We’ve seen skydiving Pugs and hang gliding Australian Cattle Dogs, but Whisper just might be a first. A 4-year-old daredevil Miniature Australian Cattle Dog, Whisper does something most humans wouldn’t dare do — BASE jumping.
BASE jumping is the kind of sport a true adrenaline junkie would love. Jumpers in special wing-suits leap from structures at dangerously low altitudes. The name BASE is actually an acronym for the kinds of structures from which these jumpers leap — Buildings, Antennas, Spans (such as bridges), and Earth (cliffs, mountains, canyons, and other natural formations). The altitudes in a jump are so low that BASE jumpers have only seconds to fly before deploying their parachutes and landing safely, which means they have no time for equipment malfunctions. The sport is so risky that it has even been made illegal in many locations.
So how did Whisper, a dog, get involved in a sport like BASE jumping?
“All Whisper wants is to be with her pack family,” Whisper’s owner, Dean Potter, tells the National Geographic Adventure Blog, Beyond the Edge. “When we go on adventures, she goes on adventures. She’s just a loyal pup with a very adventuresome papa.”
Potter is well known in the rock-climbing world as one of the “Superclimbers” and for many years has developed a reputation as a legendary BASE jumper. After he and his girlfriend, Jen Rapp, got Whisper as a puppy, he tells Mother Jones he felt bad leaving Whisper at home while he left for long hikes, climbs, and BASE jumps. Potter got to work designing a special pack for the little Cattle Dog so she could join him on his adventures.
“It was mostly a matter of practicality of not wanting Whisper to miss out on incredible mountain dog-walks that led us to wing-suit flying together,” Potter adds.
The experienced climber and jumper says Whisper’s safety is his top priority, and he made sure when creating Whisper’s pack to get it right.
“It took three times, and the first two prototypes, we didn’t even get out of the shop,” Potter says. “And we finally got it on the third try.”
Before officially taking Whisper on a jump, Potter says he used Whisper’s favorite toy — a stuffed lion — in a test run and did speed trials with Whisper on his bicycle and motorcycle to ensure she would do okay with speed. Potter also purchased some protective dog goggles — also known as “doggles” — for Whisper. After a few trial runs, Whisper started joining Potter in the sky — but only on the safest jumps, Potter promises.
“When I fly with Whisper, we only jump off the safest cliffs in the world with the longest and cleanest rock drops,” Potter explains. “This allows Whisper to go on amazing, long mountain climbs and hikes with us, instead of being trapped in the car or left at home.”
Potter recently posted a video of one of Whisper’s BASE jumps on YouTube, and in only three short days the clip has been viewed more than 650,000 times. The clip shows Potter and Whisper jumping from The Eiger, a 13,000-foot mountain peak in the Swiss Alps.
While many people voiced their delight at seeing a dog perform such an amazing feat, many others were very critical of Potter for subjecting his dog to such unnecessary danger.
“Although both the dog and owner land safely, being strapped to a person’s back and dropped by parachute is likely to be a cause of significant stress and fear for the dog,” a spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said in a statement.
Some have even suggested that BASE jumping with a dog is akin to animal cruelty or abuse.
“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,” Potter writes in a statement on his website. “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 know] that we do everything possible to keep Whisper super safe, well beyond the equivalent safety of a human being in the same scenario.”
Potter also addresses critics who suggest Whisper is forced to perform these dangerous acts.
“I want you all to know that I do not force Whisper to do anything she doesn’t want to do,” he writes. “When we wake up in the morning, if Whisper wants to stay at home or camp, she is free to do so […]. In fact, whenever I put on my wingsuit or pack my parachute, little Whisper nestles close and begs to come along.”
Finally, Potter concludes his statement by encouraging other dog owners to do as much as they can with their furry friends.
“Please, try your hardest to never leave your best friend behind. Take them with you as much as possible,” he says. “Their lives and wellbeing are just as important as our own!”
For more videos and photos of Whisper in action, visit the “Whisper Dog” link on Dean Potter’s official website. Potter and Rapp have also created a 22-minute documentary about their daredevil dog, When Dogs Fly, which should be released very soon.