The Dog Journal
My name is, Gail Mirabella, and been asked by The Dog Journal to share with you, the readers, some of my “Adventures” I’ve had with my dogs.
The Dog Journal Dec/Jan 2023
I do have some interesting stories to tell, some funny, some scary and some sad. You see I’ve literally been traveling the country for two decades with my dogs, as The Dynamo Dogs, performing shows at various events, such as State and County Fairs, Festivals, Grand openings and been the halftime entertainment for sporting events for NFL, MLB, NBA and college teams as well. In addition to all these incredible opportunities, I had the honor of touring with “The Greatest Show on Earth” (Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus) with my team of dogs for four years. I like to tell people that I have the BEST job, but it is a very tough life-style.
What makes it tough is the traveling, the setting up, the tearing down, packing up and driving hundreds of miles in one day to make it to the next town in time to set up for the next week of shows. Not to mention, the walking, feeding and grooming of the dogs that I have in tow with me on these journeys.
It hasn’t been easy but it has been worth it. My dogs and I have performed in all of the 48 continental states, hoping one day to perform in Alaska and Hawaii. I travel by means of large Nissan van, where my dogs ride along inside with me, and pull a 24’ trailer that we live in during our trips. I have to carry liability insurance and am licensed with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in order to make a living at this not so typical way of life. I’ve given up a lucrative career, and many, many, many relationships just to pursue my passion and my love of dogs. The joy that my dogs and I bring to the patrons at the events is unmeasurable! You see, we also perform at schools, libraries, nursing homes and hospitals where the residents and students get to actually pet and interact with my dogs. I love to see their faces and hear their stories about their own dogs that they once had or currently have.
Besides bringing a fun, action-packed show to them, I also help them to see just how amazing dogs can be. How much they can be taught and how strong of a bond I have with each and every one of my dogs. I hope to educate and inspire the young school students to take interest in their own family dog and how much of fun they can have with these four-legged furry friends.
So, let me rewind by giving you a little background of me and how it all started, I hope you enjoy the ride!
Have you ever found yourself gazing out your office window on a beautiful sunny day and wished that you were outside with your dog(s)? Well, that was me, except it all started with me as a teenager when I received my very own puppy on my 14th birthday, the summer of 1984. The thought of going back to school in September, keeping me from spending time with my shepherd/wolf mix pup, Timber, was agonizing. After school we spent our time together playing out in the woods and around the creeks of our Pennsylvania home. At sixteen, I got my driver’s license, and Timber, at 110 pounds would accompany me to other parks to explore.
My first car was a Pontiac Sunbird, hatchback, and with the seats laid flat in the back, Timber, could actually fit comfortably during our excursions. This was back when caring for a dog was simply implied that you fed/watered and gave them a place to sleep. I was one of the only people I knew back then that would take their dog with them on rides and not just to the veterinarians.
Timber often accompanied me to college, Delaware Valley College (now University), a small school that I commuted to and from two of the four years I attended. After finishing my 4 years with a degree in Animal Science I went to live and play out in Boulder, Colorado with some friends.
Timber was seven years old, and would surely be missed by the rest of my family, if I was to take him with me. So, I left my best boy at home and my Pontiac (that my younger sister needed) and jumped on a Greyhound Bus (how appropriate) for a 3-day trip.
It was just six months when I realized I wanted/ needed another dog, a sidekick, a canine friend and a partner in crime. I sought out a dog that would fit my current living situation and lifestyle. That is when I found my first Australian Shepherd, Austin. This little blue-eyed, red merle pup went with me everywhere, even to work. Although I did not have a vehicle, we got around town by way of my mountain bike, with him in my back pack with his head poking out the top, until he out grew that. We then had to walk to places until he was old enough to be trained to run alongside of me while I rollerbladed. It wasn’t long before he would actually pull me, via leash and harness, to work, to the store and to the parks. I was known in Boulder as “the girl with that dog that pulls her around town.”
We continued our adventures in Colorado for another year and a half, when I realized I need to get a real job, a career, a place to live (without sharing it with six other kids) and a vehicle!
My friend, Michelle with our dogs and a cat loaded up a moving truck and headed back home, to the east coast. During our 3-day cross country trip, I fell in love with the scenery and being on the road, sleeping at rest areas and truck stops and just the feeling of freedom.
With my Degree in Animal Science, I applied, interviewed and was offered a job with a large pharmaceutical company in Connecticut. This enabled me to actually rent my own apartment and buy a vehicle, which was a Jeep Wrangler. I would seatbelt Austin in the front seat using a harness and seatbelt attachment. This safety system proved reliable when we were rear ended, while sitting at a redlight, and Austin ended up outside the jeep hanging by his harness. This truly saved his life. Within a year I adopted another Aussie, then acquired another one and so on. We soon grew out of the Jeep and I upgraded to a Chevy Blazer, where my 4 dogs could be crated safely in the SUV. It took 5 years and adding more dogs that we went through a Ford Expedition, then a Ford standard body cargo van, an extended Ford cargo van and ending and still owning a Nissan high top cargo van to carry up to 17 dogs. All dogs are being securely crated in the van with crash tested crates. It was as early as 1993 that I became obsessed with advocating the importance of crating or securing your dogs when traveling to others. Many people appreciated my concerns but many people, even today, just give me a smirk when I tell them that their dogs would be safer traveling in a crate or seatbelt. Since my whole life revolved around my dogs, I was not going to put them at risk by allowing them to ride loose in my vehicle.
In 1996, while living in Connecticut, I found the sport of Canine Frisbee or I should say it found me. Austin and I excelled at the competitions and we were hooked on the whole traveling around the country, for competitions. In addition to Frisbee events, we trained and competed in other dog sports, such as Agility and Flyball.
Austin and I went on to win many regional Frisbee Dog events and competed in Alpo’s World Championships three times and Purina Incredible Dog Challenge Nationals twice. It was at the 2000 Purina Challenge that I, along with five other competitors, were offered a contract to be a member of an elite team that would tour the country performing and promoting Purina.
When I saw how many guys, I mean men, were doing this whole dog performing thing full time, I decided that I too could make this work for me, well I hoped. I left big pharma in 2005 and started to go out on my own. I moved to a small town in the Catskills of NY to start a dog training facility where I could teach and be my own boss, giving me the freedom to travel and perform. I found a one bedroom cottage to rent on a nice piece of property which had 3 warehouses on it. I talked my landlord into allowing me to have my then seven dogs in that tiny cottage and the option to rent a warehouse to start a business. However, it wasn’t long, about four months, when I was contacted about Ringling Bros. Circus looking for a high energy dog act. I met with Ringlings’ talent scout and owner of the circus where I had to audition my “act” and they loved the dogs and the actual bond I had with my dogs, they signed me to a two-year contract on the spot. I literally had two weeks to get my affairs in order, to join the show on the road in Tallahassee, FL. This included putting my belongings in storage, buying a trailer and learning how to tow that trailer from New York to Florida.