Sally Vivrette, DVM, spends her days on the road, crisscrossing the Raleigh, North Carolina area, traveling from farm to farm and treating horses. But the miles aren’t lonely ones, she’s got plenty of company—short, furry company.
Vivrette makes her rounds with an entourage of corgis. At one point, Vivrette traveled with four. “We must have looked like a clown car,” she says. “I’d pull up, open the door and all these corgis spilled out.” Currently, she has only two with her—Elliot and Roxayn, but they will soon be joined by a third. “Jolyne was a rescue I took in when she was hit by a car and broke her pelvis. She hasn’t been on a farm call with me yet, but when she’s healed up and has gone through obedience training, I’ll take her out also.”
In addition to being a veterinarian and dog lover, Vivrette is also a dressage rider who boards her horse at a training barn. All these experiences give her a unique perspective on how dogs can fit into and greatly enrich our busy, horsey lives. “We work all day—and most of us can’t take our dogs to work—and after that we want to spend time with our horses, but we also want to spend time with the dogs, but there are only so many hours in a day. Being able to take your dog to the barn is like having your cake and eating it too.”
Taking your dog to someone else’s barn is a privilege, though, and not one that’s extended everywhere. “Ultimately it comes down the barn owner,” says Vivrette, “They set the tone and the rules. If they say no dogs, you have to respect that. And maybe that’s not the barn for you.” But when a farm does welcome dogs, you’ll want to preserve that privilege by being thoughtful and considerate of everyone’s needs—dog, horse and human.
For instance, Vivrette never assumes a farm on her daily route is able to accommodate her dogs, so she always asks. “Mentally, I divide my calls for the day into ‘dogs welcome,’ and ‘dogs not welcome.’ New clients fall into the third category of ‘find out,’” she says. “To do that I will survey the situation—are there aggressive cats, or a busy road nearby—and then ask the client if they mind if I let my dogs out of the truck. Ninety-nine time out of a hundred, they say ‘sure.’”
A dog-friendly barn is likely to have a “pack” that a well-socialized dog can fit into easily, even if he’s only an infrequent visitor. Vivrette’s dogs typically have no trouble mixing with new canine friends. “Cats can be a problem, though,” she says. “Barn cats hunt corgis. I think it’s because they are down there and the cat can look them in the eye. They won’t mess with a big dog, but they think they can take on a corgi. Mine learn quickly which cats to avoid.”
At Vivrette’s trainer’s barn, as many as 11 dogs might be around at any one time, nirvana for a social dog. Running with pack, however, can take a physical toll on an older dog, who may appreciate a quiet place to hang out. “At my trainer’s barn, that place is the office,” she says. “Older dogs who need a quiet place are allowed in. There’s water there and couch there they can sit on.”
One particularly thoughtful doggie accommodation Vivrette has seen is a pen specifically for pooches. “Even if the barn owners allows dogs to roam free, that’s not always the best idea for a variety of reasons. With a pen or run, people can take their dogs to the barn and let them off leash without having to worry about what he’s getting into. It’s a lovely gesture by a barn owner to provide that safe space. Of course, you could put the dog in a stall or tack room, but it’s not really fair to put the responsibility on other people who might accidentally open the door and let him out.”
Of course, a leash will ensure that your dog is always close by and out of harm’s way. “A lead rope will also work just fine,” says Vivrette. What she doesn’t recommend is using a longe line to tie up a dog: “It becomes a real tripping risk for humans and if you’re passing a dog tied up with a longe, it can be hard to judge where the end is, so I don’t know how close I can come with my horse and still be beyond his reach if I’m unsure.”
Comfort and care
For her dogs’ comfort and health, Vivrette makes sure there’s always bowl of water available. “In the summer months, the first thing I do when I get out of the truck is put down a bowl of water for the dogs,” she says. “I don’t want them having to go looking for water.” In chilly months, the dogs have coats to wear, Vivrette says they often go without. “Sometimes I think we over blanket dogs, just like we can do with horses,” she says. The dogs are also given the choice of staying in the car when the weather is unpleasant. “They have a blanket in the back of the SUV and are very happy to hang out there. They are naturally chill and aren’t going to be barking at every person who walks by.”
Vivrette’s dogs, for the most part stay out of trouble during farm calls and while she works her own horse. “Elliot will go exploring, while Roxayn tends to stay closer, within eyeshot so she can ‘help’ me,” she says. Years ago, Roxyan ate rat poison at a farm requiring emergency blood transfusions and vitamin K, so Vivrette will now ask if any toxins are around—particularly if the property doesn’t have it’s own resident dogs. “Most people with dogs know, but you can’t expect people without dogs to think about these things for you.”
Minor injuries to barn dogs can typically be handled with items that are already on hand for horses or people, says Vivrette. “Neosporin, saline, some gauze and vet wrap will take care of most things.” She adds, though, that a common first-aid mistake horse people will make is wrapping a paw too tightly. “I don’t know why, maybe we are used to wrapping hooves, but if you wrap a paw too tight, you’ll start to see swelling above the bandage and may cause more damage than you prevent.” A technique she recommends is putting cushioning cotton between the dogs toes, then wrapping the paw in gauze and finally elastic wrap just right enough to keep it all in place.
Caring for barn dogs on property that isn’t your own also means taking ownership of what they might leave behind, says Vivrette. “Poop control is an important thing,” she says. “You have to be cognizant of how dog poop can affect other people, even people used to horse manure, and be quick to pick it up. You can toss it right on the manure pile.”
As a farm call or training visit comes to an end, Vivrette gathers up her pups. “When it’s time to go, I call them back to the car,” she says. “Roxayn will come right away, but Elliott marches to his own drummer and takes his time. I know to call him about three minutes before I need them. And I keep some cat kibble in my pocket and I have him a bit when he arrives. It makes him more likely to listen to me the next time.” Once everyone is settled into the SUV, Vivrette heads out to the next farm, where more adventures await her canine companions.
As long as I’ve been a horse person, I’ve been a dog person,” says Vivrette. “When I was a kid, I had a Quarter Horse and an Australian Shepherd. We would go on long rides together and every so often he would stop and look up at me from the ground. I’d slap my leg and he’d jump up and ride on the front of my saddle for a few miles before jumping back down. It was really wonderful.” Vivrette may no longer riding with a dog in the saddle, but no doubt a few in the back seat of her SUV make her days just as wonderful.
Four simple rules for bringing your dog to the barn:
• Ask if he’s welcome
• Keep him under control
• Make sure he can’t get into rat poison, anti-freeze and other hazards
• Pick up after him
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #440, May 2014.