Samba, beach dog

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This isn’t a new photo, but it’s the kind of moment I’m craving right now.

To celebrate my birthday a couple of years ago, Tovin and I drove to San Diego for a weekend of good food, sand and blessed moisture. We booked a hotel on Dog Beach in OB, and within minutes of our arrival, Samba was loose on the sand. We spent a good portion of the weekend watching her dash across the shore, soaring over puddles, splashing through the water and suffering the occasional epic puddle crash. It was sandy and dirty and totally joyful. I can’t wait to take her back.

That damn face

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This is the look that Samba gives me when my suitcase comes out. As the washing machine hums and and the packing begins, Samba’s anxiety manifests in quiet whines and pleading stares.

She doesn’t know that while I’m gone she’ll be staying with her best friend, Hank, and will return from the weekend exhausted from the continuous tumble of big-dog wrestling, complete with leg sweeps, pins and other Octagon-worthy moves. She only knows that my suitcase means I’m leaving, and that she’ll miss me while I’m gone.

The desert wins. Almost.

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I have a philosophy about living in Las Vegas in the summer. It’s that you can’t let the heat decide your day. If you let the temperature determine what you do, you’ll stay huddled next to the air conditioner all summer. And your electric bill will be astronomical.

Unfortunately, sometimes I take that mantra a bit too far. I’ll decide to bike to the park at noon or go for run after 6 a.m. Biking when it’s 105 degrees isn’t much fun. Neither is running when it’s 92.

But in the last few weeks the temperature has dropped to reasonable highs in the low 90s. Compared to the searing of mid-July, it’s felt downright pleasant. So, you’ll understand how I could load Samba into the car for a midday desert hike inside the Red Rock Conservation Area to First Creek a few weeks ago. There was a light breeze, a few clouds and a (very) gentle trail that crossed some open desert before descending into a canyon to end at a (very) little pond filled with equally small fish. We even ran into a wild burro that posed for our cameras and engaged Samba in a good staring contest before turning just a bit menacing.

Burro on dog staring contest. (Spoiler alert: the burro wins.)

Burro on dog staring contest. (Spoiler alert: the burro wins.)

Still, when it comes to large, black dogs, low-90s temperatures in direct sun are like sitting in a tanning bed stuck on high inside a sauna. Samba took to digging up cold dirt under every other desert bush, hunkering down, tongue lolling, as she tried to escape the heat. I thought about turning back, but by now we were closer to the water at the end of the hike than the car with its shade and air conditioning. Apologizing to the dog, we pushed forward.

Samba, intrepid explorer.

Samba, intrepid explorer.

Samba made it, of course. She charged for the pond-puddle, ran in as far as she could without swimming, lapped up as much water as she needed and then proceeded to bounce around, splashing the small children who were taking a break with their parents. By the time we headed for home, Samba was soaked through and happy. She ran most of the way back to the car, and I’m pretty sure by the time she passed out on the floor back home, she’d forgiven us.

Still, some days, the desert wins. Some days, we’d be better off hunkering next to the AC. Or at least doing our hikes on Mount Charleston.

The puppy recharge

Samba la Bamba in her puppy room.

Samba la Bamba in her puppy room.

By now you’ve probably already read about the Canadian university starting a “puppy room,” where stressed students can let it all out while nuzzling fuzzy little bundles of awesomeness. (Yes, I’m a little jealous that I missed out on this phenomenon. What’s the deal, Tufts?)

The article in the Guardian revealing the new therapy stand-in posited that the pup emporium is perfect, because actually owning an animal can be stressful, not to mention smelly, time consuming and fairly permanent. I argue none of these points (there’s nothing quite like fretting over the consistency of your dog’s feces to make you wonder why you own one in the first place), but I will argue this: Having a animal that loves you, that sees you coming and practically throws out its back in tail-wagging joy, that puts its head on your shoulder when you’re having a bad day, that’s better than any puppy-stuffed classroom.

Every morning, I wake up early pushed half off the bed by my 60-pound mutt, Samba. And every morning as I try to sneak out of the apartment without waking Tovin or forgetting my work clothes, Samba comes staggering out to say goodbye and watch me leave. I bend down, she gives me a couple sleepy licks, and I imagine myself in a video game, my life force bar recharging with that half-second gesture of puppy love. It’s all I really need to feel like everything is going to be okay.

#DogsoftheDR

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A pair of stray dogs enjoy the beach in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic.

In June 2013, Tovin and I spent 10 days traveling around the Dominican Republic by Chevy Aveo and our sometimes flawed sense of direction. Everywhere we went, we met dogs. Some were strays, some had owners, some reveled in our attention, some ignored us completely.

We documented the animals we met, Instagrammed them under the hashtag #dogsofthedr, and now, we share them with you. Enjoy. And don’t forget to pet a stray.

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Tonta, chief greeter at Tubagua Eco Plantation, overlooks the lush hills along the Ruta Panorámica.

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The pint-sized mascot of Vacabar in Cabarete, Chica.

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Fetch on Playa Las Ballenas in Las Terrenas.

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Rico, a four-month-old great dane, lives at cliffside restaurant El Cabito.

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A dog sleeps on Playa Encuentro in Cabarete.

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Muchacha, Las Galeras

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Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

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One-eyed beach bum, Las Terrenas

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Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic