Game On! Intrepid Pup Bracketology: The 2014 Edition

Tavish with a ball

This Intrepid Pup Bracketology is serious business!

Yep, it’s that time of year again when Intrepid Pup Tavish goes out on the proverbial limb and makes his predictions for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. If Tavish’s consistently inconsistent bracketology prowess is news to you, we unabashedly refer you to our 2012 and 2013 editions where his highly entertaining (and completely unbiased!) process is explained and even shown in action. To briefly recap, though, Tavish does not watch endless hours of game footage. Nor does he use some mathematician’s code-based matrix. 

Nope, Tavish relies entirely on his gut.

And this year, his gut had lots of itty bitty pieces of spinach-flavored, shamrock-shaped homemade dog treats that somebody baked him for St. Patrick’s Day.

So what did his gut say?  Let’s just cut to the chase:

 

2014brackets

Click the image to open a larger PDF version

 

Three years into this whole Intrepid Pup Bracketology escapade, we’ve finally fine-tuned the methodology to where Tavish can make his 68 picks in about 40 minutes–considerably less time than it takes Greg Gumbel and crew on CBS’s Selection Sunday.

Every year, Tavish’s gut reminds us that it’s very fickle indeed. He always seems to conjur up an early Cinderella to beat Duke (Way to go, Mercer!) and certainly champions his share of underdogs (Here’s lookin’ at you, 12-seed Stephen F. Austin, wherever you are). But just when you think you see a pattern emerging with teams with dog mascots (Go, UConn Huskies! Rock on, Gonzaga Bulldogs!), Tavish gets all conventional and advances some very solid teams (That’d be YOU, Creighton). Only very rarely does he hesitate, but there was a brief instant of introspection (or maybe just inattention?) before deciding the fate of his Dayton/St. Louis final in favor of the Billikens.

After Intrepid Pup buzzed through his choices for this year, one member of Team Tavish looked over his completed brackets and remarked disbelievingly, “Sheesh, there sure aren’t going to be many people with these picks!” That, friends, is the point. There won’t be many any people whose brackets look like this. And Tavish still has the same 9.2 quintillion-to-1 odds of winning the Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. Delightful, isn’t it? Welcome to the madness of March. How do your brackets stack up?

P.s.  Several of you commented last year on how nice it was to see Tavish’s elusive housemate (Hobbes the cat) get in on the picks. We tried to rekindle that again this year, but Hobbes couldn’t have cared less. Picking brackets is for the dogs!  🙂

Tavish: Faster than a Speeding Airplane?

FASTER

Faster than a flying Orville? Why, yes! Tavish covered the famous “first flight” distance of 120 feet in about half the time it took Orville Wright to fly it — without even breaking into a pant.

In this post we’re seeing if Intrepid Pup Tavish is faster than an airplane. Well, not just any airplane. More specifically: whether he’s faster than the first airplane. And to do that, we head to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright first achieved powered, controlled, and sustained human flight on December 17, 1903 at 10:35 AM.

The site was a relatively remote coastal area when the Wrights were here more than a century ago, and they’d specifically chosen it because they could experiment without a lot of distractions and—presumably—prying eyes. The dune environment also afforded fairly consistent breezes and sandy landings to boot. After all, laying claim to being the first in flight was very much a risky venture!

Today Kill Devil Hills is a big draw for beach-goers to the Outer Banks, and the Wrights’ humble proving ground is now managed by the National Park Service as the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

A short distance from the Visitor Center is a large granite boulder commemorating the spot where Orville took flight. A pathway extends from it, and four markers along the way show the ever-increasing distances the Wrights successfully flew that momentous morning. To better Orville’s historic first flight, Tavish would have to cover 120 feet in less than 12 seconds. Complicating matters was that 1) park regulations dictated that Tavish needed to remain on a leash, and 2) a preponderance of prickly pear cacti in the field meant he also had to stay on the straight and narrow! In fact, Tavish had already managed to step on a prickly pear earlier in his visit, so he wasn’t eager for a repeat.

With one member of Team Tavish holding the leash and the other standing at the 120-foot mark with the stopwatch app primed on a smartphone (my, how far technology has come!), Tavish was literally straining to get going. But could he do it? In a word? Yes. Handily. The Intrepid Pup didn’t exactly break the sound barrier that pilot Chuck Yeager would end up doing a mere 44 years after Orville severed the bonds of earth…but, boy, did Tavish hustle! Final time? 5.89 seconds. And Park Ranger Shafer even handed us a little card to record the achievement (see above). Mission accomplished. Actually, seeing Tavish sprint across aviation’s sacred ground really put things in perspective: only a handful of generations ago, powered flight was inconceivable and now we don’t even think twice about boarding an airplane and jet-setting around the globe.

WrightBrothersFlyer

Tavish gets an Orville-eye-view of Kill Devil Hills from Stephen Smith’s life-size sculpture, December 17, 1903.

In March of 1917—more than 13 years after his first flight and just five after his brother Wilbur’s untimely demise from typhoid, Orville got a dog: a St. Bernard named Scipio. (We always knew Orville was a cool guy). Fortunately the Library of Congress has 13 marvelous photographs of Scipio, and it leaves us to wonder:  Did Scipio ever sense his owner’s lofty achievements? And could he, too, run faster than a flying Orville?

 

 

 

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansDogging the Details

36° 0′ 51.20″ N,  75° 40′ 4.40″ W
Wright Brothers National Memorial
, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (milepost 7.5)

A visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial scores a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for providing a fun, outdoor experience on a very historic site. There’s a nominal park entrance fee, but there’s waaaay more to do than just test whether you can outrun the first airplane. Take in everything the park has to offer, and you’ll easily cover approximately 1.5 miles with your dog.

Wright Brothers hangar

A reconstructed replica of the Wrights’ hangar provides some welcome shade for the Intrepid Pup.

If you’re going in the summer months—as we did—be aware that the grounds are exposed and can get very hot. Bring along water for your pup; there are restrooms and drinking fountains onsite for a refill. Shade is hard to come by, but Tavish found some in the replica of the Wrights’ hangar. Be sure to trek up Big Kill Devil Hill to get a panorama of the park but also a view to the sea. This promontory was where the Wrights logged thousands of glider flights testing their theories on how best to control pitch and yaw. It’s topped by an impressive 60-foot granite shaft erected by Congress and dedicated in 1932. By the time we got to the monument, it was high noon and pretty toasty, so Tavish’s Ruffwear Swamp Cooler ™ Vest  provided him extra comfort.

Wright Brothers monument

Crowning Big Kill Devil Hill is a monument to the Wright brothers’ crowning achievement, “the conquest of the air.”

Before turning back to further explore the Visitor Center or catch a ranger program, head downhill beyond the memorial. At the apex of the loop road  is a five-ton bronze and stainless steel sculpture group by Stephen Smith entitled, December 17, 1903. It captures that exact instant of first flight preserved in a photograph known the world over. In fact, it makes for a pretty great backdrop for taking some photos of your own (see below).

Finally, there are even more places to explore with your pup within easy distance of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Check out the Intrepid Pup’s earlier post, “Summer Fun: 5 Dog-Friendly OBX Destinations” for a few suggestions!

Sculpture by Stephen Smith

The hand of “Wilbur Wright” holds the leash that includes the Intrepid Pup in this now-famous scene. Sensing that they’d be successful on December 17, 1903, the Wrights wanted to photograph the instant the flyer left the ground. They set up a tripod, and Orville asked bystander John Daniels if he’d man the camera. (No pressure, there, right?) The rest is history. Better yet? It was the first time Daniels had ever used a camera!

National Howl-iday Scene, Part VI: President’s Park

Pathway of Peace 2013

Tavish beholds the National Christmas Tree from the Pathway of Peace in President’s Park. The national tree has been illuminated by GE since 1963–originally with thousands of incandescent bulbs and now entirely by eco-friendly LEDs. The lighting design changes each year.

Intrepid Pup Tavish has been in dogged pursuit of the best of the national howl-iday scene. In Christmases past and present, he’s sniffed out “Season’s Greenings” activities at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, yuletide preparations at The Biltmore, and much more (see the blog index for the others).  His next stop? The National Christmas Tree!

The tree lives year-round on the grounds of President’s Park, 82 acres maintained by the National Park Service and encompassing the White House itself. For much of the year visitors take little note of the evergreen on the Ellipse, but come December, it becomes the focal point of the park. Fitted with a mantel of LED lights, the tree is officially turned on by the President during a televised ceremony complete with a concert.

Tavish in President's Park with the 2012 National Menorah

Lighting of a national menorah was a tradition begun by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 in nearby Lafayette Park. The 30-foot menorah was incorporated into the President’s Park festivities in 1987. Here’s Tavish in 2012 on the final night of Hanukkah.

President Franklin Pierce is credited with putting up the first Christmas tree inside the White House in 1856, but it wasn’t until 1923 that President Calvin Coolidge lit a national tree outside for the benefit of the American people. For more than 90 years, the storied tradition of a national Christmas tree has continued. Early on, the ceremony took place either on the White House lawn or in nearby Lafayette Park, and various trees were designated as the “national community Christmas tree.” During WWII a national tree was decorated but never illuminated. When the ceremony permanently moved to its existing location on the Ellipse in 1954 to better accommodate crowds, the National Park Service began annually cutting and transporting a tree to the site. By the early 1970s, however, they returned to having a planted tree, and there have been 5 since. The long standing 1978-2011 tree was removed after irreparable storm damage. Its replacement lasted only a year before succumbing to transplant shock. The current National Christmas Tree—a 28-foot-tall Colorado Blue Spruce—was planted in October 2012.

Just as the trees have changed, so too has the pageantry at President’s Park evolved. Various elements have been added, such as a menorah (1987), a model railroad (1993), and Santa’s Workshop (2008); others have fallen by the wayside like the Yule Log (2012) and live reindeer. Performances by local choirs and musical groups occur nightly (except Mondays) following the initial tree lighting ceremony and continue all the way up until Christmas Eve. What has remained a constant since first introduced on the Ellipse in 1954 is the Pathway of Peace, a walkway lined by cut Fraser Firs to flank the National Christmas Tree each December. The Pathway now contains 56 tree representing all 50 states, plus Washington, DC, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each is decorated with distinctive ornaments handmade by schoolchildren and artisans from that region.

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansDogging the Details

38°53′41.57N,  77° 2′10.98W
The National Christmas Tree
, President’s Park, Washington, DC
Annually, early December to January 1 ( site is accessible 10 AM – 10 PM)

National Tree 2013

The 2013 National Christmas Tree with the White House in the background.

President’s Park ranks a “1” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for being relatively easy to get to and for providing a unique experience once you’re there. If you’re coming with your dog, plan on doing some walking as you can’t bring your pup on the Metro system. Metered street parking is available, though, and we’ve found that it’s usually a little easier to find a space in the blocks west or north of the White House. Timing your visit for during the week or early in the evenings also helps.

Leashed dogs are permitted on the grounds of the National Christmas Tree, and admission is free—no tickets or reservations are required. Be forewarned, however, that there are typically large crowds, which aren’t always every pup’s cup of tea. If your dog doesn’t like getting jostled or is otherwise prone to claustrophobia, simply forgo walking along the Pathway of Peace; you can still enjoy the tree lights from afar from various vantage points throughout the Ellipse. It’s also been our experience that visitors are so busy looking at the tree that they’re not necessarily looking down and may even be startled to see a pooch in their midst. For your and your dog’s comfort, we recommend visiting at an off-peak time. If you’re going at night, consider adding something reflective so your pet stands out and is visible to other passersby (Tavish’s Chilly Dog® jacket has reflective piping, and he sometimes wears his Nite Ize® SpotLit blinking LED collar light, too). Your best photo ops will come a bit away from the fray, where the Pathway leads south from the tree and opens up onto the Ellipse. With the tree and the White House as your backdrops in the middle distance, you also won’t be holding up throngs of foot traffic to get that perfect shot!

Summer Fun: 5 Dog-Friendly OBX Destinations

Tavish on the beach by Jennette's Pier

OBX:  three little letters stand for North Carolina’s Outer Banks and a summer full of fun for dogs and people alike. Many locations along the Outer Banks are denoted simply by their milepost number along U.S. Highway 158.  At Whalebone Junction, the road becomes a decidedly less-congested N.C. Route 12 and is the gateway to Cape Hatteras, designated the country’s first national seashore in 1953. Beaches are dog-friendly, with regulations varying by town and season. Here are the Intrepid Pup’s picks for the top five scenic and sandy spots at this east coast playground:

Bodie Island Light Station

After wandering the grounds, be sure to follow the 1/8-mile boardwalk through the marsh for a picture-perfect view.

35° 49′ 5.30″ N,  75° 33′ 51.53″ W
Bodie Island Light Station
, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Open March – December

Throughout the centuries, the storms and shoals defining this stretch of coastline have wrecked more than 600 ships. Were it not for the area’s lighthouses and lifesaving services, this Graveyard of the Atlantic would have claimed even more. Don’t miss Bodie Island Light Station, the 164.4-foot black and white striped beacon whose light is visible from 19 miles at sea. Constructed in 1872, it’s actually the third light station to occupy that approximate location. Since 2000, it’s been maintained by the National Park Service, and you can even take a ranger-led tour up the tower.  While dogs aren’t currently allowed inside the light station, that wasn’t always the case. A Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chess used to climb the tower every day, accompanying his master Vernon Gaskill who served as Bodie Island’s last civilian-era keeper (1919-1939).  According to Elinor De Wire’s book, The Lightkeepers’ Menagerie—on sale in the light station’s gift shopChess had no problem with the heights but apparently drew the line at entering the lantern room, because he didn’t like the odor of kerosene!

Tavish at the Lost Colony

The emptiness here adds to the mystery and kind of proves a point. After all, it is the Lost Colony.

35° 56′ 9.79″ N,  75° 42′ 35.35″ W
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island, North Carolina
Open year-round

A newly renovated visitor center at this National Park Service site interprets the history of Roanoke Island, from Algonquian homeland in the 1500s to a refuge for runaway slaves during the Civil War. But the spot is perhaps best known for what it wasn’t, namely a successful English colony. In fact, no one knows for certain what became of the English settlers who’d arrived in 1587.  When Governor John White returned to check on his transplants to the New World three years later, the 117 colonists plus White’s ill-fated granddaughter Virginia Dare (the first Christian baby born in Virginia) seemed to have vanished into thin air.  An abandoned fort and the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post are the scant clues in this unsolved mystery.

You, too, can explore the grounds of the lost colony. Pass a reconstructed version of the original earthen fort and join up with the Hariot Nature Trail for what amounts to about a 20-minute walk. We came upon a flock of ibises unhurriedly picking their way through the clearing. The wooded trail is slightly overgrown in spots and is punctuated by markers identifying types of trees and habitats. Sprinkled in are quotes drawn from accounts in Old English affirming the myriad challenges that the colonists faced. The trail provides a  picturesque view of Albemarle Sound before circling back to the Visitor Center.  Let us know if you happen to make the separate 2.5-mile round-trip hike on the Freedom Trail out to Croatan Sound—we were unfortunately thwarted in our attempt by a severe thunderstorm!

NagsHeadBeach

The Intrepid Pup officially “off duty” on the beaches of Nags Head.

35° 54′ 36.32″ N,  75° 35′ 43.77″ W
Nags Head Beaches & Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 16.5)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the towns of Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Southern Shores all permit dogs on their beaches with varying degrees of seasonal access and leash laws. Team Tavish and the Intrepid Pup particularly like the beaches in Nags Head, because dogs are allowed on the beach year-round and at any time of day so long as they are on a maximum 10-ft leash and owners clean up.

Jennette's Pier

A bronze sea turtle stands watch by the pier house on Jeannette’s Pier.

While Tavish loves the water, he isn’t big on swimming, and that’s actually just fine here, because one does have to be mindful of the dangerous rip currents that can lurk offshore. But the beaches are clean and wide…perfect for an Intrepid Pup to snuffle the sand, poke at shells, crabs and seaweed, and skitter through the foamy surf. Walk the beach at sunrise and you’re sure to catch glimpses of skimming pelicans and playful porpoises offshore. Hard to miss at the heart of the beach’s Whalebone District is Jennette’s Pier (see photo at top). It’s been at this location since 1939, and  its current iteration is all concrete and extends 1,000 feet  into the Atlantic Ocean. Dogs aren’t permitted in or beyond the pier house, but you can get as far as the oversize bronze sculpture of a sea turtle. From that vantage point you can watch all the anglers heading out onto the pier to catch bluefish, cobia, skate, pigfish, mackerel, sea mullet, and more.

Tavish at Jockey's Ridge

The dunes at this state park are very cool…just be mindful of your dog’s paws, because the sand can get hot, hot, HOT!

35° 57′ 50.37″ N,  75° 37′ 59.38″ W
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 12)
Open year-round

Did you know that this 420-acre state park represents the eastern United States’ largest natural dune system? It’s open to the public year-round, though park hours vary by season. Parking and general access are free. Dogs are allowed, so long as they remain on 6-foot leashes. From the visitor center, you can stroll a 360-foot boardwalk to a dune overlook, set out on the 1.5-mile “Tracks in the Sand” interpretive trail, take a mile-long walk on the “Soundside” nature trail…or simply scale the dunes. The shifting sands create a ridge that varies in height from 80 to 100 feet, providing spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. With fairly steady prevailing winds, Jockey’s Ridge is a favorite destination for kiteboarders and sandboarders. On the morning of our visit, hang gliding lessons were just getting underway, and the park was also gearing up for a big kite festival. We’d been forewarned that the sand at Jockey’s Ridge can get anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so Tavish came prepared wearing his Ruffwear Swamp Cooler™ vest (a real godsend that made all the difference in his comfort in the dry heat), and he had his protective paw booties at the ready.  A word to the wise:  try taking off your shoes. If it’s too hot to walk on the dunes barefoot, it’ll definitely be too hot for your pup!  When we reached the ridge, the radio announcer for the kite festival approached us to pet  Tavish. Taking stock of all of our water bottles and gear, he remarked, “Wow, I can’t tell you how many people I see come up here with no water for themselves, let alone for their dogs. Big mistake.”

Tavish Wright Brothers National Memorial

The sky’s the limit at the Wright Brothers National Memorial!

36° 0′ 51.20″ N,  75° 40′ 4.40″ W
Wright Brothers National Memorial
, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (milepost 7.5)
Open year-round

Modern aviation is indebted to two Ohio brothers who journeyed to what at the turn-of-the 20th century was a remote patch of dunes. Carefully chosen for the winds, lack of distractions, and sandy landings, Kill Devil Hills was where Orville and Wilbur Wright first achieved powered, controlled, and sustained human flight on December 17, 1903.  You can follow in the brothers’ flight path with a visit to this National Park Service memorial. With Tavish in tow, we covered a total of approximately 1.5 miles walking the grounds. A pathway with stone markers traces the trajectories and landings of the Wrights’ first four powered flights. Trek uphill to get a panorama of the site, topped by a 60-foot granite memorial; it’s the same promontory from which the Wrights had earlier experimented with glider flights. Before turning back to further explore the informative Visitor Center, head downhill beyond the memorial. At the apex of the trail loop is a bronze and stainless steel sculpture group entitled, December 17, 1903. It captures the same instant of first flight as the iconic photograph and makes for a pretty nifty photo opp all its own!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansYou see a lot of dogs on the Outer Banks enjoying outdoor activities a-plenty. So at first we were puzzled by the fact that dog-friendly lodging and dining weren’t as abundant. It turns out that many dog-owning OBX vacationers rent beach houses by the week (Sunday to Saturday) so they’re not needing as many hotels and always have the option of cooking in.  That being said, there are approximately a dozen pet-friendly overnight accommodations. We stayed at the Dolphin Oceanfront Motel (milepost 16.5), finding it to be minimalist but functional, with its key attribute being that it had a primo location right on the beach. By no means inexpensive, it was still comparatively less pricey than the pet-friendly rooms at the national hotel chains and some of the local B&Bs.

Tavish at the Front Porch Cafe

Chillaxing at the Front Porch Cafe

Foodwise, we stopped at a couple places with patio dining only to discover that dogs weren’t allowed.  We hit the jackpot, though, in finding the Front Porch Cafe for breakfast. We ate at their locations in Nags Head (milepost 10.5) and Kill Devil Hills (milepost 6). In addition to making a good cup o’ joe, they have a wide assortment of muffins, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. We sat outside in roomy Adirondack chairs, and the staff was quick to offer Tavish dog biscuits and a bowl of water.  Pigman’s Bar-B-Que was our other find. We took our order out to their picnic tables, and Tavish happily sampled our Carolina-style Que, hush puppies, fries, slaw, baked beans, and cornbread. OBX ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for providing enough canine fun in the sun, sand and surf to blow Tavish’s ears back! Grab a leash and go!

Gearing Up for Summer: Intrepid Pup Reviews Ruffwear’s Swamp Cooler™ Vest

Dog Days

Maybe when I open my eyes that thermometer won’t still read 100 degrees!

Summer is almost here, and—for us, anyway—that means it’s going to get HOT.  Hot, as in: 80° at 7AM and with the heat index frequently topping 100. You get the idea. And, oh, the humidity! Truth be told, there’ll be days the air quality won’t be fit for man nor beast, and all are advised to “stay indoors and keep activity to a minimum.”  Yeah, well, um, try telling that to a vizsla.

Yet while Tavish may be the Intrepid Pup, he fades quickly in the heat. But he also goes completely bonkers if he doesn’t spend some time outside every day, so there’s got to be a happy medium during the dog days of summer, right?

Hydration is of course always critical, but for years we of Team Tavish have experimented with various additional ways of keeping Tavish cool:

  • Oceans/ponds/streams:  Yep, he loves ’em all, but they’re not always close by when you need them.
  • Spray bottles:  Tavish thinks it’s grand to be misted while out on a walk. . . but then he’s a very wet dog.
  • Cooling bandannas:  You’ve seen the various kinds with the gel beads that you wet and put in the fridge or freezer? We truly had high hopes for one we’d purchased awhile back, and it really had promise. . . until it encountered our region’s special brand of humidity. We followed all the instructions, but the gel beads apparently went into overdrive, and the bandanna swelled up so much that we initially couldn’t even velcro it around Tavish’s neck! When we finally could, poor Tavish looked like he was in traction wearing a neck brace. He gave us those puppy eyes and couldn’t turn his head. Off it came. *Sigh*
swampcoolers_horiz

“T” is for tea leaves and Tavish–all made more comfortable via the evaporative properties of a swamp cooler. Pictured at left is an industrial swamp cooler we noticed in use at the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, to keep conditions in the greenhouse consistent and just right for young tea plants. Pictured above at right is the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler ™ vest keeping Tavish one cool Intrepid Pup in Virginia.

So. . . cue the Swamp Cooler ™ vest, a relatively new product from Ruffwear, the well-known Oregon-based manufacturer of performance dog gear. Full disclosure here: Ruffwear contacted Team Tavish last year after IntrepidPup.com won “Best New Blog” in the BlogPaws 2012 “Nose to Nose Awards,” wondered if we’d be interested in trying out this product (no strings attached), and sent us one.  It turns out we’ve independently been very happy Ruffwear customers and have purchased several of their products (leashes, collars, and a pack) over the years. Since Ruffwear’s commitment to “active outdoor dogs” really resonates with the Intrepid Pup, we welcomed the opportunity to test the vest.

Originally being from coastal Maine—where high heat and humidity is kind of an alien notion—Tavish wasn’t familiar with the magical properties of the swamp coolers all you folks in the southwest have been enjoying for ages. For those not already in the know, a swamp cooler is a fairly low-tech device that works by moving hot dry air over water (or through water-soaked material), setting up an evaporation process that results in cooling. Ruffwear has managed to translate the concept into a three-ply breathable vest for dogs.

Tavish with Swamp Cooler VestSizing & Appearance

As a 42-lb. vizsla, Tavish’s slight build and a deep chest often makes sizing problematic. Pay attention to the recommended fit measurements on many dog products, and we humorously wind up with stuff clearly intended for much smaller breeds. Go by weight or girth, and Tavish ends up swimming in the “big dog” sizes. So when we find something that fits the Intrepid Pup appropriately, it’s pretty darn exciting!  Tavish went with a size medium Swamp Cooler™ that proved to be the perfect fit, affording maximum coverage of his topside while remaining lightweight and providing ample flexibility and range of motion.  It’s an easy on-off with side buckles. Tavish  took to it immediately.  No squirming here!

The vest only comes in a color officially listed as “graphite gray,” a light, icy blue intentionally selected to reflect the sun’s rays and help keep your dog even cooler.  While it’s not necessarily a color you’d pick otherwise, hey, this is about staying cool and not about runway fashion.

SwampCooler_Test1_2Performance

Counter-intuitive though you think it might be to put a vest on your dog in the middle of summer (yes, anticipate the occasional quizzical look from passersby). . . think again!  Simply douse the Swamp Cooler™ vest in cool water, gently wring it out so it’s not dripping, and put it on your dog!

Our first test of the vest was on an afternoon last July.  It was an exceptionally muggy 100° at 4PM.  Lovely.  Because it’s the Intrepid Pup, you just know our “proving ground” had to be someplace of historical interest, so we  headed for picturesque Fort Ward in northern Virginia. It dates to 1861 and was built as one among several forts defending the nation’s capital during the Civil War. Today it’s part of a city park with a 0.6-mile loop road favored by joggers  and dog walkers alike. When the temps aren’t akin to being inside a convection oven, Tavish is game for as many laps on this loop road as we are with no problem. In several previous late-day attempts without the Swamp Cooler™ vest, however, Tavish wasn’t even making it 1 full lap before pulling his impression of a mule and opting out in favor of a shade tree. What happened that afternoon?  On went the vest, and off went Tavish!  He did nearly 3 laps before calling it quits. Ok, so this isn’t as “scientific” as laboratory testing, but in our book, the Swamp Cooler™ vest bumped up Tavish’s staying power roughly 150%.  He panted but was never in distress, and his skin remained cool to the touch.  Depending on the temperature, you’ll find as we did that while the vest’s top waffle-weave layer will dry out and you may need to re-wet it, the middle and inner layers will absorb water and take on the workload of transferring the cooling effect to your dog.

The vest appears well-designed and sewn, and another nice touch is that it includes reflective trim for low-light visibility. There’s also a fabric loop on top near the neckline for attaching a beacon or other lightweight item. Our one suggestion would be to move that feature further back on the vest and perhaps switch it to a durable metal ring so it could double as leash attachment.

SandstoneFalls

The Swamp Cooler™ vest performed respectably in high humidity and predictably did even better when it was hot and dry–as it was the afternoon we took to the trails and boardwalk at Sandstone Falls in West Virginia’s New River Gorge National River recreation area.

Overall Assessment

The Swamp Cooler™ vest retails for approximately $54.95. For many dog owners, that may not constitute an impulse purchase, but it is ultimately reasonably priced for an accessory that works as advertised, fits comfortably, and is well-made.

Remember that—like any swamp cooler—the Swamp Cooler™ vest works optimally in a dry heat.  While high humidity will diminish the vest’s effectiveness, we’ve witnessed Tavish reaping measurable returns even on muggy days.

When it becomes simply too hot, you’ll find Intrepid Pup inside or in the shade with a big bowl of water. But for all those other times when some extra cooling comfort makes all the difference in being able to get Tavish out and about without bonking on the trail, we’re going with Ruffwear’s Swamp Cooler™ vest all the way.  We have several outdoor adventures planned for over the summer, and you can be sure our Swamp Cooler™ vest will be the go-to accessory when we’re on the go!