Dean Potter Defends Dog BASE Jumping

His pooch is "living the dream"

May 29, 2014
Outside Magazine

Whisper takes to the air in a special backpack attached to Potter's wingsuit.    "When Dogs Fly" trailer

We brought you BASE jumping for dogs last year as an April Fool's joke, but—what a world we live in—it's not a joke for Dean Potter. The climber, BASE jumper, and all-round risk-taker unveiled a trailer for his short film, When Dogs Fly, at the 2014 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride. In the starring role is his Australian cattle dog, Whisper, who straps onto Potter's back with her own pair of safety goggles as he wings through mountainous terrain. Some people have a big problem with that.

"If it was up to most dogs to make a choice, they would probably pick the 'not jump off a cliff' card," said one commenter on a Sploid article covering When Dogs Fly. Many have taken issue with the fact that Whisper doesn't have her own helmet and doesn't seem to have a choice in the matter. "Mr. Potter, you have a call on line three. Someone named Mr. PETA," wrote another commenter.

Potter recently responded to criticism in a lengthy post on his personal website. His inspiration, he says, is a story by John Muir about a dangerous journey through glacier-ridden parts of Alaska with his dog, Stickeen. Like Stickeen, Whisper gladly accompanies Potter and his girlfriend, Jen, on harrowing adventures. "She always nips and yips at our heels and prods us to hop to it and get going," Potter says.

Not all feedback to Potter was negative. Some folks agreed that Whisper is living the dream: "Man, this is like putting your head out the window of a moving car times a million."

Whisper isn't the first dog to fly. Canines have a long history of parachuting during wartime. Safety technology has improved with time. Potter explains the many precautions he takes with 22-pound Whisper: a special dog harness, two locking carabiners, and a 10-millimeter climbing rope that is, Potter points out, eight times safer for Whisper since she is an eighth of his weight.

Potter's no stranger to controversy. In 2006, he set off a reaction after climbing to the top of Delicate Arch in Utah's Arches National Park. He was dismissive of criticism then, and apparently feels the same way now regarding BASE jumping with his dog. To his critics, he says, in essence, haters gonna hate: "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." Meanwhile, Whisper will remain airborne, and that's no joke.