Thursday, April 21, 2016

Exercise Is for the Dogs

Reflections by Brother Luke

            In recent months, videos of my dogs running around on our grassy areas, up and down our road, or in the woods have been showing up on our Facebook page: proof that we do get our dogs out for walks—and they love it. We also have our dogs with us in the monastery whenever possible. They live with us in our rooms, and they sleep there each night. Sometimes our dogs are with our employees in their offices, occasionally misbehaving, but mainly being good.  But like all of you dog lovers, there are times when we can’t be with them. Where do they go to get out and get exercise? 

            In the early days of the monastery, a large section of the grounds behind the cloister was fenced in, and a couple of dogs at a time were let out in that area to run around and play. I have heard some stories of dogs leaping up onto the roof of the residence and running around up there. One dog even managed to perch on the roof, leap off, and catch birds in mid-air! Not any more! The roof is off limits for dog exercise.

            When I first arrived at the monastery in 1995, the monastery had built exercise pens for the dogs on the grass behind the residence.  At that time, there were three pens with two dogs per pen. The “floor” was gravel, and shelters were set up in each pen so the dogs would have a place to rest out of the sun or bad weather. A few years later, a new set of exercise pens was built next to our back driveway a few feet from a slope that went down to a vegetable garden and then into the woods. A cement slab was the foundation, with wood floors and wood dividing walls between the pens. The entire space was enclosed in chain-link fencing. The dogs chewed on the floors and the walls, which we periodically had to patch. Later we introduced a softer flooring of plastic mesh used as flooring for chickens. The dogs never chewed this material. A chain-link fence also covered the tops of the pens, since some of our canines managed to leap over the fence in the old pens. For protection from the weather, tarps were affixed on the top of the pens, with mixed results. They were great in good weather, but rain would collect on the tarps, making them sag, so we had to cut holes in the tarps to let the water drain, somewhat defeating the purpose of the tarps in the first place! The winter was worse, as the rain and then snow would turn to ice, and the weight could cause the top to sag but also pull in the interior walls and fencing. 

            We then introduced a Moo-tel to cover the exercise pens.  Designed for cattle farms, this large Quonset-hut type structure with a white canvas cover over the curved top was intended to protect the exercise pens and solve the problem of protection from rain and snow. It was over 100 feet long and 40 feet wide. It covered the entire exercise pen structure. It worked well most of the time, but it was vulnerable to high winds. Ah yes, winds.  Unfortunately, the area where it was located was prone to high winds on occasion. One such storm was so powerful that it snapped many of the moorings, but fortunately the structure itself survived and was tied down again.  However, one March a powerful windstorm hit the Moo-tel and began to snap it like a whip.  We had dogs out in it at the time. I remember rushing out there to bring the dogs into the house.  I watched the wind literally whip the whole covering. After bringing the dogs in I went back out to see how the Moo-tel was faring, only to discover that the wind had snapped all the moorings, lifted the entire structure up, and thrown it over the side of the slope, where it rested on the trees down below.  Yes, Mother Nature was telling us that we needed to find a new location for the exercise pens. 

            So, we decided not to rebuild the Moo-tel but instead to build a pole-barn type structure behind our puppy kennel. Since the dogs are an integral part of the breeding program, this location seemed to make the most sense. It would be farther away from the residence and less convenient, but that also meant that some of the noise from the pens also would be farther away from the residence. The new pens incorporated some materials from the old pens, including all usable fencing and the chicken coop flooring. So far, the new structure has worked out well. Winds have not bothered it, and its closeness to the puppy kennel means that some of our puppy socializers are also able to walk the adult dogs there from time to time.

            But the exercise pens are still only for use when we can’t be with our dogs. In some cases, dogs never go out there; they are perfectly happy in the house or in the brothers’ rooms. When exercise is needed and personal attention is not possible, the pens are a useful space for them.  Our grooming area is also part of the new pens, so on grooming day, many of the dogs are in the exercise pens, making the grooming task go more smoothly and quickly. Mother Nature helped us find the right space.

Mother Nature also provides an even better place: out in the open or on the trails. We’ll keep those videos coming!

To view videos please visit our Facebook page