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A Different Kind of Doggie Paddle
By Josh Hagy

Wyatt Boughter, Communications Manager of Bell Canoe Works, knows that better than anyone else. An avid paddler, Wyatt can often be found on the water with his three-year-old black Lab, Stanza, as a companion. “I can’t imagine not having her be a part of my life,” said Wyatt.

Stanza first came into Wyatt’s life three years ago when he got her from a Lab Rescue group. “I got her from a Lab Rescue group near Washington, D.C.when I was working for the American Canoe Association. It turns out she was abandoned at a kennel in Georgia, and one of the Lab Rescue foster parents came across her on a trip, fell in love with the face, and brought her home. She came to me with kennel scars, some paranoia problems, worms, and [she was] skinny. She’s been a loyal companion ever since,” he said. Stanza loyally accompanies her owner, Wyatt, on paddling trips in canoes and even to work everyday at Bell Canoe Works.

That loyal companionship allows them to share a mutual love of paddling, which is any kind of boating activity, like rafting or kayaking. “Paddling is a term used to refer to canoeing, kayaking, or rafting. Essentially, it encompasses any water sport where the propulsion comes from a human powered paddle. Paddling should not be confused with rowing or sculling, which use oars. It’s easiest to paddle a canoe with Stanza, given her size, but I’ve heard of many people taking along smaller dogs in kayaks with larger cockpits,” says Wyatt.

Wyatt learned the value of nature and the outdoors as kid on a lake in New Hampshire. “When I was a kid my family owned a cabin on a small lake in New Hampshire. It was there that I learned to chop wood, build a camp fire, roast marshmallows. I gained an overall sense for how valuable nature can be,” he explained. “We had a green, fiberglass canoe and I was enamored with the way the boat moved on the water. Our cabin had a rule that you weren’t allowed to paddle alone until you could swim across the lake and back, capsize and re-enter the boat, and demonstrate boat control. It took me a few summers to gain all the skills, but once I was able to paddle on my own I was always on the water. I’ve loved paddlesports ever since.”

It wasn’t long before Wyatt thought of taking his aunt’s dog along with him on his excursions. “At that same cabin my aunt would bring her dog in the canoe with us. It was an occasion for comic relief with the dog’s short attention span. A capsize was never too far away, and there’s nothing better than a swim in the lake on a hot summer day. Once I got out on my own and the conditions were right for a dog, I found Stanza,” he said.

While Wyatt and Stanza both enjoy spending time together on the water, the origin of Stanza’s name actually has nothing at all to do with paddling. “The name Stanza actually came from my wife. I majored in Comparative Literature at Penn State and focused on poetry. A stanza is a poetic paragraph, simply put. Naming my dog Stanza seemed to be a nice marriage between life and poetry, and Stanza has lived up to her name,” said Wyatt.

While Stanza is a poetic addition to Wyatt’s personal life, his love for Stanza and paddling carries over into the working world. Wyatt is the Communications Manager of Bell Canoe Works. “Bell Canoe Works is a family owned company whose focus is on family paddling. We’ve been making canoes for 18 years and Bell canoes are commonly regarded as the finest available. Because we are family-owned, we pay attention to details and listen to our customers. We’re always striving to make things better, but we feel like we’re doing a pretty good job,” explained Wyatt.

The company’s logo is a paw print with the word “Bell” inscribed in the base of the paw. The logo has a pretty special origin according to Wyatt. “The company’s logo is an interesting story. The owner, Ted Bell, used to race on the national canoe circuit. He would travel the country racing canoes with his Golden Retriever, Maggie, and soon both became familiar faces at the events. Ted would leave his dog at the starting line in the hands of happy kids, and somehow at the end of every race there would be Maggie, waiting to greet him. Ted began making canoes in his garage, and as more and more orders came, it was time for a company logo. Given Maggie’s influence on the canoe business, it seemed natural to make her part of Bell history.”

“Ted took her paw, trimmed the fur, put the ink pad to the paw pad, and the Bell logo was born. Maggie has since passed, but there’s a new Golden Retriever, Dakota. Dakota comes with Ted to work, and Stanza comes with me, and they wrestle and play all day long,” added Wyatt.

It doesn’t take much in the way of training for a Lab to be ready to head out on the open waters, but Wyatt notes that paddling with a dog does require one vital element in an owner-pet relationship: trust. “I think trust is a big part of it. It doesn’t take a whole lot of training, but being reliable with simple commands makes a big difference in the boat,” he said. “You’ll want the dog to lie down or sit, simply for stability purposes. Being a good swimmer, and being in good physical condition, is also important. A capsize is inevitable.”

Wyatt also shared other helpful tips for aspiring paddlers beginning with the importance of looking after your companion’s comfort and safety. “Make the experience a positive one by bringing along treats or a pad for the dog to lie on. There are also dog lifejackets available with handles on the back which makes getting the dog back in the boat much easier,” he said.

For Wyatt and Stanza, paddling trips are about spending quality time together and escaping the rigors of everyday life. “I think she actually spends more time out of the boat than in, running along shore while I paddle. Canoeing doesn’t have to be spending time in the boat, it can simply be a vehicle for escape, and sometimes that’s all we need,” he said. And isn’t that what the end of summer is all about-that last great escape to soak up the rays, or for paddlers, the sprays!

There’s nothing quite like a cool trip down the river during the hottest part of the summer. It’s even better when you can bring along your best friend.

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