Have dog, will travel

The road was our home for almost three weeks.

We embarked upon a journey to the east coast early in July. Initially, we had this crazy idea to camp along the way.

Then we came to our senses.

It would be tough enough managing sleep and meal needs for long drives. We sure didn’t need to complicate matters by throwing in tents, sleeping bags and other accoutrements that would cramp Shep’s space in the back of my Escape.

Telling Shep to prepare for our road trip

And thus we remembered a great hotel chain from a weekend in Kalispell, MT.

LaQuinta Inn & Suites have a pet policy which essentially states ‘all dogs allowed.’

Yippee!

Shep, as many of you know, is an extra-large breed. He doesn’t exactly fit in a purse and, if someone comes too close to his house or truck, his bark will scare the living bejeus out of you.

It makes me jump sometimes.

Holy crap, it just did.

We looked for LaQuinta locations along our journey and planned our stops according to cities where LQ has hotels. We drove for nine and 10 hours a day to reach our destination and stumbled wearily into LQ locations in Cleveland, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin; and Auburn, Massachusetts.

We encountered two glitches.

In Cleveland, the Airport North location, our hallway smelled like weed. I mentioned it to the clerk who checked us out the next morning and she was horrified, asking if I had reported it.

I replied no, figuring it wouldn’t be an easy thing to figure out.

“What would you do,” I asked, smiling. “Crawl along the floor and sniff under each door crack?”

She laughed and I said “don’t worry about it.”

But she noted the location was going 100% smoke-free soon.

In Auburn, I looked through bleary eyes at the night clerk who told me I had no reservation.

Wait … you had one but it was for three nights ago.

Oh noes! I screwed up on the online reservation system.

No worries. He found us a room and, when Outback failed to include flatware with our takeout steaks, he cheerily brought us up plates, napkins and plastic knives and forks.

If I knew the young fella’s name, I would give him extra ups right here but, alas, I can’t recall if he ever gave it to me.

Even better, he encouraged me to contact LaQuinta and explain my situation, since I would also be charged for the night we didn’t show up.

I did. And Tammi, the location manager, ensured I was refunded.

Thus, we happily booked LaQuinta rooms on our return trip, although we were disappointed to learn the Fargo, N.D., location was fully booked on the night we’d be in town.

In some spots, like Fargo and Aberdeen, S.D., we stayed at alternate motel chains (also dog friendly).

But we had such great experiences at LQ that I wanted to shine a spotlight on it here. If you’re travelling the U.S. and some parts of Canada with a pet friend (or without even), I encourage you to find a LaQuinta location.

Especially the one in Madison, WI. It is easily one of the nicest places I’ve stayed, besting some of the four-star pads in Toronto last summer. The hotel had gorgeous, spacious rooms and some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever encountered via customer service.

In Madison, WI.

You’d never figure, eh?

An unpleasant discovery

Mould.

Fungus.

That grows in damp, poorly ventilated areas.

In my truck.

On my leather seat.

Gross.

mould

I have no doubt it’s there because I’ll keep Shep’s water bowl full on our long road trips and it will inevitably tip over and spill.

The seats are never unfolded in my little SUV, unless it’s cleaning time. It isn’t even really my truck.

It’s Shep’s.

You see, I’m a reformed Mustang girl.

She was my little princess, her sleek, cool lines and blazing red paint … her five-on-the-floor fun times, her throaty little growl when we stood at the post against some little Honda kid with a bumblebee exhaust.

She looked like this:

A real beauty, no?

We would spend hours together … her sitting in the sun and me going over her with wax and a soft cloth, cleaning out her edges with a new toothbrush … she was so clean you could eat off her floor.

But you weren’t allowed to eat in my Mustang.

Oh no.

That was 2000-2006.

Then this beast came into my life.

And I saw my lifestyle start to change.

I wanted to spend time with him in the mountains, climbing big hills and crossing streams and jumping into mud puddles.

We needed something a little more rugged.

Enter my little Escape.

I stopped caring what my truck looked like. It was full of dust and rocks and treats fallen between cracks and hair … oh Lord, the dog hair. Lookit, there isn’t a vacuum cleaner in the world that can conquer a maremma sheepdog hair.

You can name one and I will laugh. In fact, I challenge any vacuum cleaner company to send me a demo product to try and clean every last dog hair out of my truck.

Now fast forward to 2010. My American has entered our lives. He’s a bit on the clean and tidy side. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him about the former me, the Mustang girl who polished her baby from dawn til dusk and hated rainy days.

He looks at my truck in disgust, knowing full well when he cleaned it for me last spring, it was the first time a vacuum cleaner had seen the inside during the course of my ownership.

He steps into it with hesitance, knowing the very white dog hair floating in the air will weave its way into the threads of his very black fleece jacket.

And he turns up his nose at the persistent aroma of wet dog. Or is that the French fry lodged between the seats when Shep refused to eat it?

He visits tomorrow. I thought to clean my truck and surprise him. Instead, I had to send him the picture my discovery.

A little vinegar and water will take care of it, he says, not registering the slightest bit of shock that I’ve found mould in my truck.

It will be fine, he says, as I wonder whether the mould has found its way into the seat cushion and will I wake up one day with my entire interior engulfed in the gross, furry culture?

No, you won’t, he says.

I trust him.

I have to.

Because he puts up with me.

Lesson learned

They almost didn’t let me in this time.

I left Calgary yesterday, bound for Spokane and two whole weeks with My American. He didn’t know. He wasn’t expecting me until Wednesday.

Thus, the day could not go by perfectly. You know this. It’s Murphy’s Law, right?

I  missed the 520 and figured, ah heck, I’ll just scoot across the 540 to the 22 and bust on down to Highway 3 and Crowsnest Pass.

Except the 540 is a dirt road. Something I did not know.

And it’s been raining an awful lot in southern Alberta. This, we all knew.

It was a stressful, bouncy ride and intermittent downpours on my way through B.C. did nothing to wash the layers and layers and layers of muck off my wee truck.

Then it happened …

“You bringin’ any fruits or vegetables with ya, ma’am?”

Yep, sure am. I have some strawberries and some peppers and some salad stuff. It’s just the kind of stuff I bought last week and didn’t have time to eat … because, well, I’m surprising my boyfriend three days early than I’m supposed to arrive. You know, just harmless salad stuff.

“You got any tomatoes?”

Oh yeah, yeah, I do. I have some tomatoes.

“I’m gonna need you to pull around to the corner so we can have the egg-guy check out what you’re carrying.”

OK.

Egg-guy? Egg-guy. Oh, ag guy, as in agriculture.

Right. I knew I should have paid more attention when my 4-H classmates were making presentations.

As it turns out, I’m a bad ass.

I had mangoes.

Never never never mangoes. I don’t know why.

I had four red peppers.

Tomatoes and peppers are prohibited, unless they’re cut up or I can prove they’re of U.S. origin.

Ultimately, my tomatoes were fine. I had to surrender my mangoes and red peppers, though.

And I got a stern talking-to.

With reading material.

The U.S. has some pretty strict rules about ‘ag’ items that we can bring in while we’re visiting. British Columbian corn is OK. Corn grown in all other provinces, even our famous Alberta Taber corn, is allowed only to certain destination states. Washington, home state of My American, is not one of those destination states.

You are responsible for knowing all items that you’re packing into the States. I kinda knew that but figured the veggies wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

But they are. And Border Protection Officer Fox could have issued me a pay-now, on-the-spot fine of $300 for smuggling contraband across the border.

Even pet food has restrictions. If it’s manufactured in Canada and contains lamb or goat, it ain’t gettin’ in. Pet food has to be in its original container in order to prove country of origin and manufacturer contents.

My heart was beating erratically as BPO Fox explained the potential charges. I was panicking.

How stupid of me. What if they told to go home and never try to come back again? What if I had driven all this way only to send back to whence I came?

I knew about my shopping restrictions coming back. I knew about my 1.5 litres of wine or 1.14 litres of hard liquor for when I come back.

But I didn’t know about produce.

Until now.

The fright of my life

I had a hell of a fright yesterday.

Shep and I bundled up in the truck to head west in search of beautiful fall colours, especially a sunrise which is typically so striking in Calgary at this time of year.

We were a little late getting going, though, and missed the sunrise but for a few bursts of colour at Edworthy Park at the northwest end of the city.

Big Hill Springs 016

I had wanted to get all the way out to the Cochrane turnoff and capture the sun rising over some prairie fields. Ah, maybe next weekend we’ll try again.

As long as Shep is in decent enough shape, that is.

Yes … I have myself an injured pup.

We went onto Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, just north of Cochrane. It’s really quite a stunning little place. The lower end of the hill is littered with miniature water falls, brooks and creeks, bridges and falling leaves.

You can hear the rush of the water the second you step out of your vehicle in the parking lot.

We had some time to kill before our company arrived. We were meeting Dana and Tundra, who’d never been out to the area before … even though Dana grew up in Calgary.

You might recognize Dana’s name. She works for our veterinarian, Dr. Bill, at Westmount Animal Clinic in Kensington.

She’s also been a teammate, a landlady, a shoulder, a drinking buddy and a very close friend.

Shep and I went for a quick jaunt back up the road. I wanted to see if I could get some lively cow pictures, better than the ones I captured from my truck while they blocked the road upon our entry.

And that’s where our day turned scary.

Shep typically will leap over a cattle guard, as he did south of Vulcan this past spring. Whether it’s his age catching up to him or the fact he still had his leash on, he tried walking across the cattle guard.

He was hesitant at first and I should have told him to just stay there while I went a little ahead to talk to the cows.

He insisted on trying to walk across the cattle guard.

I heard a whimper behind me and saw my beloved dog with his hind legs fallen and stuck. I could see the panic in his eyes.

I dropped my camera to the ground, lifted his bum up and helped him out.

But then he wouldn’t put any weight on right hind leg. I screamed. He yelped.

OK, calm down, I thought. You freaking out isn’t going to help matters any at all.

I felt his leg, searching for any hint of a break … waiting for him to snap at me if it hurt too much.

Nothing.

OK, he still wasn’t putting any weight down. He was in the middle of the road and my truck was about 100 metres back that way.

Adrenalin is a funny thing, though. I scooped up my 110-pound dog and carried him to the side of the road.

I laid him down and with a speed unknown to any of my ball teammates in the past, I sprinted to my truck.

I jumped in and drove back to the spot where he lay, then leaped out of my truck, hoping that I would be able to lift him into it and speed back to the city.

My feet hit the ground and you know what? The fucker came running toward me.

My head went from ‘oh my God, I could kill you right now’ to ‘thank Christ, you’re OK’ in about two seconds.’

He had no problem jumping into the truck, while my head went back and forth between anger and relief.

Mostly relief … I swear.

The anger started to turn inwards, knowing I repeatedly promise to keep that dog safe from danger for every day I humanly can.

And I didn’t.

He recovered quickly and his spirits soared when he saw Dana’s truck pull into the parking lot and out jumped his best buddy Tundra.

Big Hill Springs 223

We walked and took pictures for a good long while, but we didn’t do any hills or anything overly strenuous … hell, Dana and I both getting up there, too!

It’s been more than a day since the fright and Shep is still pretty stiff from his trauma. He’s taking aspirin, ground up and mixed into an egg (spoiled, I know!).

Plus, I noticed a tremendous gash on the inside of his right hind that will require some nursing over the next few days.

A cone? That won’t stay on.

A Tensor bandage is doing for now.

But Shep is a fairly determined dog and when he wants to lick at something, he’ll get to it.

And thus, my task for the next few days is just keeping him away from that area.

I owe him as much.

Big Hill Springs 083

Why my dog rocks

What makes Shep so awesome? What is it about him that makes me disinterested in activities that don’t include him? Why do I feel awful when I leave him home for long periods of time unattended?

Shep and I celebrated our sixth anniversary together on May long weekend. I remember well our first weekend. We were both a little nervous, trying to establish our roles with each other.

In fact, he barfed on the floor next to the bed. Thank goodness I was spending the night at a friend’s place in Carstairs, where our time together began.

We struggled with each other over the next year, trying to earn a place in each other’s hearts and still not truly trusting each other. Was I only going to give him up like his last two families? Why the fuck won’t he eat what’s put in front of him?

We turned a corner in 2006, a story not meant for these spaces and one better kept between Shep, me and a few close friends in the know.

For you, here is why Shep rocks:

    • When I come home from being anywhere, he doesn’t leave my side for at least 10 minutes.
    • He knows how to be Srs Dog.

Newell County

  • He belches like a human … even comes over and sits beside me so he can share it with me.
  • When I’ve been spending too much time on my laptop, he lets me know by putting his head right on the keyboard. Or by using his snout to lift my hands off the keyboard.
  • He loves going to the vet. It’s true. His Auntie Dana works there. He knows he’ll see her and his best friend Tundra there.
  • We have hugs. He’s tall enough to stand on his hinds and put his forepaws on my shoulders.
  • I snap him off for putting his nose on the kitchen counter. He wags his tail anyway and it goes in this big circle that always makes me smile.
  • He is always surprised by his own farts. And he comes over to sit beside me so he can share them with me.
  • When he talks to me, it’s usually because there’s another dog in the near vicinity, like the toy dog upstairs or the chihuahua next door. And it’s half bark, half howl, kinda whiny, not at all fierce. For a big dog, he’s a wuss.
  • He knows how to be goofy dog.

Newell County

  • And he becomes a total baby during thunderstorms. I saw him try to hide under the bed once but there isn’t enough room. So, he cowers in the bathroom and whimpers. Big dog, my ass.
  • Chase is the most fun game. Ever. He doesn’t play fetch. It’s almost undignified for him. You threw the ball, you go get it. For chase, he assumes position and then runs speed laps around me. Then he gets bored and moves on.
  • His attention span makes me laugh. He seems to get bored easily. So do I. We’re perfect for each other.
  • He wants to be the That Guy at the dog park, running up to every dog and trying to make friends.
  • Patience is his biggest virtue. When the weather is crappy or I just don’t feel like going for a walk, he’s happy enough to just hang out.
  • He knows exactly what my ball bag means. He puts his face on his paws and gives me a look that says, ‘you’re going to be away all day and I’m going to miss you.’ At least, that’s what I think it means.
  • He knows exactly what filling my day pack means. And he gets so excited because he knows he’ll be spending the day in the mountains.
  • He’s the best inside spoon for cuddling. Ever.
  • He is simply the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen. People have stopped traffic to tell me as much. I kid you not.

Little Elbow

  • He has made me a better judge of character. If you don’t love my dog and show him affection, I’m going to have trouble loving you.
  • He is happiest when we are together. And so am I.

My chubby buddy

Three years ago, my dog had a problem.

He was 130 lb., almost 20 lb. more than his breed’s healthy weight. He was lethargic and losing his hair in patches.
I was worried.
At the same time, I was not in a financial position to rush him off to the vet whenever I could.
As fate would happen, I slid into second base on opening night and busted my hand … really good. I broke the thumb off at the Bennett’s joint, tore the tendons in my hand and required surgery to put everything back together.
My friend, Dana, is a veterinarian technician. She was also my teammate. She not only handled me and my pain, getting me to emergency and back to the hospital for surgery, but she also kidnapped Shep for the weekend.
Knowing I was overnighting at Peter Lougheed, she took Shep into her home and made sure he was well taken care of.
She also seized the opportunity to get him in to see Dr. Bill and get his blood tested. Sure enough, his thyroid was out of whack.
He went on medication and, within days, he had his energy back. Inside of two months, he was back to a healthy weight.
Fast forward three years to Saturday afternoon and his annual blood test.

Weekend 069

Shep is a strange dog. He loves going to the vet. He knows his buddy Tundra will be there with Auntie Dana and he loves the attention he gets … from the girls at reception to Dr. Bill.

He’s just that kind of dog you can’t help but love.

So we stick around to watch Auntie Dana run the blood test.

It’s good news. His thyroid levels are high.

That means his dose of medication is too high, too.

So now we get to scale back on the amount of pills he has to take to keep everything regulated.

It’s funny, because that isn’t the kind of thing we can have control over. But, at the same time, I’m immensely proud of my boo for getting better.

He’s happy — at least I think so — and he’s healthy.

And because of the incredible love I’ve learned from him, I’ll always ensure he gets to do the things he loves … like heading for the hills for a good, long run.