Let’s go Jags!

If you’re a football fan, you’ll know there’s nothing more exciting than cheering on your favorite team from the stands. If you’re a dog, all you know is the sport uses a ball, and that’s all that really matters.

Football is back but will look different this year due to the coronavirus. And there is really no playbook for being a fan during a pandemic. Games go on, but like everything else in 2020, gameday traditions look to be on hold. So, if you’re looking for something – anything – that can fill the void left behind by the stadium and tailgating ban, I’ve got you covered. Here are a few things you can do with your dog instead of watching football.

Play Ball

The start of the football season can be the start new traditions with your dog. Grab a ball and head out to the backyard yard or a local park to play some football with your furry friend. And if they prefer tennis balls, nobody will object. It is a fun way to give your dog some cherished one-on-one time and tire them out for the day. You can even rock your team spirit with matching team jerseys!

Down, Set, Hike

Instead of sitting on the sidelines – or in your game day recliner, you can embark on a hiking adventure with your dog. Taking a walk through the woods, or up a mountain, or along the water, is one of those classic canine-human bonding experiences, and a great way to explore the great outdoors. It’s important to be prepared for all kinds of weather and critters, so make sure to pack rain gear, dog-friendly sunscreen, bug repellant, and of course plenty of water and healthy treats!

Tackle Fallen Leaves

Whether you’re in your backyard, or at the local park, piling up leaves can be fun for you and your dog. Hide balls or other toys in the pile and encourage your dog to find them. For small dogs, you can gather up leaves and put them in an empty box on your porch for them to enjoy. Just be careful to make sure only leaves make it into the pile. Sharp sticks may lead to some painful pokes.

Go Long

Weekend getaways offer a chance to take a break from the commotion of everyday life. If an escape from reality is just what you both need this fall, there are plenty of pet-friendly places where you can both sit back and relax. Whether you’re looking for something completely off-grid or just a spot to rest your paws, road trips are a great way to see far-off parts of the country and huddle together while avoiding the crowds.

Touchdown Celebration

With the season underway, try inviting a few two-legged and four-legged friends over on game day (ok, keep it to 6 people or fewer so that you can safely social distance) and throw a “homegate” party. Tailgating at home is the best alternative for game day gatherings when the stadium parking lot is off-limits. It’s a safe way to enjoy your outdoor space, nosh game day food and snacks (the scents of barbeque and veggie dip are things I still seek before and after the games​) and listen to the game on the radio. Make sure your dog and his pals have a chow zone with dog-friendly grub, so your guests know what food is safe to feed them. And encourage everyone to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash hands frequently.

Football isn’t just for dog owners; it can easily be for your dog as well. Though it looks a bit different this year, I believe that with a little creativity, a positive mindset, and some planning, you can still create great memories. Your love for football can be shared with your pup who will get just as much enjoyment out of the game as you. Besides, dogs love anything that allows them to chase a ball, get a treat, and spend time with their best friend.

It’s fall and that means it’s time to enjoy the sweet smells and flavor of pumpkin everything!  The best part?  Dogs can also reap the benefits from the seasonal superfood.  Rumor at the dog park is that the robust squash does wonders for an upset tummy, promotes a shiny coat and maintains a healthy weight. While canines can’t sip a pumpkin spice latte, they can acquire healthy perks from wholesome, homemade treats.  These ​recipes are super easy to make, and chock-full of vitamins and minerals that can boost daily nutrition.

Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Treats

You’ll need:

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix flour, eggs, pumpkin, peanut butter, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add water until it’s a sticky dough.
  3. Roll into a ½ inch roll and cut into pieces. Place on a baking sheet.
  4. Bake until hard, about 40 minutes.

Pumpkin Carrot Bites

You’ll need:

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix pumpkin, egg, carrots, and flour in a bowl until moistened.
  3. Roll the batter into small balls and place on a baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes.

Makes about 48 treats

Banana & Pumpkin Dog Treats

You’ll need:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix banana, pumpkin, and honey in a large bowl.
  3. Add flour and baking powder to the mixture. If it’s too wet, add more flour. It should be a dry dough.
  4. Roll out and cut into shapes.
  5. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10–12 minutes.

Makes about 40 treats

Pumpkin FroYo Bites

You’ll need:

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 cup plain yogurt

Directions:

  1. Mix pumpkin and yogurt together in a bowl.
  2. Portion evenly into ice cube trays.
  3. Freeze for 24 hours.
  4. Pop out and put into a freezer bag, or if you have lots of freezer space, leave them in the tray!

There is a good reason why pumpkin is often a top ingredient in pet food and snacks. It’s both delicious and doggy nutritious.  However, it’s important to feed your pup fresh, cooked, or canned pumpkin, not the remains of the moldy pumpkin still on your front porch two weeks after Halloween. Note that it should be as plain as possible, so pumpkin-pie filling is out since it is typically saturated with sugars that may only exacerbate loose stools.

As with anything, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing.  Don’t get carried away – a little goes a long way. But don’t let that stop you from sharing the pumpkin craze with your pooch. In moderation, this favorite fall gourd can be a yummy year-round treat.

For more hands-on activities for you and your pup, follow JHS on Pinterest!

My mom and I recently followed a path through a grove of trees.  While she craned her neck identifying the different timber, I was watching birds, sniffing new smells, and lunging towards lizards that were blocking my way.  Certainly a change from our normal neighborhood walk.

The first week of October is National Walk Your Dog Week, an important reminder to canine guardians that exercise is vital for a healthy pup.

Many owners make the mistake of thinking that a romp in the yard with playmates is sufficient exercise. But recess doesn’t boost cardio as much as a walk, and backyard time is usually consumed with sniffing and sunbathing – guilty.

Walking not only gets your pooch’s blood flowing, the heart pumping and the calories burning, but also can aid in getting the digestive system moving – great for dogs that have been experiencing, ahem, digestive backup.

Giving your dog a chance to see the wider world provides him with a mental health boost, too. Covering fresh ground on a walk lets your dog investigate new and interesting sights, smells and sounds.

It takes just 30 minutes of walking a day to improve heart health and curb behavioral problems. So grab your leash and get ready to move your paws with these helpful hacks.

Follow His Nose:  Stand back and let your dog lead the way.  He might take you to a scurry of squirrels, and mark every bush down the lane, but letting him choose is a nice way to give him a chance to show you what he finds interesting.

Stop and Sniff:  When dogs use their nose, their brain is working at a mad pace analyzing different odors. Allowing your canine to have a sniffing adventure will add stimulation, which means he’ll be extra tired with less desire to redesign your living room.

Rev it Up: Make your walk more fun by stepping up your pace from time to time.  Short bursts of speed allow dogs to stretch muscles and burn excess energy, especially after eating too many treats.

Walk Somewhere New: Dogs get bored with the same old routine, so mix up your route once in a while. Try walking in a different direction, or visit a local park or trail. Your dog will be exposed to new sights and smells, different dogs, and different people.

Obey Leash Laws:  It only takes one distraction for things to go sideways.  Leash laws aren’t just in place to keep dogs from being a nuisance, they are created to keep dogs safe. 

Use Lights after Dark: When the daylight hours start to dwindle, invest in wearable lights or reflective gear to keep you safe and seen.

Practice Obedience: Practicing basic commands in new areas is an easy way to reinforce obedience. Reward-based training is the most reliable way for dogs to learn. By rewarding your dog with a treat when they do what you want, they will want to behave that way again. Start with simple concepts, like sit and stay, and pretty soon your dog will obey no matter what is going on around him. Whether your pet is just starting out or looking to brush up on his skills, the Jacksonville Humane Society offers obedience classes ranging from basic dog manners to canine good citizen training. You can register at: https://www.jaxhumane.org/services-and-resources/training-classes/

If you love your dog, then go the extra mile and get the most out of your walks. The exercise is good for you and your dog, and since you can do it almost anywhere, the possibilities are endless.  In the end, it’s not where you walk, it’s who walks with you that matters.

Everybody has that one friend at the dog park who can swallow the sleeve of a cable knit sweater and walk away unscathed. I once saw a Boxer pass a pine cone, whole!

Dogs like throwing caution to the wind, often eating things that aren’t meant to be eaten and running full speed into dangerous territory.  And sometimes our happy-go-lucky spirit is not so lucky: that’s where insurance comes into play.

Every year, 1 in 3 pets need emergency vet care.  With pet insurance, you can guard against illnesses or accidents before they happen. 

Pet insurance makes healthcare more affordable by budgeting a small amount for unexpected medical expenses, putting a price tag on peace of mind in the event that something – like swallowing a sweater sleeve – may happen to your paw pal.

You pay a monthly premium so that if your canine – or cat – requires expensive treatment, your insurance can kick in and help pay the medical bills.  Nonetheless, the premium does not cover all that troubles your pet.  Common exclusions include preexisting conditions and breed-related diseases.

Remember, it’s important to buy pet insurance when your pet is healthy, rather than when illness and other physical problems start to show, because pet insurance only covers conditions that develop after coverage is purchased.

Like human insurance, pet policies offer a variety of deductibles, co-payments, and premiums. Unlike people coverage, you usually have to pay the vet bills in full and wait for reimbursement.

In general, pet insurance covers the cost and treatment of accidents and illnesses, but typically does not cover costs for routine wellness visits and vaccinations. 

It’s important to understand from the start what is and what is not covered, so you don’t run into any surprises down the road.  While one plan may have the best coverage for a Bulldog, another may be better for a Dachshund, like me.

In addition to breed, the age of your pet may also help determine coverage and cost.  Senior pets tend to have more health issues, so plans for older pets are often more expensive. 

To find the plan that’s best for your pet, it’s important to do some research.  Bone up on policy details, fetch a quote from a few providers and compare coverage, and then sniff out the plan that best meets your needs.

While you may not get the most bang for your buck with a healthy pet, there’s no way to predict what illnesses or injuries might occur, and knowing you have a safety net in place is value enough.

If you decide pet insurance isn’t right for you, I get it.  Some people would rather roll the dice and take their chances, but it’s not something that’s typically recommended when the life of a furry family member is at stake. 

At least set aside money to cover expected – and unexpected– expenses. Being diligent about preventive care for your pet will save you from hefty expenses and ensure that your pet has access to the best care available and live the long, healthy and happy lives that they deserve.

September is National Pet Health Insurance Month, and a great time to reflect on the special bond pets share with their humans and how important it is to prepare financially for their medical care.  Responsible pet parents know that pet health insurance is important year ‘round. After all, the love and happiness pets bring isn’t on a schedule – it’s 24/7.

Are you in the market for pet insurance? During the month of September, you can shop for coverage and help support the Jacksonville Humane Society at the same time! Petfirst Pet Insurance, a Metlife product, is currently running a promotion. If you call to receive a quote using a special number (1-855-413-8800), you will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. JHS will also receive a $10 donation from each quote!

With face masks now mandatory in Jacksonville and required in most public spaces, it won’t be uncommon for many dogs to feel confused or uneasy by the new normal. Humans understand why wearing a face mask is so important, but getting dogs used to seeing face masks on their owners and others is a whole new ball game.

Dogs rely on facial expressions to understand and communicate with their owners, so when a sudden turn of events – one that pets don’t understand – results in every face they see being partially hidden, it can create anxiety and fear. Even dogs that have already been properly socialized may be spooked by the sight of people in masks – and here’s why.

Dogs excel at reading body language and can detect even tiny changes in expressions. Since face masks naturally stop a dog from being able to interpret human emotion or sense your intentions, they are unable to tell how you are feeling which can create distress.

On top of this, some of the masks that people are wearing are downright scary, partly because of the design. Those pointed black masks and respirators that look like dog muzzles seem like a really bad idea to me!

The other problem with face masks? They distort your voice. Certain masks or face coverings can muffle or change the sound of your voice which adds to the confusion.
Because the presence of masks isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon, it’s a good idea to get your pet comfortable with people wearing masks. Luckily, with a little time and some tasty treats, you can help your dog feel happy and relaxed around people wearing face masks.

For starters, you might sort of wear the mask. Let it hang from your ear, or wear it under your chin, but not blocking your mouth yet, so your dog can still decode the important non-verbal communication coming from your mouth.

After lots of repetition, and once your dog associates the mask with good things being showered into his life, start wearing the mask for short periods. Put the mask on and walk to the treat jar. Wear it when you feed, play, and cuddle – times when the dog is comfortable and happy. It’s also a good idea to show other people in the household wearing masks so your dog knows it’s not exclusive to you. Very soon the mask will be a positive thing, and the dog will quickly conclude that the mask is just a new part of life.

Now you can focus on taking your dog out for walks – don’t forget to stay six feet apart from others! Bring a pack of treats with you on your walks and be sure to reward your dog every time they calmly encounter a stranger wearing a mask. Remember, patience is key. Some dogs adapt better than others to changes in their environment. Be patient with your dog. You may need to repeat this process a few times, or even go back a step once in a while but with enough perseverance, your dog will soon learn people in masks are just – you guessed it – people!

While these exercises may seem time-consuming at first, it is well worth the effort to make your dog comfortable with what is quickly becoming a symbol of our times.

p.s. – If you need a mask, check out this awesome option from JHS!

 

The word around the dog park is that people are preparing for a canine celebration. But let’s be real. Isn’t every day a day to celebrate dogs? You betcha! And while many dogs are pampered on the daily, International Dog Day has been set aside – August 26 to be exact – for humans to celebrate and appreciate the love and loyalty of their BFFs – best four-legged friends.

I’ve sniffed around for some fun ways you can make the most of this special day:

Pamper Your Pooch

Spend some quality time giving scrumptious spa treatments, like an oatmeal bath for a clean coat, or teeth cleaning for fresh breath. Don’t forget a nail trim for healthy paws. Wrap up the day with a doggie massage and a belly rub. Who wouldn’t love that?

Go Shopping

Take your dog on a shopping spree and buy a fun new toy, or two, or five! Looking to splurge? Find a new collar that’s so fetch or a fancy harness that fits. Maybe a fluffy new bed or an IQ ball filled with treats to chase. Mine keeps me occupied for hours!

Get Outside

Spend an afternoon enjoying the great outdoors together with a challenging hike on a trail, a jog around town, or a long walk on the beach. Bring along plenty of water and treats, and make sure to check park rules and pet policies before visiting.

Make a Treat

Whip up a batch of tasty treats for your hungry hound. Not only are homemade dog treats wholesome and nutritious, but they’re also easy-peasy to prepare and can be made specifically for your furry friend’s favorite flavors or dietary restrictions – yum!

Teach a New Trick

Whether training a new puppy or teaching an old dog a new trick, the benefits of schooling your pooch go way beyond wowing your neighbors. Learning new skills keeps their minds sharp and builds confidence. The more you teach, the quicker dogs learn, and the smarter they become! Remember, the most important thing is building an active, healthy bond of trust between you and your dog, ensuring a lifetime of love.

Go Out for Ice Cream

Lucky for local pups, these ice cream shops have them covered with their own dog-friendly frozen treats!

 

Bruster’s Ice Cream: Treat your pooch to his or her own ice cream sundae topped with a dog biscuit.

Dairy Queen: The chain offers Pup Cups of vanilla soft serve for four-legged patrons.

Rita’s Italian Ice: This spot’s dog menu features a dollop of vanilla custard finished with a biscuit.

Let’s not forget to shine the spotlight on those dogs who serve, protect, and comfort humans. From saving lives to detecting danger, dogs keep humans safe and help those in need.

If you don’t have a dog, you can still take time to lend a paw and help a dog in need. Consider donating to or volunteering at a local animal shelter, like the Jacksonville Humane Society. Many shelters and rescue groups list items they need, such as blankets, toys, and food.

Every dog deserves a chance to have a happy and healthy life.

Happy National Dog Day, everyone!

 

This year’s Toast to the Animals fundraising event may be canceled, but the cause is not.

In light of the current COVID-19 situation, the Jacksonville Humane Society has opted to host a Curbside Wine Pull, benefiting its medical fund. The proceeds raised will not only provide basic veterinary care to every animal who arrives at the shelter but also allow JHS to save animals in life-threatening circumstances.

The event, sponsored by VyStar Credit Union, will feature many wine options as well as Tito’s Vodka and Prosecco. Participants can purchase a mystery wine bottle for a $30 donation (or two for $50), but some bottles have a much higher value.

Last week, I had a chance to meet with the Community Liaison for VyStar Credit Union, Kaci Honeycutt. Let’s jump in and see what she has to say about VyStar and their partnership with the Jacksonville Humane Society.

(Not the Community Liaison, but a very big VyStar fan in his VyStar tee.)

Davi: Thank you for sitting with me, Kaci. What is your role at VyStar?
Kaci: My role at VyStar is Community Liaison. I work closely with Amanda Crawford, our VP of Sponsorships and Community Engagement, to build relationships with local nonprofit organizations such as the Jacksonville Humane Society and create meaningful partnerships between VyStar and those nonprofits. I also created and launched a program called the VyStar Visionary Employment Program in which we identify job opportunities within VyStar and work with nonprofit partners to fill those positions with their clients who may otherwise have a difficult time finding employment including individuals who have intellectual and developmental differences and individuals who were previously incarcerated to name a few.

In three words, describe the company.
Innovative, Inclusive, Giving.

I’m begging to learn more! What makes VyStar stand out from other local businesses?
VyStar stands out from other local businesses in many ways but the top three ways are: member focus, employee focus, and community focus. Being that VyStar is a credit union rather than a bank, our organization is founded by and focused on serving our members. I’ve been on staff with VyStar a little over a year now and I can honestly say the focus on employees is incredible. The leadership at VyStar invests in their employees through incredible benefits but much more than that, they care about their employees. They strive to get to know the employees and foster relationships with them and they have worked to create an amazing employee culture through the new office spaces, employee lounges, and employee resource groups. Last but certainly not least, VyStar’s focus on community is incredible. We partner with many local nonprofits and are always looking to build new partnerships that align with our strategic initiatives.

Sounds like a barking good place to play! What has been the most rewarding part of your role with VyStar?
It’s tough to choose the most rewarding part of my role with VyStar because there are so many parts of my role that are rewarding! If I had to pick one, I would say launching our VyStar Visionary Employment Program and employing three individuals that were candidates through our nonprofit partners. To see these individuals being given a chance at a new position and seeing them grow in those positions has been amazing. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many wonderful nonprofits and individuals in Jacksonville.

Looks like you are a natural pack leader! How does VyStar give back to the community?
At VyStar, we strive to uphold the credit union philosophy “people helping people” by not only providing our valued members with quality financial products and services, but also actively supporting the communities where we live, work and play. Through our charitable efforts and support of local events throughout Northeast and Central Florida, we are proudly committed to making a positive difference in the lives of the people that we serve. Each year, VyStar employees donate money, hold fundraisers and selflessly give their time to benefit hundreds of worthy programs within our community.

It must be a real treat to work with so many incredible humans! How long has VyStar partnered with the Jacksonville Humane Society?
VyStar employees vote annually to choose a cause to champion and raise funds for and the JHS was among one of the top votes. We partnered with the Jacksonville Humane Society in 2019 as a corporate sponsor of their Mutt March event where our employees raised over $3,000 and hosted a booth during the walk. In 2020, we launched our “people helping pets” campaign and offered a custom-designed T-shirt for sale with all proceeding going to the JHS. This year has been challenging but JHS has been amazing at pivoting their operations, pets still need homes regardless of a pandemic! VyStar celebrated their 68th birthday by giving back to the community by covering the cost of adoption fees the weekend of April 28th. Despite being in the heart of the pandemic, the event was a success helping 57 animals find their forever home!

That’s loyalty! What part of the Jacksonville Humane Society’s mission statement inspires you most?
I really love that the mission of the Jacksonville Humane Society spans beyond just being a shelter for homeless pets. While that is extremely important, the ways JHS invites the community into the facility to walk the dogs and read to animals is so meaningful and the affordable medical services offered help ensure that those who have pets will be able to give those pets a great quality of life.

You certainly have my tail wagging! Okay, last question. If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
If you’d asked me this question a year ago my answer would be a Basset Hound because my husband and I were planning to get a Basset Hound puppy one day in the future. Now, my answer has changed and the type of breed I would be is simply “a mixed breed”. Last October, we were driving home from a meeting and saw this dog on the side of the road drinking out of a puddle. We pulled over and though she kept running away initially, she eventually rolled over when I got close to her. She didn’t have a collar on and it was about 9 p.m. so we brought her home for the night. After trying for 10 days to find her owners (she didn’t have a microchip) through flyers, social media posts, photos at the veterinarian offices, photos at the shelters, we adopted her! I’d gone on a tour of the JHS during this 10-day timeframe to discuss our partnership with VyStar so once she was officially “ours” we took her to JHS to get spayed and her surgery went perfectly! She’s such a sweetheart and a perfect mix of 5 breeds – Pitbull, Boxer, Chow, Rottweiler, and German Shepherd. She shattered our perception of adopting a mixed breed dog versus buying a full-breed puppy and we couldn’t be more in love with her!

The Curbside Wine Pull event will be held Wednesday, August 19th through Friday, August 20th, between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased online at https://jaxhumane.networkforgood.com/events/22291-wine-pull-presented-by-vystar-credit-union.

At a time when everyone needs to be physically apart, we also need to band together to secure a healthy future for homeless pets. This curbside event will help support pets in need while ensuring the safety of participants and enabling you to bring your pet along for the ride.

So, grab your car keys – and your dog – and head over to the Jacksonville Humane Society to take part in the Curbside Wine Pull and take home a bottle of wine. Ultimately, it’s not drinking alone if your pet is home. Right?

The summer heat can be relentless.  Today I saw a dog chasing a cat – and they were both walking! What your pup needs is a chilly treat to beat the heat. Try one of these delicious frozen goodies made from fresh summer fruits and naturally energizing foods.  They are easy to make and taste great to boot!

Frosty Watermelon Dog Treat Recipe

Watermelon is packed with nutrients—vitamins A, B6, and C, and potassium- and low in calories – only about 50 calories a cup and 92 percent water, so it’s great for hydration on a hot day. It also has no fat or cholesterol, so it’s pretty much guilt-free.  Coconut water is a natural source of electrolytes and any dog suffering from a GI problem can keep from becoming dehydrated by lapping up a cup.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Scoop out watermelon and remove seeds – seeds can cause intestinal blockage.
  2. Blend watermelon until smooth.
  3. Add coconut water and honey to watermelon. Blend together.
  4. Pour into ice cube trays.
  5. Freeze and serve.

 

Strawberry Smoothies

Strawberries are full of antioxidants. They also boast high fiber, lots of vitamin C, and even contain an enzyme that can help whiten your teeth.  Yogurt is a great source of calcium and zinc, and contain probiotics that help with digestion.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients
  2. Pour into ice cube trays.
  3. Freeze and serve

Frozen Banana Surprise

This potassium-rich snack will help you replenish your energy after a long day of play.  Peanut Butter is a good source of protein, vitamins, and healthy fats.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Blend all the ingredients together.
  2. Pour into small paper cups.
  3. Place dog bone in the mixture to serve as a tasty handle.
  4. Freeze until firm.
  5. Pop the treat out of the cup and enjoy!

 

Banana Blueberry Ice Cream

Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants and vitamins that protect against disease and strengthen overall health. Bananas are rich in potassium and low in sodium.

Ingredients

Directions:

  1. Freeze bananas and blueberries for 2 to 3 hours
  2. Cut the banana into small pieces.
  3. Blend banana and blueberries into a smooth and creamy mixture.
  4. Serve immediately as a soft creamy ice cream or freeze it for an hour for a frozen treat.

Frozen veggies also make a quick and healthy treat – green beans and peas are my favorite.

If you aren’t certain about whether or not your dog should be eating specific ingredients, it’s always a good idea to check with your vet before feeding your dog human food.

I hope there’s something in this collection that your dogs can enjoy this summer! Bone Appetit!

 

Life is topsy-turvy with coronavirus-related restrictions, even for dogs. My mom and I are missing our old life together: road trips, farmers’ markets, activities with friends. But our slow, scent-filled strolls in local parks have become a welcome stand-in.

This month, I sniffed out six area parks appropriate for social distancing. During my weekday visits, these dog-friendly paths and trails were mostly empty, making it a safe way to enjoy the great outdoors while staying six feet apart.

Walter Jones Historical Park: 11964 Mandarin Road Jacksonville FL 32223
A visit to Walter Jones Historical Park is like a trip back in time to old Florida. Along the walking trail, you can explore historical treasures including a farmhouse, barn and sawmill. In addition to its rich history, Walter Jones Park also offers a variety of visual treats, from its grand old oak trees to its tail wagging river views. Walter Jones Historical Park is located in Mandarin, near the intersection of Mandarin Road and San Jose Boulevard. The park is currently open for walking from sunrise to sunset.

Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park: 7000 Roosevelt Blvd Jacksonville FL 32244
On a hike of nearly 2 miles, the main trail shows off upland and floodplain forest habitats along the Ortega River. The trail itself is shaded by tall trees which makes the hike a little more tolerable on a hot summer day. You will cross paved paths, unpaved trails, and boardwalks while exploring the sights (and smells) of the marshy land. Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park is located right along US 17, across from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The park is free, dog-friendly, and open from dawn till dusk.

Ringhaver Park: 5198 118th Street Jacksonville FL 32244
This park offers a two-mile paved path with wooden bridges that lead to the Ortega River Nature Preserve. Along the path, you’ll encounter beautiful oaks, towering pines, and lots of squirrels! Benches located along the trail provide a convenient resting place for those who prefer a slow-paced stroll. Ringhaver Park is located in southwest Jacksonville, extending south along the western border of the Ortega River.

Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens: 1445 Milcoe Road Jacksonville FL 32225
The Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens is a 120-acre urban woodland full of gardens and trails for you and your dog to explore and hunt for lizards – or find peace and connect with nature. I should note, there are actually over three miles of rustic hiking trails that offer challenging woodland hikes or easy walks through landscaped garden spaces. If you need to pause for a moment, benches are placed along the trails so you can stop and enjoy the view or stretch your paws.

Ed Austin Regional Park: 11751 McCormick Road Jacksonville FL 32225
A favorite spot for dogs, the old golf cart trail offers 1.75 miles of sniffing opportunities. You and your pup can walk the paved path (mostly shaded) or visit the wooded dog park on the north side of the park which has separate areas for small and big dogs to run on the acres of land.

Castaway Island Preserve: 2921 San Pablo Road South Jacksonville FL 32224

Castaway Island Preserve is a breezy spot to get away from the neighborhood and enjoy a breath of fresh air outdoors. The easy one-mile trail allows dogs and their humans to follow animal prints in the path, giving visitors a chance to learn something new – and dogs a chance to roll in the grass (or in something stinky). An elevated boardwalk leads into the salt marsh and includes two observation overlooks. The preserve is located on San Pablo Road about a half-mile north of Beach Boulevard.

On paths and trails, stay at least six feet from other people and dogs. When walkers or joggers approach, step off the path and allow them to pass. If a stranger asks about saying hello to your dog, this is an easy time to practice saying, “Not right now, thanks for asking,” without the stigma of being unfriendly. Not all dogs love other people or other dogs. Even after we go back to not social distancing, we should be in the mind-set of giving dogs space if they want it.

One of the greatest things about living in Florida is the beach.  What dog doesn’t like to run along the sandy shore and dip their paws in the salty surf?  Many of my canine friends absolutely love exploring the sights and smells along the coast. But, for all its excitement, the beach can spell trouble, too. Taking time to prepare and knowing what to expect once you get there can make your outing fun – and safe.

Know the Rules

After choosing a hot spot to hang out, check the rules:  remember that beach rules are actually laws, and can be punishable by a citation or fine.

Some beaches only allow dogs on the beach in the early morning and after chow time while others grant round the clock access.  Also, make sure to follow the leash laws – not all dog-friendly beaches have an off-leash policy.  Not picking up poop can harm our coast, so always bring waste bags to clean up after potty breaks.  And stay off the dunes – prohibiting foot, and paw traffic helps protect our shoreline.

Not All Dogs Can Swim

Some dogs woof with excitement for water while others – not so much. Humans assume that all dogs can swim when the truth is, they can’t. You can test and see if your dog is capable of swimming by finding calm water to let him practice his doggie paddle before hitting the waves. When in doubt, it’s best to put them in a life vest for protection. And never let your pet enter the water unsupervised.  Pet parents should always be prepared to save their pets from dangerous conditions – and vicious sea creatures.

Don’t Drink the Water

It can be tempting for your dog to take a quick sip while walking along the shore, but guzzling too much salt water is a bad idea.  It can lead to beach diarrhea and make for a messy ride home.  Pack plenty of fresh, cool water to rehydrate your dog after romping around in the sand.

Block the Rays

Dogs are prone to sunburn just like humans, particularly those breeds that have short hair, white fur, and pink skin. Apply doggie sunscreen (yes, it’s a thing) to the nose, ears, and body at least half an hour before going outside. Do not use sunscreen that contains zinc – it can be toxic to dogs.

Also make sure to have a shady retreat.  Although it may not protect your pet from sunburn, it can help beat the heat.

Protect Your Paws

If the sand is too hot for your feet, chances are it’s also hot enough to burn your pup’s paw. Sharp shells, broken glass, and rough rock also pose a risk.  Use a paw balm or wax for pawtection and inspect your pet’s paws for cuts and scrapes when you get home.

Rinse Well

At the end of the day, rinse off your pet before heading home.  Remove salt and sand from their coat and give the insides of their ears a quick wipe to remove excess water.

Staying safe and maintaining consideration for other beach users, whether human or canine, is the winning combination for an enjoyable time at the beach.

The First Coast has miles of beaches for you and your pooch to spread out and relax. But there are new guidelines to consider during the pandemic. Beach visitors should stay at least 6 feet away (both in water and on land) from people who are not family. Face coverings should be worn when possible and are most essential at times when social distancing is difficult. And hand hygiene should be performed frequently to reduce the spread of bacteria and infectious illness, like COVID-19.