DogTrekker | July 27, 2011

Houseboating With Fido

Houseboating With Fido The moon is bright, the water calm. An owl hoots, a fish flops. Fido perks his ears. No, you’re not camping: You’re floating through the weekend on a houseboat. Whether you opt for a stripped-down model sleeping six or a floating palace that can handle a crowd, there’s nothing like a waterborne vacation to bring out your inner Huck Finn.


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Houseboating Basics

Houseboating Basics

Houseboat rentals are available on many Northern California lakes and waterways, but—just as with hotels—not all rental companies welcome dogs, and some that do limit canines to just one or two of their oldest, least desirable boats. Before you get your heart set on that deluxe model with a rooftop hot tub, faux fireplace and big-screen TV, be sure to ask. In competitive markets such as Lake Shasta, you'll find lots of dog-friendly options.

Think of a houseboat as a slow-moving RV that takes a long time to turn, and you get an idea of what driving one is like. Some rental companies require designated drivers to have previous boating experience, although most will accept novices. At any rate, you'll be put through an extensive orientation before shoving off.

Houseboat rental rates vary hugely according to season, size of the boat and amenities. Fuel and tax are extra, and hefty deposits are required. Mid-June to mid-August is the high season. Good deals along with good weather are to be found in the shoulder seasons, with September considered an optimal time to go houseboating. Regardless of time of year, most companies require a two- or three-night minimum rental.

So what happens with Fido when nature calls? Most houseboaters spend their nights tied up to shore, so it's easy to hop out and take your pup for his morning constitutional. What if he can't wait? Have pick-up bags and bucket at the ready and be prepared to sluice.

Two website booking agencies representing multiple houseboat operators in California are Houseboating.org and Houseboats.com.

Houseboating Capital of California

Jones Valley Resort at Shasta Lake
Jones Valley Resort at Shasta Lake.
Photo: Janet Fullwood

Houseboats can be rented from seven marinas on Northern California's largest—and arguably most beautiful—reservoir.

Shasta Lake is the houseboating capital of California, if not the world, and for good reason.

The lake's 360 miles of jagged shoreline are indented with cove after cove where houseboaters can anchor out in solitude or bob in the company of others.

While the party crowd tends to gather at coves and marinas close to Interstate 5, the Pit River arm of the lake is noted for more secluded places to anchor.

Permits are required for campfires; they're free and can be obtained from houseboat rental companies.

Dog-friendly operators at Shasta include Shasta Marina Resort, Seven Crown Resorts (two locations), Jones Valley Resort and Holiday Harbor. Policies regarding pet fees and deposits vary, so be sure to ask.

Bass Happy on Lake Oroville

You Fish, I'll WatchLake Oroville in Butte County is known as a top-notch fishing lake (especially for bass), but its 167 miles of shoreline also beg exploring. There's no better place to wait for the fish to bite than on the deck of a houseboat with Fluffy lazing by your side. Houseboaters can explore the three arms of the lake extending eastward to the South, Middle and North forks of the Feather River, and pull up overnight at three boat-in campgrounds. Pet-friendly Forever Resorts, a major player in the houseboating world, rents vessels out of Lake Oroville Marina in the Lime Saddle Recreation Area. They're big, measuring in at between 50 and 70 feet. The top-of-the-line Silver Millennium sleeps 10 comfortably and sports amenities including a 45-inch TV and a wet bar, six-person hot tub and barbecue grill on the top deck. Dogs are welcome aboard with a $100 nonrefundable deposit.

Photo: "You Fish, I'll Watch" - Kyle Tetlow

Dawdling in the Delta

The San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta is a boater's paradise that in places feels like another world. Its 1,000 miles of navigable waterways wind through one of the richest agricultural regions in the nation and are easy to get lost in, so navigation skills are a must. Other challenges—like knowledge of tides and currents and being on the alert for low bridges, snags and shallow channels—make houseboating here a different venture than on a lake. But the rewards, from lazing away a day on a quiet slough at Delta Meadows State Recreation Area to tying up at a restaurant on the Delta Loop, are more than worth it.

Seven Crown Resorts is the only company currently renting houseboats on the Delta. Vessels available at its Paradise Point Marina location near Stockton are smaller and nimbler than those seen on large lakes. Pets are welcome on all boats at no extra charge.

Dog Paddle Safety

Flotation vestMost dogs love swimming and splashing. Labs and other retrievers seem born with an instinct to seek out places to get wet. But other dogs don't like water at all, may not have learned to swim and may not be comfortable on boats.

If your pooch falls into that category, itís best to introduce him safely and gradually to the water, and to outfit him with a flotation vest. The jacket could save his life in case he falls in, and itís also good insurance for dog-paddling in deep water. A brightly colored vest also helps you keep track of Fido while heís running around on shore. With that and a spot of sunscreen on his nose, you're good to go on a houseboating vacation.

Here's a fun "story in photos" that goes well with this theme of water safety for dogs . . .

Homeward Bound

If you're looking for a lifelong companion for houseboat adventures and beyond, consider Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue in the Sacramento area, which has placed thousands of dogs in happy homes since 2000.

Homeward Bound provides a safe place for goldens (pedigreed or not) to land when they find themselves in dire straits˜winding up in shelters, for example, or in a situation where their  owners no longer are able to care for them. Homeward Bound rescues the old and ill as well as the young and bouncy, and provides all in its care with necessary medical treatment. At Homeward Bound's sanctuary in Elverta, near Sacramento, all dogs live in security and love until they find their new adoptive homes. If medical issues make them unadoptable, they've got a safe haven for the rest of their days.

Some Homeward Bound alumni have taken very well to houseboat life. Jon Sibaila of Sausalito has shared his life aboard a floating home for the last 15 years with Homeward Bound rescues Angel and O'Reilly, and offers these practical tips for a happy experience:

  • You are on a dock; your dog has to be on leash. There's no place to run except into the water.
  • Pick up after your dog without fail. If your dog urinates on the dock, look around, find the nearest hose and wash the dock down.
  • Just like humans, dogs don't necessarily have "sea legs." On moving, floating docks, dogs and people can fall in. Proceed cautiously.
  • Not all dogs are strong swimmers: swimming may be in their genes, but it may not be in their skill set.  Don't expect them to just "get it.” Stand by to render assistance.

Homeward Bound presents "A Golden Vintage" at Vintner's Cellar Winery on August 12 and 20. Both events include wine tasting, live music and the experience of bottling your own wine, all to benefit goldens in need. Tickets are $35 if purchased before July 31st.

Photo Credits:

"Houseboats on Shasta Lake" - Janet Fullwood
"Whitney on Deck" - Kyle Tetlow
"You Fish, I'll Watch" - Kyle Tetlow
"Jones Valley Resort at Shasta Lake" - Janet Fullwood
"Sanctuary" - Homeward Bound

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