I’ve been very bad about keeping up with this blog recently because I’ve worked a lot more hours in May than I usually do. On one hand, this works out well for me because I make a lot of extra money by working these extra hours, and it doesn’t affect the time Ronja gets to spend with me because I’m primarily working nights, so she gets to sleep with Brian at night and then play and cuddle with me when I get home from work in the mornings. But it’s put a damper on the amount of time I get to spend on the Internet and post to this blog.
I can surf the web at work (we have wireless and I have a laptop) if it isn’t busy, but you never know whether it will or won’t be busy when you’re a medic. I primarily surf the web and post from my cell phone these days, but it’s not very practical for writing longer blog posts.
This past weekend, we loaded up both of our vehicles and drove all the way to Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, NY, which is about five hours from where we live, give or take some for going over the speed limit and having to stop for the bathroom and gas. (Oh, the joys of getting 15 miles per hour in the Jeep! I took a tank getting there and a tank going back, while my husband’s Mitsubishi Outlander Sport got there with more than half a tank left. But I wouldn’t trade the Jeep for anything.)
We were lucky enough to be invited to Old Fort Niagara’s annual “Soldiers Through The Ages” event, where they invite reenactors from many different time periods to set up displays and engage the public. Unlike many events, this one doesn’t just have them set up their own tents and displays, but also schedules them for public demonstrations, so it’s not just another “look at all the junk I brought” sort of event, like many of these living history encampments are, but actually a learning opportunity. They were kind enough to let us attend with Ronja since she’s an integral part of our display on the history of Military Working Dogs, and even locked up the resident fort kitty in the offices for the weekend. (Not because they thought Ronja would chase the kitty, but the kitty has previously attacked other dogs at the Fort, which is why they have a “no pet” policy now.)
So we loaded up on Friday morning and headed West to the Fort, getting there with plenty of daylight to spare.
We’d finally broken down and purchased a large tent to house not just us for the night and all of our stuff, but also our display. This has been an issue in the past since we’d been asking for indoor space at many events and/or hoping we wouldn’t have to deal with high winds or bad weather. This new tent, which isn’t a historic tent but a modern one, will make things much easier. Not only does it allow us to present the display in a way that keeps the items safe from the elements, it also provides ample space for us to sleep and it helps us kind of control access so none of our items get stolen. However, since this was the first event we took the tent to, we had a bit of a learning curve when it came to setting it up – even more so because it was windy out.
We had some help getting the tent set up because it was very windy when we first started, which made putting the canopy and sides on difficult. Fortunately, at any reenactment or living history event, people are always willing to help one another and they got us squared away.
The new tent is quite big – 20ft in length and 10ft in width, so we are able to set up half of that as sleeping quarters and the other half as display space. The space is perfectly set up for this already with the front portion being set up with bug netting and the back portion with solid walls. We used poncho liners as a divider in between and that worked out quite well. Our folding tables, which we’ve had for quite some time now, also fit in nicely perpendicular to one another, and while our display board stands take up too much space, I found that hanging the boards from the tent was an option – and one I will be pursuing further in the future. (I plan to eventually have those boards professionally printed and will have them done with grommets so they can easily be hung from the tent frame.) In the short term, I hung the boards using duct tape, which worked fine for the weekend.
The tent wasn’t the only new part of the display that went with us to Fort Niagara.
In the week leading up to the event, I’d spent some time going through our display items and making sure that everything was looking good and ready for the weekend. All of the books that are in the display are covered in polypropylene sleeves to protect them from the elements and also from people touching them, which disappoints a lot of folks because they’re not able to look at them, so after making sure all of them were wrapped nicely and securely, I added a new card that explained why they’re wrapped and had the link to our website, pointing them to where they can read all of those books for free since I’ve digitized nearly all of them.
I also revamped and updated most of the description cards and added a few nice 8×10 boards on working dog use in World War I, including Sergeant Stubby; Cairo, the dog that was part on the SEAL Team raid on Bin Laden’s home; and PTSD in Military Working Dogs. All of our new stuff is printed in color and nicely laminated – definitely looking much better than previous versions!
Ronja, as always, had a blast meeting everyone at the event and making new friends. Lots of people gave her hugs and kisses, tossed her ball for her, and shared their food. There were one or two people who didn’t like dogs that much and I tried making sure she wouldn’t be a nuisance, but most people were calling her and cuddling her all the time, which made simple things – like getting breakfast in the morning – kind of a big deal since we had to make rounds first so everyone could get their morning fix of Malinois. Of course, it wasn’t just the participants who loved her but also the public that came to visit. I’m surprised the poor dog has any fur left with all the petting and hugging she got. But she just loved all of the attention and was forever going around to make sure everyone got a chance to love on her.
The Fort staff had us scheduled to do two working dog demonstrations on both Saturday and Sunday, and we had a lot of fun with that and drew a relatively sizable crowd each day. Some people even came back for the second demo on the day they were visiting, just to see it again since all those demos tend to wind up being a little bit different from the others.
We tried to split the demo into showing different things that working dogs do, starting with obedience. We’ve found that a lot of people are just all “ooh” and “aah” about doing some nice, but very basic obedience, such as heeling nicely – even better if we get a nice focused heel – doing basic sits and downs on voice command or hand signal, doing downs out of motion, coming when called, and staying while I either walk around the dog or throw a ball into the air while she is in a down.
After obedience, we tried to do some scent work and laid out a couple of random items from our display to hide the scent article under. I usually just grabbed whatever was nearest, such as signs, helmets, gloves, and then placed the scent article with Ronja in a stay away from what I was doing, behind the tent. Then I’d show her the reward ball and send her to search. Because our scent article is explosives scent, it was a bit of a challenge getting a good search at the Fort because everyone had guns and there’d been a lot of shooting. Ronja still did great, successfully making her find two out of the three searches we ran, even with it being windy.
And, lastly, we usually do everyone’s favorite, which is bitework. Incidentally, this is also Ronja’s favorite thing to do, so she always had a blast getting her bite. We try to do a couple of different things, including a long bite where my decoy (Brian) runs away from her, and also a handler defense, where I search him while she is in a down-stay and then he pushes me and she goes to bite him. She did fantastic during all of the bitework we did and had a blast, too.
We found that a lot of people were interested in following up, and are hoping to see some of them on our website in the future. Our business cards, too, got a makeover and now just have our logo and website address in it, along with the icons for Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. I figured people can just Google for it or come to the website and then follow the links to find what they’re looking for. One thing I did notice was that people are more interested in Ronja than they are in the rest of our display – which is just natural because she’s just a fantastic little dog – so now Ronja has her very own Facebook page where I post as her, from her perspective. You can find that here – and please follow if you like dog photos and stories!
Since the event also fell onto the last weekend of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we also brought along the coloring page on how to properly meet a dog for the younger kids, and the canine body language chart, in slightly revamped form from what was previously on our website, for the older folks. Check out the new body language chart below or go to our photo albums to download it for printing. (Remember, if you want to use the graphic, it needs to stay intact with our copyright link at the bottom, and you may only post it online with a proper link back to this page. Anything different happens to be illegal and makes me very, very grouchy. You won’t like me if I’m grouchy.)
All in all, we had a successful Memorial Day weekend and we’ve gotten some very good feedback on our display that will help us improve even more in the future. (Getting the boards printed professionally will be on the list in the very near future, as we’re using the original boards I made when we started doing this display a few years ago.) Someone even said that our display was “the best they’ve had at Old Fort Niagara in years”, which was very flattering.