Nola Risse-Connolly, 45, is a communications specialist in Madison, WI, and Booker is her 55 lb. English Shepherd. Their crafts of choice are an Old Town Discovery 174, a Souris River Quetico 18.5, and a Prism solo. Together, they travel the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area, the Namekagon River in northwestern Wisconsin, and lakes and rivers around Madison. For the 9-year-old Booker, canoeing is a means to an end.
Risse-Connolly said, "We take him canoeing, but to be honest, that's not the part that he likes. He likes what happens after we canoe: the camping or being in a wild place."
Booker understands that paddle and portage take him to his happy place.
"He jumps into the canoe as soon as he can after finishing a portage. Once he even jumped into someone else's canoe."
Once he’s in the boat, however, Booker hunkers.
"Most of the time he's lying down or sitting still because he's a bit nervous in the canoe itself. He LOVES camping, though, so [he] thinks it's all worth it.”
If Daytona Beach is the where the girls are, then camp is where the squirrels are.
"He really likes coming along to places where we can have him off-leash so he can explore at will. He is a big squirrel and chipmunk dog and spends a lot of time sniffing around camp to find them. The only time he barks in the wilderness is when he trees a squirrel. Otherwise he just wants to be with his people, doing whatever they are doing."
Earthbound Booker also eyes quarry in the sky.
"In camp, Booker chased dragonflies as evening fell each night. He was so determined to catch one! He didn't, but there was lots of leaping up and dancing around. Yet, he always knew where the edge of the rock was, which was good, as we were sitting on a big ledge about 20 feet up from the water."
It's a good thing Booker didn't accidentally take up cliff diving, a popular Boundary Waters activity, as he doesn't like to swim.
"Once, at a Boundary Waters campsite, we decided to make sure he can swim because we'd only seen him wade in the water. We put on his life jacket and brought him out past where he could stand. He did start doggy paddling, but boy, was he annoyed with us! Once back on dry land, he sulked for several hours, and ignored us completely."
That sulking was out of step for the dragon(fly) fighter, who most days is happy to simply be beside his family.
"The absolute best is when I spend time reading in my hammock; he lies down beside me, and we just chill out together. He's a super sweet soul who is just happy to be with his people, even if we are not doing something active together."
Paddling takes Booker and his family to that sweet spot, where the living is easy and leftovers have to go somewhere.
"We usually canoe in order to go camping away from most of society. So, for us, the best part is going somewhere where other people aren't, where he can be himself, and he can explore with no worries. It's also super handy to be able to feed him my leftovers."
What's also "super handy" is a lifejacket with its nifty handle.
"A life jacket for the dog is super handy, even if the dog is a good swimmer. The handle on the back of it is very useful if your dog needs a boost into the canoe at a landing with poor footing/access points, or to adjust how the dog is positioned in the canoe if it's sitting in such a way as to off-balance the canoe."
A dog lover should also plan for vagaries of weather.
"You might consider taking along something to provide shade in the canoe for the dog if you're going to paddle in the sunshine with few breaks, or you might bring along a poncho to drape over the dog if you have one that dislikes rain."
Yet, there are some things that come from the sky that can't be solved with a poncho.
"The hardest time I had while paddling with Booker was during my recent solo Boundary Waters trip. I'd planned to be out for seven days and he and I had traveled to the southern end of Cross Bay Lake. I really liked the campsite, so I decided to stay put a few days. I read a lot while in the hammock with Booker underneath and we took some day trips."
For the next trip, this paddling pair want to paddle even farther north.
"I've been dreaming of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, or Wabakimi Provincial Park."
And Booker simply dreams of dragons, squirrels, and his bestie.
"Getting outdoors with my dog is one of the best things ever. I can tell canoeing is not his favorite activity in the world, but he's game for anything as long as we're together. And I make sure to give him extra pets for the time spent canoeing."
— More DOG PADDLING stories on CanoeKayak.com