Dean Potter and his dog, Whisper, have made self-propelled flight history. The proof is on film; Potter and girlfriend Jen Rapp premiered their autobiographical documentary (autodoc) When Dogs Fly at Mountainfilm in Telluride last week.
“Miss Whisp travels everywhere with us. We try to never leave her behind,” says Potter. “Whisper is an Australian Cattledog (aka Queensland Heeler) and bred to herd cows by nipping at their heels. The most important thing for our little pipsqueak is to keep her pack together.”
“I’ve noticed most people understand how lucky Whisper is to live such an active life outdoors, together with her family 100% of the time,” Potter continues. “Much of my inspiration for this was taken from the famous story by John Muir: ‘Stickeen, The Story of a Dog’ (1880). Here the renowned adventurer and naturalist goes on several harrowing trips into the mountains in Alaska with his loyal companion, Stickeen.
I’ve also noticed that some of our pictures of Miss Whisp make people uneasy and even scared for her safety. I can relate to both ways of thinking and struggle with the same feelings myself. I was intrigued with this article, History of Parachuting Dogs, which dates back to the early 1900’s.
Our best friends have been following us humans around for as long as we’ve stood on two legs and probably before that. The lives of all creatures in the wild are never a sure thing and I find it odd how disconnected some people are from our symbiotic relationships with all living beings. Origin of the Domestic Dog.
Whisper is a cattle dog. She weighs 22 pounds and is bred to tell gigantic cows that weigh over a hundred times more than her what to do. This horrifies me! Lineage of Australian Cattle Dogs. For sure, this isn’t ‘safe’ for dogs but for some reason, Whisper instinctually wants to herd other animals. Dogs do things that aren’t “safe” every day, but society has become used to them: livestock wrangling, assisting the military, helping law enforcement, fighting fires, search and rescue, hunting, driving without seatbelts. Note: Whenever our family drives with Whisper, she’s secured with her full-strength harness and clipped into the seatbelt. Though we recognize this isn’t a perfect fix, we do everything in our power to keep Whispy safe at all times.
I’ve been pursuing some of the most dangerous arts known to man for the past three decades (climbing, linewalking and human flight). I’ve never suffered serious injury and hope to remain healthy for the entirety of a very long life. Though I realize, some of this is luck, I also realize I have a methodical, well-thought-out strategy and safety system that reduces human error and gear imperfections and keeps us safe. I’ve gained much of this approach of bold yet conservative decision making from the writings of Miyamoto Musashi, especially his Book of Five Rings.
Whenever I enter hazardous terrain with Whisper-dog, I secure her with a Ruffwear DoubleBack Harness. This harness is incredibly overbuilt for a 22-pound pup and that makes me feel very confident she will never become disconnected from me and the anchor.
Additionally, Whisper is always attached to me with 2 full-strength locking carabiners and a 10mm climbing rope that holds thousands of pounds and is made for humans to trust their lives to. I trust my own life to these ropes and they have never failed me for the past 30 years. Whisper weighs one-eighth my weight so this makes the ropes eight times safer for her…
I know my family’s adventures must scare a lot of you who have rarely or never been into the wild or are afraid of heights and exposure. We are all different, and in no way am I saying that my way is right and your way is wrong. I just want to let you all to know that we do everything possible to keep Whisper super safe, well beyond the equivalent safety of a human being in the same scenario.
Finally, I want you all to know that I do not force Whisper to do anything she doesn’t want to do. When we wake up in the morning, if Whisper wants to stay at home or camp, she is free to do so. This has never happened though and she always nips and yips at our heels and prods us to hop to it and get going.
Last summer when I was wingsuit BASE-jumping with Whisper she never once didn’t want to come along. In fact, whenever I put on my wingsuit or pack my parachute, little Whisper nestles close and begs to come along.
In no way do I want others to try to emulate what I do with Whisper without proper knowledge and training! I’ve given my entire life to making the safest gear on the planet and have a unique interest in specialized gear. Before bringing a friend or dog that trusts you with their safety into a dangerous situation, please know the facts and be aware of all the hazards and safety precautions.
Also, dogs’ lives are far shorter than our own. Each hour they are left in the car or at the house alone is like 7 hours. Each day stranded by themselves, longing to be with their pack, is like 7 days. Please, try your hardest to never leave your best friend behind. Take them with you as much as possible. Their lives and wellbeing are just as important as our own.”