By Cara Smith
This article first appeared in print in the June 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
A spring heat wave has just started to spread across British Columbia as Marika Koncek loads ten dogs into her pickup truck and heads for the Columbia River flats. She weaves the truck around potholes caused by frequent use in muddy conditions and picks an out of the way spot, careful to avoid other visitors to the area. Finding somewhere to take the dogs on these “adventure walks” where they won’t be disturbed makes her job of keeping control over them all a bit easier.
As a dog trainer and professional dog walker, roaming around outside with nearly a dozen canines of different breeds, personalities and temperaments is just a regular Thursday for Koncek. The pack runs excitedly along the beach and in the dry grasses of this wide open space, but never wander too far from Koncek’s side. They’re trained to stay close, regularly leaping back to her for a taste of the treats she keeps in a pouch on her belt.
Koncek talks about each dog’s personality and quirks along the way. Some in the group are insecure or a little more aggressive. She says it often takes time and work for a dog to be comfortable in this kind of situation and that some dogs may never adapt, driving home the point that dog ownership doesn’t automatically mean a companion who will happily fit into every part of your lifestyle.
“If we can make them adapt to our life, that’s great,” Koncek says. “But if it doesn’t work out, you’ve got to be flexible. You’ve got to make the change.”
“You’re trying to get this dog to fit your mould, but that’s not always possible.”
While it used to be the norm to keep dogs tied up outside near a doghouse or let them roam free, dogs are becoming part of the family more as people bring them inside to live side by side with people and participate in their owners’ daily lives. As the role of dogs in our lives becomes greater, so too does the responsibility that comes with them.
“I think people learn a lot through owning a dog,” Koncek says. “While there are a lot of similarities to owning a kid, you can’t talk to them so you need to learn about them what their needs are. If something’s not working, you need to be flexible to be able to make that work with that dog.”
Koncek says she believes most people don’t realize the responsibility of caring for a dog before they make the decision to bring one into their lives.
“A lot of people do… But the ones who don’t realize, half of them give up on the dog early and take it back to where it came from and the other ones just struggle and maybe the dog gets neglected because they didn’t realize how much was needed.”
“When you don’t fulfil the dog’s needs, you have a lot of problems. If you don’t address those problems by putting more time into your dog, then they’re never going away.”
Revelstoke seems to be a particularly unique spot for dog ownership. Here, it’s rare to go through a day without seeing dogs with their owners on the trails, by the river, or strolling around downtown.
One of these owners who walks her dogs Chewie and Molly along the river in Centennial Park says the town is a good place to live for dog owners and that having them has made an impact on her life for the better.
“I think my lifestyle is just healthier,” Jennie Sosnowski says. “I think there are a lot of days when I wouldn’t do as much if I didn’t have them. They are a huge responsibility and expensive and all that, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.”
Another Centennial Park trail frequenter, Catherine Allen, says it was important to find a dog breed with a personality that would be a good fit for her lifestyle. Her dog Dizzy, a 15-year-old kelpie, was traumatized and nervous when he was first adopted, but Allen says with time and patience, he adapted well.
“I know that they take time,” she says. “Once he realized that things were fairly safe then it was easier for him to acclimatize and be a much more easy-going dog.”
“I definitely would go back to getting this kind of dog. We specifically sought out a dog that was active but had a good personality.”
Koncek’s clientele in Revelstoke are primarily people who don’t necessarily need someone to take their dog out on walks because they don’t have the time, but people who want their dogs to get that bit of extra enjoyment and excitement out of living here.
“We live in a really different place,” Koncek says. “People are getting out and doing active things, but everyone has this feeling like ‘my dog’s not getting enough fun or enough exercise.’ We live in this really fun community and they want their dog to have fun too.”
“It’s just for the bit of extra social fun really. I think because we live in a town of such passionate outdoor people that they want the best for their animals as well as themselves.”
Not completely sure where you can take your dog off-leash in Revelstoke?
According to a map provided by the city, off-leash dog walking is permitted on the flats on the south side of the Columbia River, Big Eddy Park and Big Eddy Flats, the north side of the Illecillewaet River, the south side of the Illecillewaet River, the old snowmobile track area and flats, and the flats west and south of the Downie St. sawmill along the Columbia River.