arrived. I’d just spent nine and half hours in a car and I didn’t do it to eat ‘bar food’. I wanted oysters. Raw oysters.

Those aren’t on the menu at Mix and Mingle sports bar and at 9:30 p.m. Magnolia would only be open another 30 minutes. The waitress at M&M suggested I run over to the Magnolia bar and get an order to go, which I did. The bartender was only too happy to take my order and not at all put out that I wouldn’t be dining with her. I suspect she was ready ‘to go’ too.

Tito's happy hour

Magnolia House features Tito’s martinis.

On Friday evening, we had dinner reservations at 8:00 p.m. When we returned from our day’s adventures I quickly threw on a little black dress and some cowboy boots, fed Henri, then hurried downstairs. Tito’s Happy Hour is from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday- Sunday and I didn’t want to miss it.

The bar was full and seemed a good mix of locals and southern characters. Represented were: Texas, Biloxi, Baton Rouge, Alabama, and some poor ol’ guy from Pennsylvania whose football team isn’t in the SEC. Considering the cast, we chose to dine at the bar instead of our table for two. One of the locals suggested that eating at a casino when I was on the coast wasn’t a good choice, but I’m guessing he was about as informed as he was charming (insert sarcasm here).

Chef Kelly English is a James Beard Award semi-finalist and was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine. Using fresh from the region ingredients, he’s put together a menu that gives you no cause to leave. We started with an appetizer of gulf crabmeat au gratin- a gooey, cheesey bowl of delicious served with fresh French bread. My photographer, Mindy, had Big Daddy’s King Salmon with wild mushroom fried rice, wilted spinach, and ginger soy broth. On the bartenders recommendation, I ordered Gulf Snapper with sauce Ponchartrain and market vegetables. Don’t ask me specifics about the vegetables because they don’t matter. Sauce Ponchartrain is all you need to know.

By the time we were finishing our meal, it was getting close to 10:00 and the bar was shutting down. We skipped dessert, but overhearing my comment that “I only drink my Dad’s Cosmos because no one ever makes them right!” Jeanne, the bartender, felt personally challenged and obligated to show off a little.

Her name is Jeanne. You want her to make you a Cosmo. You will probably want her to make you more than one. Let me remind you that Tito’s Happy Hour is Tuesday- Sunday from 5-7 p.m. and Cosmos are $2.00. You’re welcome.

Lots of Options

There are currently five dinning options at Harrah’s with a soon to be added sixth. The sixth, an open-air bar and restaurant is under construction on the 10.5 acre Great Lawn and will have a dog-friendly patio overlooking the water. The Blind Tiger is guaranteed to be the best seat in the house for summer shows on the lawn, as well as the perfect place to watch next year’s lighted boat parade. Both the restaurant and the green-space are connected to the casino by a crosswalk that extends from the gulf-facing pool deck over the four lanes of street traffic, offering guests safe passage to and from the hotel to the restaurant and lawn.

The Blind Tiger bar and restaurant at Harrah's Gulf Coast

The Blind Tiger located on the Great Lawn will feature a dog-friendly patio

The Great Lawn is technically an event venue and dogs won’t be allowed during concerts and festivals, but it’s worth a mention because they are allowed the rest of the time. It’s not a place you’ll go for quick potty duties, but if you have a pup that is reliable off-leash, it’s perfect for an afternoon game of fetch. I always try to keep in mind that no matter how well-behaved Henri is on our travels, he’s still a dog and needs the freedom to act like one on occasion. I figure after being ushered from ship to shop all day, he’s earned the right to romp.

No Dogs Allowed

Paw prints in the sand

Leave paw prints, take pictures.

Although the beaches in Biloxi (Harrison County) don’t allow dogs, Harrah’s is still the perfect place to stay. It is right in the middle of everywhere we wanted to be. We could walk to the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum’s Schooner Pier Complex for a dogs-welcome cruise aboard their 65 foot schooner; a 5-minute drive took us to Main Street Biloxi for Christmas in the City on the Rue Magnolia; less than 20-minutes got us to Jones Park in Gulfport for the the Harbor Lights Winter Festival; and over the bridge only seven minutes away was downtown Ocean Springs– my very favorite part of the trip.

We’ll tell you more about our adventure and all the great dog-friendly places we discovered and people we met, including where the beaches are, in part two, Christmas on the Water. In the meantime, check out the amazing photos by MJW Photography in our Facebook album, or follow us on Instagram and Twitter using @MyTravelTails. We’re always up to something and you never know where we’ll go next.

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Pre-Holiday Decompress in Ponca, AR

Wild elk in Arkansas

Elk lounging roadside in Ponca, AR

If the current political climate or the prospect of spending the holidays with 30 cousins and all their babies crammed into a tiny house with nary a bottle of wine among you has you feeling more #stressed than #blessed, then I suggest you head to a place where cell phone service is non-existent and the only sounds are that of bugling elk or unnamed critters rustling through the leaves.

In preparation for the whirlwind of travel, shopping, and social engagements this time of year always brings, that’s exactly what Henri and I did last Friday night- a last minute, barely planned ditch of civilization.

It was the perfect 24-hour reset and something to feel truly thankful for.

With just enough time between obligations to sandwich in an overnight, Henri and I drove to Ponca, AR for a stay at Lost Valley Canoe and Lodging. Normally, weekend stays require two nights but when we inquired earlier in the week they told us if we called back Friday morning and the cabin hadn’t been rented, they’d let us have it.

Friday morning. Score #1.

After my appointment with some very cute and very rowdy beagle puppies, I headed home to pack. One carry-on size bag seemed sufficient for a no make-up, sleep naked, come home in the clothes you wore overnight trip. My bag- sweater, tennis shoes, moisturizer, tooth brush. Henri’s bag- blanket, stuffy, food, bowls. Done. Only two more stops before hitting the road. Grocery and liquor. In Arkansas, those are two different stores.

With a full ice chest and an hour of winding roads lined with the remnants of fall color ahead of us, we rolled down the windows, turned on Kenny Wayne and headed East.

My Mema always says I “get my ass between my shoulder blades”, but thankfully there’s something about leaving the city that just relaxes me. As soon as the buildings are few and the pastures are many, as soon as I realize there are no bars on my cell phone or that the only structures are farm houses and churches, those shoulders revert to their natural position. As I relaxed, my mind started to wander and I began to think of the elk.

Rocky Mountain Elk were introduced to the Buffalo National River area to replace the Eastern Elk that were hunted into extinction. Fall is the best time to catch them as it’s mating season and the bulls are in full rut. The herd tends to feed in the fields that lie along the Buffalo National River between Ponca and Boxley just after sunrise and then again in the late afternoon. I’d never seen them, but we’d timed our departure so as to be driving through the viewing area- a 7 mile range on Hwy 43- at the right time and making our cabin before sunset.

Friday afternoon. Score #2.

Between Ponca and Boxley there’s an Elk Education Center and an elk lookout. I don’t think the elk know about the lookout because they aren’t always there. However, if you want to find them, simply drive from Ponca down Hwy 43 to the south. Keep your eye on the fields on the east side of the road. Roadside elk-viewing spots can be had anywhere from the Ponca access to the trailhead for the Buffalo River Trail. If you see cars pulled over to the side of the road, join them.

After our roadside elk viewing pit stop, where I left Henri in the car and tried without success to find a hole in the fence, we continued on to our cabin. I was super-intent on making what I was sure would be a gorgeous sunset.

Our cabin was actually only about five minutes from the elk stop so after checking in at Lost Valley and being advised to ‘just gun it’ when going up to Hillside Cabin #1, we arrived. This is not a cabin for the lame or handicap, or the Toyota Avalon. In fact, in another five years I’m pretty sure my hip will give out and I’ll need a Sherpa to make it at all. Please God let me have a truck by then!

All this being said, the cabin is fabulous! A wrap around deck with rocking chairs, a hot tub and a charcoal grill does not disappoint. It even comes with a nice gray kitty. The only drawback is…no view of the hills, just woods. Fortunately, long summer days on the water have made me an excellent sun chaser and spying a sunny hilltop in the distance, I got it my mind that we should just drive in that direction. My plan worked.

Friday sunset. Score #3.

We drove in the direction of the mountaintop which led us to the entrance of the Steele Creek trail. From the entrance it’s just downward, not good for sunset viewing, but I found a great little spot across the road to throw a blanket and plop down. As the clouds changed from white to pink to dark blue and the mountain slowly sucked the light from the sky, I babbled to Henri about the majesty of sunsets. With patient eyes he stared, if only to appease me. He’s used to my ramblings.

Once I was satisfied with having seen the best of what would transpire that evening, we returned to our cabin for dinner.

At the store, we’d picked up all the necessary supplies for a long quiet evening of snacking, good eating and drinking. Cheese and crackers would tide me over while I built a fire and enjoyed a drink, and when I started to get really hungry, I’d planned to fire up the charcoal (bring your own) grill for a steak. Bacon-wrapped filets, roasted rosemary potatoes, and Michael David Petit-Petite were on the menu.

Henri split his time sniffing around our hillside and cleaning out the cat food bowl which I relocated to a table top out of canine reach. My rule for out-of-sight free-range is that I just need to hear his rustling or the jingle of his collar. This summer I discovered an LED collar at an outdoor store and it might be my favorite new dog accessory. If I can’t see the collar or hear him, I call him and he returns.

The sky was clear and starry and the night a cold, quiet reminder that winter is coming. It was perfect hot tub weather and a relaxing end to the day.

Saturday morning. Naked.

The crisp chill of the Saturday morning air led to one more dip in the hot tub while drinking my coffee. And the realization that if Travel Tails were a TV show, there are a lot of things I might not do. Like, sit naked in a hot tub while drinking my coffee. Or spend two days without make-up (lipstick doesn’t count).

Check-out was at eleven and we’d planned to grab some lunch and get in a hike before heading back to town. The hike was the whole point of the trip and not getting it was a major disappointment. Unfortunately, we discovered too late that many of the trails in the Buffalo National River area do not allow dogs. They allow horses, with their big hoofs that tear up trails and giant piles of crap that no one picks up, and there’s a HUGE controversy over a factory hog farm that was allowed to be built, but NO DOGS. I won’t ruin this story with a rant, but suffice it to say that I don’t get it!

We settled for a drive through Horseshoe Canyon Ranch and lunch at Low Gap Café. Neither was actually a ‘settle’ as the view at Horseshoe is nothing short of stunning and lunch was great. Horseshoe doesn’t allow dogs and is yet another reminder that I need a truck, but if you’re a frisbee golf player, you should get yourself there ASAP. I didn’t even bother trying to take a picture because I knew there was just no way to do it justice.

Low Gap does have an outdoor patio but it was a little chilly for that, so Henri had to wait in the car. They have excellent food, a BYOB alcohol policy (they’ll serve it to you in a red solo cup), and music on the weekends. It was a wonderful little surprise and certainly a place I’d eat again.

Once we returned home, I tweeted my disappointment in the availability of dog-friendly trails to @BuffaloNPS, the official Twitter source for the Buffalo National River. They responded to let me know that “Henri would love the Mill Creek Trail (Pruitt), Forrest Trail (Buffalo Point), and Overlook Trail (Buffalo Point)!” They also let me know that Hawksbill Crag/ Whitaker Point is a popular dog-friendly trail in the Upper Buffalo near Boxley, which is closer to where we were but temporarily closed due to a wildfire.

She gets political.

I’d guess a majority of the population of Arkansas is familiar with the Buffalo. For those that aren’t, shame on you. Get there. STAT. In addition, check out the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. I don’t get political very often but when there’s a factory hog farm near our nation’s first national river and its existance is a threat to a vast and beautiful wilderness, I get a little opinionated.

For the rest of you, plan a visit. I have no doubt that afterwards you’ll understand what we are trying to protect.

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Penguin Palace in OKC

A gift from guest services

Our sweet gift from Haley & Allie. And they spelled ‘Henri’ right!

I’m generally not a huge fan of art museums. Not because I don’t like art but because the places are always so stuffy. No food, no drinks, no gum, no touching, and although I’ve never seen a sign that says “Quiet Please,” I always feel like the loud kid at the library waiting for someone to shush me.

21c Museum Hotels aren’t like that at all and what hotel priding themselves on Southern hospitality wouldn’t be dog-friendly?!

If you haven’t stayed at one of the six museum hotels, you’re missing out. From the location and building design to the food served, each location boasts a local flare. Part boutique hotel, part contemporary art museum, 21c is making art accessible and fun. Henri and I are regulars at the Bentonville, AR location but living a mere twenty minutes away, we’ve never needed to stay the night. So when the newest hotel opened just three hours from us, it was time for another adventure.

Located on the West end of downtown Oklahoma City, OK and occupying the historic Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, this 135 room space was designed with great attention to the kind of details that would accentuate the history of the building as well as preserve its architectural character. Giant columns and original floors are left exposed in the lobby and the door of the elevator shaft that moved cars from floor to floor is painted bright red. In the rooms, carpeting resembles tire tread and faucet knobs look like the steering wheels of old Fords. From the public spaces that include the galleries, bar and restaurant to the guest rooms, art is staged in every nook and cranny. Only over-night guests with key cards are allowed past the first floor, so I suggest you book a room for the full experience. There’s plenty of other things to do in OKC and you won’t regret choosing 21c as your weekend base camp.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

A quick drink at the OKC Memorial

Getting a drink at the OKC National Memorial.

21c check-in isn’t until 4:00 p.m. That gave us just the right amount of time to make OKC before rush hour and spend some time at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Technically, the memorial space ISN’T dog-friendly, but we wandered into the green space from the side and didn’t see the signs until we were leaving. Several park rangers saw us, but no one asked us to leave. Maybe they thought Henri was a service dog…? In any case, the only comment made to me was that I shouldn’t let him drink the water in the fountain because it was chemically treated on a regular basis.

If you’re in, near or around OKC and you haven’t been to this site, it’s worth a detour. If you don’t do the museum, it won’t take much of your time and on a Thursday afternoon in October it wasn’t crowded and parking was a breeze. Placards and video boards throughout the space allow for a self-guided tour and park rangers are available for questions if you have them. It is a beautiful, peaceful space, and a powerful reminder of what happened there.

Bleu Garten Food Truck Park

After checking in at 21c and being out of the car for a bit, we were in need of food. Unfortunately, there is no portion of the bar, restaurant or patio at this 21c that is dog friendly. In search of options, we discovered Bleu Garten Food Truck Park in Midtown. It’s conveniently located across the street from Midtown Mutts Dog Park, which was a perfect place for Henri to stretch his legs and handle potty duties.

Bleu Garten. What can I say? Except what I said in my tweet.

Bleu Garten, Oklahoma City

Bleu Garten provides an amazing space that includes open air seating, fire pit, covered areas with TVs and two bars: one with beer taps and wine, the other with liquor, BOTH with bowls of dog treats. In addition, each night they’re open they welcome a rotating list of food trucks to provide a variety of dinning options.

The night we were there, I had a Pimento BLT from Pitchfork. It was as good as it sounds, and while I ate my sandwich, I chatted with some local girls who were there with a 9 week old Doodle named Millie. They suggested I skip the touristy Bricktown in favor of the Paseo Arts District or The Plaza. When the guy we met at the botanical gardens dog park the next day made the same suggestion, it was a done deal.

On Friday morning when I began to stir I realized Henri had to potty. By the elaborate dance he was doing, he meant that we should go quickly.

In a state of haste, I threw on my 21c robe, slipped on my cowboy boots, and headed downstairs with my dog.

A sight I’m sure, and why this would be so much more entertaining for y’all (and embarrassing for my Mom) if a camera followed us. Fortunately, the staff was highly amused and the private party taking place was Grease themed. The women at the check-in table were in robes and curlers a la Beauty School Drop Out and I was one teen angle short of fitting right in!

After returning to our room I ordered a breakfast of yogurt with honey, granola and dried fruit. It was way more than I could eat, so Henri got to share.

Myriad Botanical Gardens

The botanical gardens are within easy walking distance of 21c but there’s a lot of urban renewal going on in the area and sidewalks are hit or miss. Also, when I got hustled in broad daylight at the national memorial, “No, I do not want to give you a blessing from Jesus,” I decided walking anywhere might not be in my best interest. Driving in downtown OKC is thankfully easy and the gardens are only about a 5 minute car ride from the hotel.

Five minutes. As in right in the middle of downtown OKC.

Myriad Botanical Gardens boasts 15 acres of natural beauty that includes splash fountains (now closed for the season), an off-leash dog park, and on the day of our visit, the children’s garden, a bustling scene of happy laughter, was staged as ‘Pumpkinville.’ Since dogs aren’t allowed into the children’s area, ‘PupVille’ had a place outside the entrance that was perfect for photos.

Taking photos at Pupville

A Pupville photo opportunity.

Now that Halloween is over, they are setting the scene for Christmas. So even though you missed Pumpkinville, you haven’t missed the holiday fun. The Devon Ice Rink opens November 11th, Winter Shoppes and the Merry Carousel return weekends starting November 25th, and I was assured that if your pup had a Christmas wish list to share with the jolly ol’ elf, he’d be glad to listen during Saturday’s with Santa.

We spent over an hour strolling the grounds and eventually made our way to the off-leash area for some sniffing and peeing. That’s where we met the cutest little puppy and his Dad. We tried to get the scoop on dog-friendly places to eat, but having lived in both Austin and New Orleans, he assured me I wouldn’t find anything interesting in OKC.

He doesn’t know me very well!

Paseo Arts District

Established in 1929 as Oklahoma City’s first commercial shopping district north of downtown, the faux Spanish village with its stucco buildings and clay tile roofs is now home to many of OKC’s local artists. We weren’t sure how dog-friendly Paseo Arts District would be but we decided to give it a try. I’m so glad we did.

Our first stop was Betsy King Shoe Boutique. Betsy was happy to welcome Henri into her shop and she was VERY displeased to discover we’d been told there was no good food in OKC. While I tried on a cute pair of animal print sneakers, she made us a list of some of her favorite patios including suggestions for what to try. Several spots at the Plaza made her list, as did Cheever’s in Uptown, and Picasso, right next door. Needless to say, you can always trust a woman with fabulous shoes to know exactly where to go!

In our meanderings through the Paseo, we discovered several dog-friendly shops and galleries. In fact, only one didn’t welcome Henri and that was because he was too big; carried dogs were welcome. Our favorite stops included The Purple Loft Art Gallery, where you will sometimes find the owner’s dogs at work with her; Craig’s Emporium, an eclectic mix of things you didn’t know you wanted; and Bone Dust Cowgirl, a vintage clothing and custom jewelry store where I almost lost my mind and my savings. One pair of Cayman Tail and one pair of Ostrich boots later, I left my business card and a request for a call if they come across black Ostrich quill with a walking heel. 8 ½ women’s, please.

After that unexpected score, I decided it was time to test Betsy’s recommendations. She’d told me that Picasso not only had a fabulous Basil Mojito but a ‘Dog Dish’ just for pups on the menu.

I have to be honest here. I had kinda discounted Picasso. A quick internet search of Paseo restaurants revealed a “local health-conscious café” with a “farm-to-table menu with vegan options.” Oh, look. All the food trend buzz words. Eye roll. I was hungry and hoped to find something not too weird, but having not actually looked at the menu, I was relying on Betsy. Trust the woman with the shoes, I tell ya.

First, let me start by telling you that Picasso has six menus including a drink menu that’s longer than the other five put together. Second, there are plenty of delicious sounding non-vegan options. Our waiter told me that the goal of Picasso was to create a place with something for everyone at the table. So guess what I had?

Fried Green Tomato Po Boy

Vegan? Me? Noooo!

Fried Green Tomato Po’ Boy with Picasso greens, cucumber chow chow, and garlic aioli on a fresh hoagie bun from local bakery, Prairie Thunder. With a side of Parmesan Risotto, it was FAN-Freaking-Tastic!

The Basil Mojito? Perfect.

Henri’s Dog Dish consisted of chicken and rice with fresh spinach and fancy carrot curls. For those of you wondering if humans and dogs share the same plates, they don’t. The Dog Dish is served in a disposable paper bowl.

Good job, Picasso, for exceeding expectations on every level, and thanks, Betsy, for the recommendation. Next time we’re in OKC, we’re hanging out with you!

Once Henri finished picking the chicken and rice out of his bowl and scattering the carrots for the birds hopping around on the patio, we paid our tab and made our way back to 21c. It was my plan for us to rest a bit, then head back out and get into something else. I had a great recommendation from the 21c staff, but even the promise of a newly opened wine bar with a dog-friendly patio, didn’t rally us. OKC Abstract was having a huge party in the gallery space and that was as far as we got. An hour of that had Henri ready for some quiet time. While one of the abstract relators held Henri for me, I grabbed a glass of wine from the bar and took it to our suite.

Although I wish dogs were at least allowed in the lounge portion of the bar and/or on the patio at 21c OKC, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt more welcome in a hotel. Not once did we enter or exit the lobby without someone greeting us, usually calling Henri by name and sometimes stopping to pet him. On Thursday evening, an employee offered to hold Henri’s leash outside the bar while I grabbed a drink and on several occasions someone offered to take a photo for us. I’m pretty sure all of the employees we encountered have dogs of their own and that lent itself to the genuineness of the hospitality. We shared stories and photos of our dogs, they made recommendations about places to go, and they seemed truly interested in our adventures and experience.

Each 21c is different, but I’m guessing you can expect the same great attention, if not access, at every location. Their Furry Friends Policy states that pets must be kept on a leash or in a carrier in public areas, and while pets may be left unattended in guest rooms, the front desk should be notified with information regarding how long you’ll be gone and a phone number where you can be reached. A fee of $150 per stay will be charged for any pet, and though not a hard limit, the preference is for pets to be under 60 lbs. Both the weight restriction and fee are waived for service animals.

“In the event of a Zombie Apocalypse lock yourself in your room and defend yourself against the inevitable horde of zombies. Feel free to use any guest room items and/or equipment to protect yourself.” -From the 21c Safety Guidelines.

I’m guessing if this occurs, payment for additional cleaning bills or repairs will also be waived.

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Autumn Adventures

Dog at pumpkin patch

Henri sits patiently for the perfect fall photo

As much as I hate to admit it, the temperatures are slowly dropping, the leaves are starting to change, and soon the days will be much shorter and the nights a lot longer. It may be the most beautiful time of year, but for me, it’s the saddest. The boats will be winterized, the tan lines will start to fade, and I’ll be clinging to every warm ray of sunshine like a cat looking for a good nap.

Thank God for football! It distracts me from my depression.

I suppose the good news is there’s lots of seasonal stuff to do…Fall Color Tours, Halloween parties, and Oktoberfesting. In celebration of all things fall (y’all), here are some suggestions for autumn adventures.

Wine Tours

As the landscape changes from the lush green of summer to the vibrant hues of fall, there is no better time to visit a winery. Strolling through a vineyard while sipping a new vintage and enjoying a crisp afternoon, might be just the thing to take your mind off the impending Equinox. Henri and I are frequent visitors to our local winery, Sassafras Springs. It’s the perfect place for me to do a little writing while Henri lounges on the deck or plays in the creek. We call it ‘work’.

For a bigger adventure, check out the Monticello Wine Trail in Virginia. Most of the wineries are dog-friendly and at Keswick Vineyards, winners of the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup, they host Yappy Hour every Sunday until the end of October. Need another reason to check out Keswick? It’s the only winery I know of that has a fenced dog park on the property. It’s not huge but it’s bigger than a small backyard and you can have lunch at the picnic table while your pooch makes friends off-leash. Visit the dog-friendly tasting room and pick up a bottle of their Les Vents. There are two dogs on the label and a portion of Yappy Hour sales are donated to local rescues.

Oktoberfest

The Pumpkin Ale is starting to flow but nowhere will you find a festival like this. In the middle of October, head south to Austin, TX for Dogtoberfest on the 15th. This event has been named “Most Awesome-ist Pet Related Event” in the Austin Pets Directory Annual Readers Poll six years in a row. Last year it was attended by over 8000 people and their BFFs. Hosted at the The Domain, an outdoor shopping venue, you can participate in the DogtoberTROT, a 1k walk for two and four-legged friends, then stay for the main event which includes a silent auction, canine costume contest, wiener dog races, and a variety of pet-related demonstrations.

After the event, which lasts from 10-4 p.m., walk over to the entertainment district known as Rock Rose for dinner and drinks with your pooch. With a dog-friendly rooftop patio that overlooks the area, Dogwood is a favorite spot. If you can’t find a seat, try Jack and Ginger’s right next door.

Howl-oween

At the end of October, you’ll want to check out all the spook-tacular fun at Dog Party USA in our hometown. Dog Party is where I met Henri, and Chaddie, one of the owners, tricked me into adopting him. They’ll be celebrating their 11th Anniversary with the annual Halloween Party from 5:30-8:30 p.m. This year’s theme is ‘Peace, Love & Paws’, and if you want to win the costume contest, you’ll need to get creative. The competition is tough! The event is FREE and includes food, drinks, live music, games and prizes. I don’t know what we’re wearing yet but after going as Kim Possible and Rufus one year, I promised Henri I’d never dye him with kool-aide again. He was pink for weeks!

Feast of St. Francis

In addition to all these fun events, let’s not forget to give special thanks for all our furry friends on October 4th, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. The national shrine is located in San Fransisco, CA but many local dioceses honor the tradition of the patron saint of animals by hosting ‘Blessing of the Animals’ services. Even though the Pope said all dogs go to heaven, who doesn’t need a good blessing once in awhile?

Happy Fall, Y’all!

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5 Dog Travel Dos and Don’ts

Lolita Art Pictures

No Dogs by Lolita Art Pictures on VisualizeUs

If you’re like me, and I assume you are or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, then you’re one of the estimated 51% of people who frequently travel with their pets. That puts you in a unique position to be an ambassador for the trend and your behavior can either help or hurt our cause.

As a professional trainer and traveler I have a lot of opportunity to witness the actions of pet parents. Inattention is the number one problem but lack of preparation is right behind it. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a short and certainly incomplete list of dos and don’ts that I think will help you and your dog (and the rest of us with our dogs) be welcomed guests at any dog-friendly establishment.

DON’T use flexi-leashes on outings.

Flexi-leashes are the bane of my dog training existence and with little exception I hate them. Your dog doesn’t need to be 25 feet away from you on the walking trail or licking the zucchini two booths over while you pay for your tomatoes at the farmer’s market. A flexi might be good for potty duties, but for most other situations it’s a safety hazard that affords you little, if any, control, teaches your dog nothing, and can actually hurt people. Stop using them!

DON’T allow your dog to go up to strangers in restaurants or bars. 

If you’re fortunate enough to be in a place that allows your dog, be considerate of others. Not everyone thinks he’s adorable. Keep him close to you and pay attention to the reactions of other patrons. If somebody’s eyes are bugging out of their head maybe it’s because a dog looking just like yours once attacked them. Instead of condemning their irrational fear, send them a drink. If someone wants to pet your pooch, let them come to you instead of allowing your pup to wander over to them. Even if they’re ok with it, it’s better to be in the habit of sticking tight.

DO pick-up after your dog. 

This is the number one complaint of non-dog owners and is frequently the first reason given as an excuse for banning dogs from an area (Big Dam Bridge walkers in Little Rock, AR., I’m talking to you). One would think this could go without saying, but since every time I go to the park, I see poop that hasn’t been picked-up, I know it can’t. That key ring in your purse? I don’t know anyone who actually uses it. Hang your bag dispenser there. You only carry a wallet? If it can hold a condom, it can fit a poop bag. Sure, sometimes you get caught without one- condoms and poop bags- but maybe you should keep them in the same drawer. Being responsible is sexy!

DO abide by posted policies.

No Dogs Allowed. All Dogs Must Be On A Leash. Please Pick Up After Your Dog. You might feel as if there are a million tiny impositions on your fun with Fido but if you know the policy, please try to abide by it. Admittedly, some things are more of a guideline than a rule but make sure you know the difference before you go running down the beach off-leash. Bending and breaking rules for your own convenience doesn’t help us in the on-going campaign to make more places dog-friendly. If a place doesn’t welcome your dog, protest with your dollars by going elsewhere instead of sneaking or lying about your ‘service dog’ to gain access. Which brings me to…

DON’T pretend your dog is a service dog. 

This is another one of those that really chaps me, maybe more than flexi-leashes. Yeah, it’s easy to do if your dog is well-behaved. Yeah, you can go online and order a vest and a certificate that identifies your dog as a working animal. Yeah, I know flights are cheaper and room deposits are often waived, but did YOU know it’s ILLEGAL?! Yes.

 In many states, it is an actual criminal offense to portray your dog as a service animal if he isn’t.

Service dogs are a life-saver for people with disabilities and pretending you have one when you don’t will make it more difficult for someone with a real need, if your dog happens to take a dump in the middle of the mall (I’ve seen it happen) or snatch a chicken strip off the neighboring table. That Border Collie trembling in the hotel elevator as if death is surely upon him isn’t fooling anyone with his fake credentials.

Just Behave!

Billions of dollars are spent by pet owners every year and accommodating travelers and their pets is becoming big business. The only way to continue opening doors for our pets is to be model citizens when we are on the go. If we want to not only enjoy the benefits of a dog-friendly world, but encourage establishments to open their doors and expand their policies to include our furry friends, we have to BEHAVE.

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Moonlight Paddle

Canoeing on the White River

Henri enjoys the scenery at sunset

Saturday. 8:56 p.m. I sent a text to my Mom, “Henri and I are having a night paddle! We paddled to the brewery at sunset and we’ll paddle back in the moonlight. It’s kinda awesome!”

Mom replies, “May you both have your life jackets on and have fun!”

My response, “May neither of us fall in the water cause it’s dirty and gross! The bluffs are pretty though. So I look at that.”

Two guesses how this story ends…

Sunset at Beav-O-Rama
(Yes, that’s a real place)

Several times this spring and summer I’ve been tagged in an invite to join a group of folks for a ‘Moonlight Paddle’. The paddle begins a little before sunset at Beav-O-Rama. The group paddles about an hour up the White River, banks on the shore, then takes a short walk to Saddlebock Brewery. After the moon rises, the group paddles back.

This past Saturday night I was in town without plans, and my friend Amanda, along with her dog, Violet, agreed to share their canoe with me and Henri.

Violet the Rat Terrier mix

Violet takes paddling very seriously

Amanda is a seasoned paddler and feels about the river the way I feel about the lake. Always ready. We’ve know each other a while but we’ve never paddled together. So I wasn’t really sure how it’d work out for us. I’m a novice, and according to most of my more advanced friends, paddling together can make or break a relationship.

As one girlfriend once put it, “I either had to get my own boat or get a new boyfriend.”

My strategy with Amanda was to follow her lead and do what I was told. The only problem we had on the way to the brewery was Violet- who’s used to paddling solo with her Mom- wondering why I was in her seat.

 

This is a smooth, easy paddle for a novice- if you’re in the right kind of boat.

As I indicated in my text to Mom the water isn’t especially lovely, but the surrounding scenery is. High weather-worn bluffs with cascading greenery, the occasional Heron or splash of a fish, birds singing, and green pastures with grazing cows languishing in the cool the water.

Remember the cows.

Once at the brewery, where leashes are kinda optional, we enjoyed relaxing on the deck. We played some baggo, sang some songs, ate and drank. As we readied ourselves for the return paddle, it became apparent that one member of our group was in no condition to manage her boat. She had come in a kayak, a not-designed-for-still-water-very-unstable kayak. The safest option was for me to take her boat and her to ride with Amanda.

Moonrise on the White

As I’ve already said, I am a novice. The sum of my paddling experience is exactly two float trips, one paddle boarding excursion, and less than a dozen ocean kayaks.

Sure. I got this.

It seemed the wise decision was to leave all of my stuff in Amanda’s boat and just take Henri. There was a small ice chest behind the seat of the kayak, but I couldn’t reach it without affecting our stability. With straps on my shades and a life vest on my dog, we traded vessels.

Unsteady doesn’t begin to describe how I felt in this boat! My strength is in my legs, not my core, not to mention that I’m easily distracted and not a fast/strong paddler. Fortunately, it was a patient group.

Then, it happened.

I was paused in a cove-like area talking or looking at something, and suddenly, we weren’t in the boat anymore. All I could think as we went over was ‘clear Henri’. Somehow, I also managed to grab the ice chest.

For a few brief minutes, I wasn’t quite sure where Henri was. I knew he was safe because I’d pushed him away from me and the boat, and he had his vest. He apparently swam to the nearest sympathetic paddler he could find and when the poor guy tried to help Henri onto his kayak, he dumped too. Sorry, dude. Thanks for trying to save my dog. I owe you a beer.

Once I realized Henri was in a bit of a panic, I had someone else hold my boat so I could get my dog. I called him and he swam to me, then together we swam to the shore.

To the same shore where the cows had been “languishing in the cool water”. Do you know what else cows do in the water?! Yup. That.

We dumped our boat in what will forever and henceforth be referred to as…

Cow S**t Cove!

Thankfully, I didn’t have time to think about that as the incident ensued, but I had a LOT of time to think about it as we paddled back to our cars.

I also had a lot of time to think about it as I drove home, windows down, Henri and I drying to a foul, muddy crust in the humidity of an Arkansas July midnight.

Once home, I pretty much stripped on my front porch (Sorry, Mom. I don’t think anyone was looking.) and left everything outside. I carried Henri to the bathroom where we both got in the shower. For once, Henri didn’t seem to mind.

Sunday. 9:49 a.m. I sent another text to Mom, “So much for NOT falling in the water.”

Circle of Life

While you’re still laughing and I have your attention, I want to take a brief minute to talk about protection and conservation of our natural resources. There’s a reason the water on that portion of the White isn’t so great, and that reason could be runoff from pasture land.

In these parts, it’s a big issue.

Excess nutrients found in fertilizers and manure contribute greatly to the depletion of oxygen in our water systems. Without oxygen, the ecosystem can’t survive.

In 2012 a huge stink (pun totally intended) was raised when an industrial scale hog facility was built on the banks of Big Creek, just 5 miles upstream from the Buffalo National River. The Buffalo is our nation’s first designated ‘national river’ and we need everyone’s help to protect it. Please visit the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance for more information or get involved protecting the watersheds in your own community.

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