The biggest grin possible.
That’s how Dogsmile Adventures founder Capt. Jon Totten describes how Dogsmile Adventures got its name.
“A dog smile is an expression of unadulterated happiness. You’re so happy that you don’t care about how you look or how you’re seen or what anyone else thinks.”
Dogsmile Adventures therapeutic sailing has given many humans a reason to smile that happy dog smile. From the completely inexperienced to sailors at heart, it’s a program that makes sailing accessible for all.
“You can see their faces light up,” Coeur d’Alene dad Tim Neary said Friday.
Neary and his three girls were Dogsmile Adventures’ first clients when the nonprofit launched in 2020. They’ve been out about four times this summer.
“One of the best things I see is three sisters coming together as a team, learning a new skill, working together,” Neary said.
Two of Neary’s daughters are on the autism spectrum, and he is a full-time caregiver for his eldest, Megan, 25. He said sailing has been a huge boost of confidence for them, especially Megan.
“She loves to drive the boat,” he said. “She took the boat after the sails went down last time and drove it into the boat slip with Jon’s help. She takes ownership of driving the boat.”
As a dad who finds himself overwhelmed at times, his heart finds peace when he sees his daughters team up for a sailing expedition, smiles on their faces and the wind in their hair.
“To have such a unique experience for them in a beautiful place like Pend Oreille, it’s such a positive thing,” Neary said. “There is something very therapeutic and healing about sailing. Being out there without a motor, just you and the wind, is very healing. It’s stress relieving, helping me as a dad who is very overwhelmed.”
Totten’s vision has sailed into a successful venture. He said more than 300 guests have enjoyed Dogsmile Adventures since its inception, with many repeat participants.
“It’s been a passion project,” Totten said. “It was a big swing but I went for it. It was a big risk to take, but it was really brought on by the pandemic. It put me in a position where I had to change direction. This idea of giving sailing to people who don’t have access is really what’s underneath it all.”
When people buy a lesson or a day sail with Dogsmile Adventures, they’re also buying a sailing experience for someone else.
“You’re paying double the rate and then you give a sail to someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” Totten said. “You’re supporting other people.”
He said sailing itself is quiet and quieting.
“There’s not a lot of noise on a sailboat,” Totten said. “It tends to put people in the moment. It’s hard to be anywhere else. You’re not worrying about the future or reliving the past.”
Dogsmile Adventures offers sailboat rides, lessons, a racing academy and custom experiences. Its focus is on underserved communities, such as veterans, local youth, victims of domestic violence and those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, but Dogsmile programs are open to anyone interested in experiencing the healing power of sailing.
The nonprofit is in need of involvement and support. Shore crew, deck hands, media specialists, nonprofit administrators and sponsors are necessary for Dogsmile to continue to offer paid and donated sailing experiences.
“Dogsmile Adventures is as local as a great cause can be,” said Capt. David Kilmer, who serves on the board of directors and volunteers in the field. “It has strong leadership, single-minded focus and fiscal efficiency without overhead. Every dollar invested in Dogsmile goes directly to our mission.”