Our dogs are hardwired to love our aroma. Scientists at Emory University used MRIs to confirm what we already knew: that a dog can tease out its owner's scent from a mishmash of a hundred other scents. However, they also discovered that an owner's scent activates the reward center of a dog's brain, aka the caudate nucleus. In short, our smell is their bliss.
David Bahnson, 67, a retired orthopedic surgeon in Mendon, Vermont, understood his dogs wanted to be a blissful sniff away, so he modified a Pygmy Coho Triple, turning baggage compartments into doggie cockpits. The result didn't just please his pooches, but also amused paddlers-by. Today, Bahnson's paddling is limited due to a serious rotator cuff injury and a subsequent tear on the other side, both requiring surgery. Plus, the two golden retrievers in the photo have since passed away, but the Bahnson family tradition of paddling on Golden (Retriever) Pond continues on, as Piper, another golden, is being trained and Bahnson's wife, Linda, will paddle on in her Coho.
Katie McKy: Tell me about building your custom Coho?
David Bahnson: For all of my Cohos, I built a simple long table from 2x4s and 1/4" plywood that sits on sawhorses, so I didn't have to bend down to assemble the planks. I had already built two Cohos for my wife and me and then realized that our golden could fit in the rear baggage compartment, so I bought another Coho (kit from Pygmy Kayaks) and modified both baggage compartments to accommodate two goldens. I cut the baggage compartments to be smaller and narrower instead of following the plan; that worked fine with the dogs. I also made coamings to keep them dry and prevent water from entering the hull.
Did you have to train your goldens to ride along?
They loved paddling, but I trained them to wait until I got in and sat down first. Then they'd get in on command. They never flipped me over, but I also had them trained so they would hold still on command if I thought I was going into a situation like a big boat going by. I would command them to sit and stay, and they would. Perhaps the combo of them moving with a wave might have flipped us, but that never happened. There was sufficient stability for them to turn around and face the other direction if they were bored. I could command them to change direction too. They were pretty good dogs.
How do people react to your pretty good paddling pals?
Smiles and chuckles!
What do your Cohos do well?
They're great on open water and when island camping. You can carry a lot of gear in one. I think they turn quite well too. They're rudderless, of course, and they're not a whitewater boat by any means, but in open water, they handle very nicely and you can put a rudder on one, but it's one more thing to break and isn't really needed. You build the stern with extra epoxy to let you add that rudder. It's moderately stable with dogs aboard, but it's not a big, wide boat.
Has your Pygmy ever gotten you out of a pickle?
We went overnight camping on Knight Island in Vermont. There were rough seas and high winds. The park ranger came out to see if we were in distress, which we weren't. He seemed to think that it was unusual for anyone to be kayaking in that weather.
Why wooden kayaks?
I like woodworking. I have a friend who made one, so it seemed like a good thing to do. You get a lot of boat for the price. I like the look too. They're different looking. With the dogs aboard, they attracted even more attention.
Would you build another?
I might, although I now have three of them!
Canoe & Kayak found you via your contest-winning photo. What's the story behind the photo?
We won a photo contest at Pygmy for the photo and got a couple sweatshirts. I got a lot of comments and calls from people curious about how I did it.
A pleasant surprise from a photo, huh?
Not all pleasant. I also heard from people who complained that I wasn't wearing a lifejacket, but we posed for the photo and I was only three feet from shore, so there was really no risk involved.