Survival Guide for Burner Dogs

Every year, at smaller burn events in the Central Texas area, where dogs are permitted to attend, there is a discussion (often heated) about whether dogs should be allowed given the risks and liabilities associated with their participation. Every year I argue that our four footed friends should be allowed and that their guardians need to be held accountable for their pet’s involvement. From the big burn in Nevada, to regionals, there is a Survival Guide, a how to for attending events, for humans. The Survival Guides help educate the participants, they create a common ground so that everyone can have a safe and fun experience at a burn. My experience with my dog, who has now attended 8 smaller burn events, is that the same holds true for pets. The guardian needs to be radically self-reliant for both themself and their dog and prepare for their care. The most important bit of experience I can convey is prepare by Knowing Your Dog and know and follow event guidelines (not just for yourself but also your dog).

Chewie, a.k.a. Safety Third: A happy burner dog at Decomp 2007

There’s an old saw about having a dog is not unlike having a perputual toddler. The comparison is especially apt with a dog at a burn event. When I bring Chewie to an event, his well-being is my primary concern. I am responsible for not only my good time, but his and everyone he interacts with, as well. I take the position of “if I wouldn’t allow a toddler to do something, I’m not going to create a situation where my dog can do that.” This includes keeping Chewie supervised, not forgetting to feed/water/meet basic needs, not being so intoxicated that I cannot care for my pet, and  MOOPing his bodliy wastes.

One aspect of camping with Chewie is that dogs (and many humans) do best when the scenery changes but the basic routine stays the same. I follow the same out at an event as we have at home. He gets fed at the same time, with the same food and water (and medication), same bowls, and is required to sit before the bowl touches the ground (our policy at home). We wake up and we take walks around the event at the same time as we would back home. This does mean having to be less carefree than I would be without him; however, he is much more relaxed and comfortable knowing that his life basics have not changed.

One of the most basic issues that comes up for humans (and also for dogs) is becoming overheated and dehydrated. This is a topic that has been covered in every Survival Guide I have read and this guide is no exception: a pet can get overheated and dehydrated and behave erratically and out of character because of that. Become familiar with the signs of dog dehydration and how to combat it before it occurs. Ensure that there is plenty of fresh water (brought from the source they get at home:”funny”, new tasting water may be rejected by some finicky dogs) available at all times. If I suspect that Chewie is being lax about drinking water, I’ll make some Dog Gatorade. This is half a teaspoon of powered beef bouillon mixed with a quart of water. Then I put out fresh water, which after the saltiness of the bouillon, he is more than happy to drink. Some folks will use Pedialyte to help restore the electrolyte balance. Remember that these are preventative measures – a dehydrated dog needs to be seen by a vet.

Even with keeping the day to day routine the same and keeping the dog hydrated, events can be overstimulating for both humans and pets alike. It is not uncommon for either species to freak out when they are overstimulated. The difference is that a dog cannot tell you that they are upset and overwhelmed. Know your dog. Know the signs, indivdual for each animals, that he or she is stressed out, scared, upset or overwhelmed. When Chewie begins to exhibit signs of distress, he goes back to Chewie Camp and hangs out in his pen.

Chewie Camp 1.0. It's gotten more involved over the years.

The photo to the left shows a very basic incarnation of Chewie Camp, his own theme camp. It now has a small pup tent (pun intended), a ten-panel plastic pen with lights, shade provided through tarps, and pillows. Your dog’s oasis need not be quite as complicated but it is imperative to have a space that smells familiar and comfortable (the dog bed and pillows are the ones he uses at home) that the dog can retreat to, when the blinkie lights and people are too much. Get creative with your dog’s camp – a big dog will have different needs and challenges than a smaller dog. I do recommend a familiar dog bed, a way to be contained (either through a leash, pen, or kennel), a big container of water, and some shade but let your imagination go wild!

To leash or not to leash, that is the perpetual question of smaller events with dogs. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that every smaller event has a leashed dog policy but the extent to which it is enforced has varied from event to event. My policy with Chewie is when we go awandering, he’s leashed (and often teathered to my utility belt, so I don’t lose the leash) and in camp he can wander about within the area or his pen. This is for both his safety and the safety of others. Chewie’s not aggressive, however, unleashed dogs pack up and a pack of dogs is a whole different animal than a dog that is leashed and mindful that their guardian in control. Additionally, I suspect that he takes a measure of comfort knowing that I am right there, supervising him. Dogs want to know who’s alpha and you are their alpha — a leash is the tangible reminder of that status. That being said, I know dogs who are far better at recall commands than Chewie and who stay close to their guardians, even without a leash. I’ve said it already and it bears repeating — Know Your Dog.

Lastly, and most importantly, bringing a dog is a responsibility, and yet, it can be one of the richest burn experiences possible. Have FUN with bringing your dog. Prepare by knowing your dog, taking care of their needs, following the event guidlines and then go nuts with creative and fun ways of interacting with furry beasts. Blinkie collars, fun and interactive dog camps, costumes! There is a a wealth of creative and interesting ways to incorporate your dog into the event in a manner that is beneficial to everyone.

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Survival Guide for Burner Dogs by Gyesika Safety is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at gyesikasafety.com.

Guest Blogging

I am pleased as punch to be the guest blogger at approximately 8,000 words, Kit O’Connell’s blog, with an article I wrote recently — Embracing Conflict.

What really tickles me about writing this article, outside of the chance to express my feelings and experiences on a topic many of us shy from, is how meta it is. Kit’s a member of my choice family and I ask you to show me a family that hasn’t had conflict. We’ve had our share and I can say, from being there, that time can be the greatest tool you have when dealing with conflict, resentment and a host of uncomfortable feelings. I’m proud of us for getting through some unfortunate and often dramatic incidents and getting back to a place of mutual support and love.

Kit is the reason I have this blog. He’s hosting the site and he set it up for me. When I came to him and said “I want to start writing publicly, how does that work?”; he almost immediately got me started. I have enjoyed seeing him find his volunteer and artistic niche in the burn community (we do art but most of it is visual in some way. He found the place for his words and did an amazing job as Flipside’s Web Content lead, this year. I look forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeve.) He found an outlet for his voice and passed that along.

Salt Shakers by harlanh, on flickr.com

The gift of conflict is that once you’ve been through it, once you’ve handled it in a positive, constructive manner, is that now you know you *can*. That, for me, is very reassuring in any relationship. I was convinced, for the better part of a year, that I had lost a member of my family and that conviction was worse than the anger and resentment. When I finally calmed down enough to engage, it was scary but now I have the comfort of knowing that we’ve been through the fire and I trust we can go through it again. Conflict as comfort, like a reassuring hug. Reframing it that way has helped me immeasurably in my relationships.

 

Pop Tarts

Recently, my wasband (yes, you can get along with someone you used to be married to, but that’s another post entirely) posted this video to my facebook page:

It’s been a rough couple of weeks recently and I’d been down on myself. The negative messages that we all hear, day in and day out, were beginning to loop in my head. As much as I’ve attempted to avoid succumbing to them, I was beginning to toilet bowl into negativity. That infectious pop song snapped me out of it. The message that we’re all good enough, that we all have enough and therefore, we all deserve to be accepted for who we are, is a hammer encased bubble wrap.

This is a message that has come up in several pop songs lately. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”

and Katy Perry’s “Firework”

The Onion’s AV Club has already covered the differences between Gaga and Perry, better than I could. What they do share is a wide audience and two songs that, to varying artistic development, state that it’s perfectly acceptable to be who you are. That those aspects of ourselves that we’ll self-deride are the very points that make us powerful creatures. That our power comes from stopping the internal cycle of derision and owning our power, even when it hurts. Perhaps especially when it hurts.

The power of a pop song is much like the tension between negative self talk and personal power: they are pervasive, insidious even. When you look beyond the fluff, the message of acceptance, of oneself and others, is hard to ignore. Because these songs are in wide circulation, they are reaching audiences that are more limited in their personal outlooks. Bigots, homophobes, and sexists are part of the milieu that listens to pop music and they might not like it; however when you can not avoid something, it will eventually change you. Just a little bit, perhaps. Perhaps that’s enough.

I am heartened to see this trend. When a air bubble like Katy Perry, who sells an idea of female sexuality to heterosexual males that I find, at best, obnoxious; also sells a message of personal tolerance, I am hopeful that the very people she sells to will gain a measure of insight. When Lady Gaga, who may be the single most notorious and popular artist, at the moment, says that being gay is not a choice, I can hope that someone will hear that and be swayed enough to rethink their position. Pink states that you can be spiraling downwards and still be lovable … well, that was a message I needed to hear today.