When I lived in downtown Knoxville walking to the grocery store was common practice. It was only a few blocks from my apartment, so if I ever needed a few things I could either hoof it with a canvas bag or opt to take my bike (which was outfitted with an array of baskets.) Of course, most of you folks already do this. But there are more alternatives to plastic grocery bags than you realize, and some of them are asleep on your couch right now.
If you have a large dog loafing at home while you peddle to the store — you're both missing out on some serious useful exercise. Dogs have been used for thousands of years to haul sleds, pull carts, and yes, even carry groceries. Your dog can be of use too with the right training and gear. Enter the dog pack.
Dog packs are saddlebags used mostly for backpacking and hiking.They aren't burdensome loads but specially made items ergonomically formed to your dog's body. A healthy dog can easily carry a quarter of his weight. So if you have an 80-pound Labrador at home, that's 20 extra pounds of groceries you could be taking home while he gets decent walk. And that 20 pounds might be the breaking point between taking the Schwinn or taking the car. If you can employ the bored, save some gas, and spend time with your best friend, why not dog pack?
If your new to all this working dog business make sure you do some research before jumping in. Be certain to buy your dog's pack from a reputable outfitter like Ruffwear or the wonderful people at Wolfpacks. Kelty also makes a great little pack called the Chuckwagon, and all can be ordered online. What you don't want are those big cheap generic "dog packs" for sale at chain pet stores. A proper pack needs to carry weight the same way a sleddog pulls, in his chest and shoulders and not across his back.
When you get the pack, introduce it to your dog slowly. Put it on him without anything in it every single time you go outside for a walk or the dog park. In a few weeks he'll associate his pack with a great time. Which is exactly what you want from a happy working house pet.
Besides the obvious benefits of padding to the grocery store together, there are subtler ones too. Walking with a dog opens you up to other locals. People just seem more friendly when you've got a dog with you. Strangers who wouldn't normally talk to you strike up conversations. I'm a firm believer that good dogs build communities, and even the best cars cut us off from them. And unlike bikes, a dog can maneuver through a city crowd or farmer's market with ease. I've had my dogs both packing behind me in busy markets unbeknownst to vendors and crowds. When I unzip a pack and load it up with carrots, people say "Well, there's an idea!" and my dogs agree.
Jenna Woginrich is the author of the forthcoming book, Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, from Storey Publishing. Visit her Web site at coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com.