The Things We Do for Love
A few months ago, my mother-in-law, Phyllis, moved to Ohio to live with her daughter, Sue. Sadly, Phyllis’ health declined to the point where she was in the hospital more than she was out. As a result, she ended up in a rehabilitation nursing home in the hopes of rebuilding her strength. On several occasions, rescue services had to be called to stabilize her diabetes, or take her back to the hospital when she went into congestive heart failure. In a rare stand of defiance a few weeks ago, Phyllis signed an order at the rehab center that she was not to be moved to the hospital for any reason. It gave her a feeling of control, and of serenity, to do it. She let us know plainly that had there been any hope of curing her ills she would not have reached that decision. Fortunately, since signing the order, her health has stabilized. Steve and I decided to take the long Independence Day weekend and a couple of additional vacation days and drive to Ohio to visit. We wanted be able to say all the good things that were in our hearts while we still could.
When we made the decision to head north, deciding what clothing to pack was easy. Planning the route was a snap for Steve since he hails from the Buckeye State. What to do about our small dog, Beau—that was more problematic. Our big dog, Maxx, had passed away not long before. We had misgivings about putting the pup in “the Bed and Biscuit,” as the vet calls his boarding service. We were afraid he would go out of his mind with loneliness and grief, never having been left alone there before. After much discussion, we decided the dog would go with us. The fact that the nursing home where Phyllis now lives allows dogs to visit made the decision easier.
I purchased a doggie car seat so Beau could look out the windows. Steve planned a more scenic route in order to have more options in the event the dog needed a constitutional. We packed treats, toys, rugs, food and water bowls. The entire back seat was set up for one fifteen-pound dog that had never been in a car except to go to the vet. Typically, the trip to the vet is an ear-splitting fifteen minutes while the dog howls and cries as though he is being beaten, whether he is going to the vet or on his way home again. As you might imagine, it was with much trepidation we left that Thursday evening.
The drive was as miserable as we feared it would be. The yowling, crying and heart-breaking moaning was enough to make us momentarily consider stuffing him in a suitcase out of sheer frustration. At one point, Steve and I tried being noisy ourselves. It startled Beau into quiet for about thirty seconds. We discovered that dogs are pretty much like us humans when they get nervous; they have to pee, too, and often! So, with the heavy holiday weekend traffic and frequent canine bladder stops, the going was slow. It wasn’t until we hit Ohio and traffic came to a dead standstill for an hour and a half that we accidentally found a cure for Beau’s stress. He took matters into his own paws, jumped over the console into my lap and quietly perched there as Steve and I looked at each other in stunned surprise. He then curled up and went to sleep for the first time since being put in the vehicle. The caterwauling finally stopped. The silence was as deafening as it was welcome.
Traveling with an animal presents many other problems, not the least of which is where to eat. Leaving an animal in a car on a scorching July day, with the windows open just enough to prevent escape, is not an option. Even leaving the car locked and running with the AC on full blast was not a choice since our dog behaved as though he was being murdered. That, we were certain, would have engendered a few calls to the police. So we availed ourselves of the drive-thru windows of a lot of fast food restaurants and ate on the fly. It stopped being of any interest after the third meal. Steve and I don’t care if we never eat fast food again.
After we returned, I went online in search of a book of advice on traveling well with a pet. What seemed to be the best bet was a Mobil Travel Guide titled On the Road with Your Pet. The cover advertises “the best pet-friendly lodgings and restaurants, tips for traveling with your pet and maps featuring dog parks, pet shops, places to stay, dine and shop.” It offers information on flying with a pet and pet first aid as well. It appeared to be a decent option.
When the book showed up in the mailbox, I could hardly wait to open it. It was not as large as I expected it to be, but thumbing through it, I saw the many maps and brief descriptions of hotels, restaurants and the like. On the surface, it appeared that good things would come in this smaller-than-desired package. Steve picked up the book as I was finishing some up some research for a project and started reading aloud some of the information.
It didn’t take much time to discover that this was a book for people with more money than they know what to do with, not a worthwhile recommendation for ordinary folks who sometimes must travel with a pet. For instance, there is a place in Boston called the Polka Dog Bakery. It is, admittedly, a clever name. This is a place to reward your dog’s behavior with treats made from the finest ingredients. They also offer accessories like “Munchboxes” to hold the dog’s treats, and fashionable attire for the pet in your life, along with “after dinner mints” heralded as their “fool proof” solution to dog breath. I’m not interested in shopping for the dog while I travel. I can do that at home.
To stay at the hotels recommended in the book, the dog must weigh less than 15 pounds for the most part and the fees ranged from $100 to $500 a night in addition to the human room rate. I must add that for these sums, treats, dog tags, and even four-poster dog beds are provided, some with Italian linens. Steve and I hooted and cackled heartily as he read this stuff. In the end, though, I was astonished and more disappointed than amused.
This book was as useless at it was funny. I was grateful I had bought the book at a sale price and not the recommended retail price of $18.95. Even if I had the money to pay the exorbitant fees required to stay the night at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia with my dog, I wouldn’t spend it. I would board the dog, especially if I was going to take in the sights, sounds and amenities of these large cities.
The truth is, traveling with an animal presents many challenges. There are no easy solutions, especially if one’s bank account balance never stays higher than two or three digits to the left of the decimal point. This book was not written for me or people like me; this was written for high net worth individuals or the dog who recently inherited Leona Helmsley’s empire.
I will say the book taught me one thing: There are some restaurants with outside seating that may allow you to bring your dog. The best way to find them is to do your own research, easily done for short trips. For long trips, if boarding is not a viable option, fast food restaurants are a port in a storm. Picnic coolers packed with good things from the grocery store are a great alternative, as well. On our own, we learned there are lots of motels that will allow pets for a small deposit which is sometimes refundable. It is just a matter of asking.
After our visit with Phyllis I had to fly out to Milwaukee on business and Steve was not looking forward to a whining wee beastie on the drive back home to Florida. He put the dog seat up front and Beau was happy on his perch watching the world go by or napping. He just likes to be close to his people. It took us a while to figure it out. Like everything else in life, learning always comes with doing. The adventures will make for great stories in the annals of our family’s history.
As for our trip, Phyllis was as happy to see us as we were to see her. She is eighty-eight and fragile. We got to give her hugs, have good conversations, tell her how much we loved her and how much she meant to us. She shared her heart with us, too. She liked having Beau snuggle up to her as we talked or played cards on one of the rainy afternoons. They both thrived on the affection. The visit meant a great deal to all of us.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” Contact Anne.