Trailing urbanically

Thanksgiving 2014

(yes, I’ve been horrible about completing our Asheville series.  I’m not going to offer explanations or excuses.  You might not believe me anyway.)

After our trip to the Biltmore, and wandering humans-only through downtown Asheville, we fell in love with how walkable and pet-friendly this city is.  Storefronts have bowls of water or treats on hand to spoil four-legged shoppers.  There’s a bookstore/wine bar that not only welcomes lupine literati, but has an entire menu dedicated to their sampling pleasure. IMG_1753 This place is awesome.

We knew a lot of places would be shut down to celebrate Turkey Day, and that was fine with us.  After an early season dusting overnight, we are happy to have a quiet day of eating and imbibing.  But first, we need to earn our meal, and the dogs need to burn off a little energy.

Bundled and leashed, we braved the cold to test Asheville’s Urban Trail.  Part walking tour, part art installation, the Urban Trail is a 1.7 mile stroll through 30 landmarks highlighting people places and events clutch to Asheville’s history.  We were among the few out and about, and we relished the opportunity to take our time, get turned around (we were horrible at map navigation) (both of us), and enjoy the quiet of the city.  Oh the smells!  Oh the sights!  Oh the strangers commenting on our awesome puppy attire!

IMG_1748 IMG_1749



SYSS Boot Camp

a blog post by James

It’s a dark, cold, and slushy Sunday morning in February in the aftermath of a messy snowstorm. Kari, James, and friend Kristen are driving over an hour to an industrial neighborhood north of Baltimore, to meet a couple of other friends and spend the morning in a fitness boot camp. Some of us will be running, jumping, sweating (James, Kristen, and most everyone else), while a few others enjoy a light picnic brunch at Sweat Performance in Timonium, MD. It promises to be a tough, exhausting time (for those not eating brie and drinking prosecco, that is). So why go through it?

The boot camp is actually a fundraiser for the Show Your Soft Side campaign. You know the one, with billboards and ads featuring professional and elite athletes and more (Big Softies in SYSS-parlance) pictured with pets, proclaiming “Only a punk would hurt a cat or a dog”. Today they have combined efforts with Sweat Performance’s resident Big Softie Nick Ehrlich and Lululemon to host the boot camp to raise money for the campaign.

We found out about the boot camp fundraiser through friends of ours, Chris and Val. Chris and Val are, among other things, avid animal advocates. They volunteer at local shelters and have three rescue pups of their own. They found out about the fundraiser and asked if we might be interested. Of course we were.

Well, let’s be precise. We were all interested in raising money and awareness for a good cause, but not all were so interested in spending a cold, dreary Sunday morning working out. So Val and Kari worked with Sandra at SYSS, and came up with a compromise. Chris, James and Kristen will work out, and Kari and Val will bring drinks and snacks, as well as words of motivation for the boot campers. Everyone wins!





We arrived at the gym early, having allotted extra time to travel due to the nasty road conditions. The parking area seemed pretty empty, and we’re worried perhaps things were cancelled. Our fears turned out to be unfounded, fortunately, but we did find out that the foster dogs that were planning on coming were unable to make it due to the weather. We were just among the first of the boot campers to arrive. Everyone came in, registered and donated, and started stretching (or unpacking snacks!).


Chris and Val arrived soon after, and as Val and Kari prepped their brunch, and made fast friends with the women of SYSS, the remaining 40 or so boot campers arrived and started getting ready. Just after 10am, Nick and his colleague Doug got things underway. For the next hour we all ran, jumped and slam-balled through a high-energy workout, while Kari and Val cheered us all on (in between bites of brie and grapes).


Afterwards, we got to take pictures with the trainers, chat with the other campers and SYSS-ers, as well as shop merchandise a local Lululemon store brought in (half of the proceeds of sales going to the fundraising campaign).

All of the Boot Campers!

All of the Boot Campers!


After!    Our sweaty bunch (L-R): James, Doug, Kristen, Chris, Nick


After!  Val and Kari wanted their pictures taken in front of the quote, too.

All in all, it was more than worth it to make the trek on a nasty morning to spend an hour getting sweaty with strangers. We had a great time, met some cool folks, and helped raise more than $2000 for a great and local group of animal advocates.

For more information about the Show Your Soft Side Campaign visit their website at

If you are in the Baltimore area and are looking for a gym or a trainer, you could do a lot worse than Sweat Performance. Check them out at

Asheville, NC- The Biltmore

November 2015

We were drawn to Asheville for a number of reasons: artsy community, excellent food, walkable, and dog-friendly.

Since we went the week leading up to Thanksgiving, James still had to check in with work.  To keep our dogs out of his hair while on a conference call, we leashed up and headed out to the Biltmore Estate.

Holy cow is that place incredible.  Under construction from 1889-1895, George Vanderbilt’s 3,000 acre estate boats of “four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.”  So, your typical country cottage.

While dogs aren’t allowed inside the main house, they are permitted to roam the gardens, hike the trails, and get a coffee.

[Side note: If you want to walk the estate and then tour the mansion, the Biltmore does have first-come/first-serve kennels where dogs can curl up with fresh water and protection from the elements.  We didn’t opt for that feature during our tour– first came the adventure with the dogs, then I dropped the furries back and snagged James for our human’s-only tour in the house.]

Two dogs, one Kari and a pocketful of treats left our little mountain respite for this expansive tourist draw in Asheville.  We had a dusting of snow that morning, so MJ was wearing one of her (my) favorite hoodies to keep her warm.  We got more comments about the dog-in-outfit during our walk!


To get to the estate, you park your car about 1/3 of a mile down a slope. Humans can get on a shuttle that delivers you to the front door. For those with pups, your walk starts right away, on pine needle trails through the woods.

A view of the train depot approach to the estate. That's the front lawn. (This really adorable older couple insisted on taking our picture. He knew how to use an iPhone, and proceeded to take 47 pictures that look exactly like this one. No lie.)

A view of the train depot approach to the estate. That’s the front lawn. (This really adorable older couple insisted on taking our picture. He knew how to use an iPhone, and proceeded to take 47 pictures that look exactly like this one. No lie.)


What we loved most about the estate is variety of paving/ground the dogs got to walk on. Brick, grass, pebbles, concrete, sodden earth… they took them all like champs. Although we liked the pebbles the least (the princess disliked sitting on them).



We followed this trail into a bamboo forest. I stopped to pick up a pup-deposit, got twisted in the leads and turned around. Then, basically, we got lost in a bamboo forest for 20 minutes. It’s cool, though. We broke several rules and walked off the path to find our way out.


This should have been our Christmas card. I couldn’t get organized fast enough.


Good flare.

IMG_1688 IMG_1690 IMG_1691


one of each



This is MJ’s “I”m over it” face. Doodle is obviously having the time of his life.

We got to the estate as they opened for the day, so the trails were rather un-peopled and we could take our time with sniffs and changing directions.  If I read the map correctly, we wandered over 5 miles of the estate, which wore everyone out and drained the pocket of treats.

And when you find yourself in Asheville

Thanksgiving 2014

James and I have started planning our out-of-town escapes around things we can do with the dogs; rather, places we can go with the dogs.


  • must be an easy car ride (less that 8 hours without traffic)
  • must have well-lit, green-area’d rest stops along the way
  • must not be in a state with BSL about pit bull breed
  • must have dog-friendly activities
  • must not require kenneling

We’ve taken them to the Outer Banks.  We take them on overnights to relatives’ houses.  And now, they’ve been to Asheville.


Through, We rented a wonderful converted barn just a few miles outside of downtown Asheville, NC, for a Thanksgiving escape.    Pet-friendly with wooded trails, lots of sniffs and radiant flooring.


The barn is behind us.   Cameo appearance by Zozo's tongue.

The barn is behind us.
Cameo appearance by Zozo’s tongue.

We woke up our second morning to find a dusting of mountain snow!



not interested in snow. going back to sleep on the warm spot on the warm floor.

We ate, we napped, we went on adventures (you’ll have to wait for those), and we broke out of our travel crate.


Oh, and there were bears.  We saw them.  Well, one.  Our renters book was full of helpful information, like “Will a bear attack my dog?”


Asheville is a great, walkable town.  And we have the pictures to prove it.  Next time, on Serial.

Candy-coated, or third time’s a charm

January 15, 2015

Guest blog.  No intro needed, but please share especially if you’re in the DC area.

Sometimes forever does not mean forever.  That’s a hard lesson to learn in life in general and even harder, for me, when it relates to animal rescue.

Back in the late summer/early fall, I fostered two adorable kittens through the Washington Humane Society (WHS)-  Almond Joy and Reese. They were five weeks old and sick when I brought them home, weighing 1.2 and 1.3 lbs. So very tiny. And I was so very scared. I’d never been responsible for living creatures that small and fragile.  Something I learned about tiny kittens – they are not all that fragile and are pretty darn resilient!  Once they got healthy, the little ladies were perfect and everything you’d want in mini-cats: curious, affectionate, playful with bursts of rambunctiousness, slightly mischievous, and super friendly.
photo (4)  10556338_971255878483_3756871672256535491_n
I was going through a bit of a rough patch and having these two mini furmonsters in my care made all the difference in the world. They needed me to take care of them; I needed the joy, entertainment, and snuggles they provided. I would often end my evenings sitting on the floor of my bathroom – aka the Kitten Suite – with one of them in my lap and the other falling asleep while perched on my shoulders. And I fell in love.

Kari, with a shoulder-climbing furmonster, aged VeryTiny

The one not-so-perfect part of this situation was that my main kittenlady – a 4 year old demon feLion (whom I dearly love despite her antics) – was not having it with the kittens. So there was no option to foster fail. These little girls could not be mine and I would have to find them a forever home. And quickly.
Starting the interview process for forever homes, I made it clear the kittens needed to go together since they are a bonded pair; that weeded out most people who e-mailed WHS expressing interest. Eventually I found a young couple who was eager to adopt both sisters. The couple hung out in my apartment with me and the girls for several hours asking all the right questions and seeming generally like they would provide the perfect home. The kittens even fell asleep on one of the potential adopters, one in her lap and the other on her shoulders. It just felt right.
The kittens went home with the couple two weeks later after being spayed. There were tears and one last fantastic kitten sleepover snuggle-fest. I was sad to let them go but I knew they would be very happy.  With Instagram and Twitter, I knew I would get to see pictures of the fuzznuggets growing and settling into their new home. My work here was done.
But then my girls showed back up at the shelter two weeks later.
The couple encountered a surprise life event and decided they could no longer care for two kittens so brought them back. I was notified by shelter staff immediately and went over to hang out the day they came in. Unfortunately I could not foster again because my resident cat had made herself physically ill from the stress of having the kittens in the house. But I wanted my girls to have someone familiar to help them settle in and I needed to hold them and make sure they were OK. It was so good to see them but I was so mad and my heart was heavy.  They were still tiny kittens, though, and I knew they would probably be re-homed in a short amount of time.
Sure enough, the girls being as perfect as they are, they were adopted back out within a week. I was thrilled. NOW my work was done!
Fast forward 3 months: Almond Joy and Reese have been returned again. What’s wrong with them?  NOTHING. They are healthy, sweet, smart, well-mannered beauties. But their adopter decided to move in with her allergic boyfriend – so back to the shelter they come. Again I was notified by shelter staff immediately and so again I went into the shelter on my lunchbreak.  These 6 month old girls are now gorgeous, mostly-grown cats with luxurious fluff. They recognized me on the spot and started giving out affection without hesitation. They are purr-factories and snugglebugs and my heart fights between being so full of love for them and shattering into a bazillion pieces because they have been failed by humans three times – once at birth and twice by people who promised false-forevers.
10917104_10100137031479823_5720954647718389501_n 10926464_10100137029239313_5672054116074823356_n
Through Facebook, I immediately started spreading information about the girls along with pictures. My network jumped into action and images of Almond Joy and Reese flooded my newsfeed in posts and re-posts urging potential adopters to check them out. I was bowled over and am positive that a happy ending is just around the corner for my girls, but because you can never be too sure…
If you are in the DC/MD/VA area and considering bringing cats into your home please take a look at Almond Joy and Reese.  And if they are no longer available, check out the other wonderful animals that we have up for adoption at the shelter. But before you adopt, please, please, PLEASE realize that you are making a forever promise to a living, breathing creature who will rely on you for care. Feel the weight of that promise and make sure that you are adopting responsibly. Even the best shelters can be harsh environments and being returned to one doesn’t always allow for a happy ending.
Through the feedback and comments I’ve seen so far on social media, I am hopeful that today the kittenladies will be visited by at least one potential adopter if not several. And that is good and reassuring news. It is also good for the other shelter cats because if potential adopters visit after my ladies have been claimed, maybe they’ll consider the other lovely cats currently waiting to find forever homes. Emphasis on the FOREVER.
And remember – adopt don’t shop.