Saturday is National Dog Day. While few might be familiar with the annual day to honor canines, we're taking this opportunity to paws and consider.
Anchorage is a dog-crazy city. This week, we chatted with several dog owners across town and asked them to tell us about how dogs have provided joy and companionship, performed important tasks and otherwise enhanced their lives.
Meet seven Anchorage dog lovers and their canine companions. We also invite you to participate. Contribute a few sentences about why you love your dog in the comment section below.
Lindsey Bartels and Packer
Lindsey Bartels' life changed when she was a 16-year-old South High School student and seriously injured her back.
"I got dropped in a cheerleading accident in high school and broke my C-1 to C-7 (vertebrae)," she said.
The team had been practicing during football season. Bartels was a "flyer," a member of the squad who gets launched into the air, but that day she hit the floor.
Since then, it t has been a decade of difficult treatment, much of which she received out of state. Now she's 27 years old, and recovery is still an ongoing process. But when Packer, an American pit bull terrier, entered her life four years ago, it was a turning point.
Packer is trained to pull enough to assist her when they walk and retrieve her cane when she needs it. He distracts Bartels from her ever-present pain. On top of that, he's the happiest pit bull ever, she said, capable of shattering the stereotype of the breed.
"He's got that dopey smile on his face everywhere we go," she said.
Packer and Bartels often walk twice a day at the University Lake dog park. Bartels feels her core strength is increasing.
"I'm way more able now. I'm out and about walking freely with my dog, and I wasn't able to do that for the last 10 years. I'd have to have assistance. I'd have to have my cane or my walker," she said. "(Packer) changed my life completely, and now I'm semi-normal," she said.
In addition to those improvements, the dog also changed her mindset.
"If I have him with me, we can conquer the world. There's nothing that can stop us."
John Yee and Billy
John Yee said Billy, his 10-year-old mixed breed, saved the life of his other dog a few years back. The following week, Billy may have saved Yee's life.
"Some of the people here used to call him Billy the Hero," Yee said.
Yee's Jack Russell terrier had encountered a beaver at University Lake and trouble soon followed. Yee moved toward the ruckus to save the small dog, but slipped.
Billy, who seemed fearful of the beaver and its slapping tail during previous walks, didn't hesitate to help. He entered the water and joined the fight, allowing the Jack Russell to break away and head to shore.
The Jack Russell, who has since died, was unharmed that day, but Billy still has the scars from the beaver's teeth marks in his side. He required stitches at the time.
It wasn't long before Billy saved the day once more.
"Again it was my Jack Russell. He went in there (to the woods) and he instigated the moose, and all of a sudden the moose comes flying out."
With the moose closing in on him, Yee called for Billy, who came right away. The dog redirected the charging beast.
Those instances notwithstanding, Yee's time with Billy is without drama. He describes Billy as a mellow, low-maintenance dog who likes to hide when he poops. Yee's time with his dogs had been an antidote to the stress and exhaustion of owning restaurants in Anchorage. He used to own three.
Yee didn't grow up with pets, and looking back on that now, he thinks it's a shame that he missed out on the pleasure of it for so many years. He also has four cats. And he looks forward to his walks at the park with Billy.
"It's like my daily meditation," he said.
Courtney Hansen and friends
Courtney Hansen and his clients are a charming sight when they walk the streets, a slow-moving unit with two feet and 28 paws.
Last week, Hansen, the owner of Dog's Best Friend dog walking service, traveled with seven dogs along Westchester Lagoon. Their leashes were neatly fanned at his sides. No dog pulled and tried to run ahead. None made a sound.
"People ask me all the time, 'How do you get them to behave? Why are they not fighting?' And it's a tough question for me to answer," Hansen said.
It starts with a little bit of training for new dog clients. But mostly, the pets simply fall in line with the example set by the others. It's not long before each seems to understand the expected behavior. Hansen can walk as many as 10 at a time.
"It's a lot easier than most people might think," Hansen said.
Hansen has 15-25 regular clients, depending on the season, and two dogs of his own. He drives around town to gather them together, then begins his walk near wherever the last one on his list lives.
As a lifelong lover of dogs and of being outside, it was a natural business to fall into. He loves dogs for their friendship and loyalty and their ability to make him laugh. On the streets, that's a reaction that seems contagious, he said.
"I most always draw a smile from others passing, which is part of the reason I really enjoy doing what I do."
Bev Holding and Carlee
A steady stream of dogs and owners come through the front door when Bev's Dog Grooming opens for business most mornings. Bev Holding serves dozens each day, greeting many by name as they enter.
It's a busy career that she built from scratch 31 years ago. What started in rented space in what she called a "no-tell motel" in Midtown, has for decades occupied a sizable storefront on Northern Lights Boulevard. Holding, who says she's "pushing 80," doesn't do the grooming herself anymore, but enjoys interacting with customers and critiquing the work of her six staff members.
In the office, Bev keeps handwritten index cards for each customer, tracking when they come, what services they need and special handling instructions they might require. That's also where Carlee, an 18-year-old toy poodle who is Holding's constant companion, rests on her blanket.
"She's my little girl," Holding said.
Carlee was 3 months old when she came to Holding from a breeder in Tennessee. Since then, the dog has been at her side, she said, coming to work with her each day and sleeping in her bed at night.
"I won't leave her in the car when I go to the grocery store, because I'm afraid somebody will break in and steal her," Holding said.
As Carlee ages she requires more medical care, and that's been difficult. The dog has had teeth removed due to periodontal disease, and takes medicines for her gall bladder and for pain. Holding says Carlee doesn't hear at all anymore, and can't see too well either. But Carlee can find her way around the grooming shop and has a good appetite.
Recently, masses were discovered on Carlee's mammary glands. Holding, concerned about how Carlee would tolerate surgery at her age, was hesitant to schedule it. But the dog had the masses removed last week and is recovering well. So far, tests have shown the masses to be benign, but Holding was expecting more results Friday.
"She's my family, and I don't know what I'll do when anything happens," Holding said.
Thor, Xena and Amanda Anderson
Thor and Xena rolled in the freshly cut grass at Nunaka Valley North Park, burning off a bit of excess puppy energy. Amanda Anderson explained that soon the sibling pups, mixed Karelian bear dog and German shepherd breeds, will have important work to do.
"The reason why we got them is they're going to be trained to help my nephew," Anderson said.
Last year, a vehicle struck and killed her nephew J.J.'s dog on Boniface Parkway. The Anderson family intended for that dog to be trained as a service dog for J.J., who is hearing impaired and has seizures, she said.
J.J. remains traumatized by what happened, Amanda said, but the presence of Thor and Xena in their small two-bedroom apartment has helped a lot.
"Xena is quiet, but spunky. She listens really well. Thor is rambunctious, don't care, will snip at you and give you back-talk," Amanda said. "Their nicknames are Beauty and Beast."
When she turns 1 year old, Xena will be trained to provide emotional support for J.J. Thor, who is about six months younger, will be trained to assist during seizures, she said.
But J.J. isn't the only person the dogs assist. Amanda said Xena didn't leave her side when she was in bed recovering from a cold recently. They seem to know when she's down. She said she talks to the dogs a lot, and believe it or not, she's pretty sure they understand her.
"They're like my kids, so when they're hurting, I'm hurting. When they're not feeling good, I'm not feeling good, and vice versa."
Mark Wetzel and Buster
Mark Wetzel didn't have much time to be a dog person before he retired six years ago. He used to work 10-to-12-hour days, six days a week, at a grocery chain's distribution center, a job he held for 33 years.
Retirement was an adjustment. And life had thrown him other challenges around the same period, including the loss of an 18-year-old miniature schnauzer that he owned with his sister. That dog, Rudy, had been struck by a moose.
During that time, he remembers thinking he better start enjoying what he has in life.
Wetzel and his sister visited a litter of puppies in Soldotna, he said. His sister asked the puppies which one wanted to come home with them. Buster, as he would soon be named, walked forward.
"It was just a joy to have somebody at the house, wagging his little tail, jumping all over you," he said.
Now, Wetzel and Buster are twice-a-day visitors to University Lake Dog Park. It gets them out of the house and keeps them both active. Together they're part of a community, where there's always someone with whom to swap stories. Dogs are great conversation starters, he said, and that's nice.
"You get to meet a lot more interesting people and dogs. This park here, University Lake, is one phenomenal place for us owners."
Buster is not always the greatest listener, Wetzel said with a smile, but he always stays close. He likes to chew grass. He likes to be held.
Wetzel thinks his sister might have encouraged him to get a dog for the companionship when she decided to spend part of the year out of state.
"(She) probably thought that she didn't want me to be too alone, so the dog would help," he said. "And it definitely does."
Tammie Jo Sanchez and friends
Tammie Jo Sanchez lives in Eagle River, but she brought four dogs to Carr-Gottstein Park in South Anchorage to walk and play this week. It's one of her favorite places in the city, a peaceful spot with a wonderful view that looks different with each visit.
For Sanchez, a love of dogs is guiding her career change. She's leaving her job in food and beverage service with a large tourism operator.
"I have 29 days left," she said.
After that, she'll take her Alaska Canine Care business from part time to full time.
"I'm just looking to make a change where life's a little more simple. That's what I'm looking forward to."
The Anchorage area appears to be a good market for her services, she said. She explored returning to Utah where she grew up, but the demand didn't seem to be same as it is around here.
Though she's a little nervous to make the leap, Sanchez said she feeds off the excitement of the animals she cares for and the anticipation she feels to be in their company. She looks forward to the quiet of winter, her favorite time to be out on the trails with her "dog friends."
"They put you in a happy mood, especially when you're having a bad day. They can really change that around."