Travels with Charlie

Charlie does not do well in the car. He can tough it out on the highway but a winding, curvy, bumpy back road causes his tummy to lurch and purge. This can be especially gross if he is sitting in my lap at the time. Almost all of my pets throughout my life have travelled well. Chase enjoys a car ride and will even hop inside, uninvited, just for the briefest of trips to the store, bank or mailbox.

The worst travel companion I ever had was my cat, Madison. He loathed the car so much that he would work himself into a frenzy before I moved the vehicle ten feet from the driveway. He would spit and howl and hiss and make himself sick almost instantly. He would froth and foam at the mouth like a rabid wild animal. The cat needed a bath one hundred percent of the time upon reaching our destination. The worst trip ever was a visit to my parents’ home when I was living in Charleston, South Carolina. It was more than two hours to their house in my small single cab pickup truck. Madison was hissing in his typical fashion from the cage on the seat beside me. On this trip he graciously waited forty minutes before becoming ill in his cage. I was too far from my apartment to turn around and too far from my parents’ to continue with an agitated cat kicking bits of puke out of his cage.

I pulled over at the first rest stop I could find. There was a long row of empty parking spaces and I selected a space furthest from the bathrooms so I could have a bit of privacy. Unbuckling my seatbelt, I reached over and released the latch on the cat cage door. Madison emerged; dry on one side and sticky wet on the other. As I attempted to locate a paper towel to clean him with, he jumped into my lap and began to rub himself dry on my shirt. My shirt was completely soiled, it was a hot and humid summer day and I had a long drive ahead of me. Great. I pushed Madison away and climbed out of the truck. The parking lot was still empty. I fished a clean shirt out of my suitcase and climbed back into the truck. I decided to change my shirt in the truck by pulling my arms inside the filthy shirt and using it to shield myself while twisting the other shirt on. Good plan and I had one arm pulled inside when a minivan pulled into the space next to me. Thirty empty spaces in the parking lot and they had to pull right next to me! Madison was now perched on the dashboard of the truck. I waited for some privacy but no one exited the minivan.

As I pondered a Plan B, I was startled by a knock on my window. I looked up and saw the rest stop attendant, broom in hand, giving me the thumbs up signal. “Nice Cat!” he yelled. I looked at Madison; his fur stuck to him in clumpy matted piles and realized that the man could only see his good side. I forced a smile and thanked him, praying that he would move on. He shuffled away, inspecting a few trash cans along his route. I eyed my clean shirt again and the minivan. Sighing, I decided to go for it. Another vehicle pulled into the other space. I was surrounded and gave up the clean shirt idea. Glad that I had a full tank of gas, I yanked an old sweater that was behind the seat and pulled it on to cover my shirt. Needless to say, at the end of this journey, both the cat and I needed a bath!

Charlie has never been as bad as Madison but I have had to clean my car more times than I wanted after a road trip with him. Recently I discovered calming pet treats in my favorite store to spend all of my money: Pet Smart. While a bit pricey, Nutri-Vet Pet Ease soft chews are the miracle I have been seeking. Now before any trip, I give Charlie a treat and he has no problems whatsoever. He also is very happy to get in the car and enjoys his rides just like the other dogs, looking out the window before curling up to sleep.


Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Trails

When my friend Shane decided to move to Bermuda, his niece Gigi graciously took his small Shih Tzu puppy to her home in Pennsylvania. Cisco toughed out the harsh winters and made a friend out of the enormous black lab that already occupied the house. After three years of island life, Shane returned to South Carolina. He wanted his dog back and planned a road trip up North to retrieve Cisco. I was already in Pennsylvania visiting Gigi and Shane soon discovered this after postponing his trip several days in a row. On the final day of my visit, he asked if I would bring his dog back with me. I agreed even though I planned on making my way back South with a few days spent in the mountains of Virginia.

I packed up and left Pennsylvania, opting for the road less travelled as I made my way down a narrow highway leading into Gettysburg. I continued following back roads into Virginia and pulled over on a mountain country lane in order to hike a short trail to a lookout tower. It was June and leaving Cisco in the truck was not possible. At the lookout tower he refused to climb the rickety, rusty metal stairs and I had to carry him. I stayed in the tower to watch the sun set, but made my way down before it became dark as I had thoughts of bears in the back of my head. I pulled into a small motel that I had made a reservation with earlier in the week and realized that at the time I called, I was not expecting to have a dog. I wasn’t even sure if pets were allowed. I eyed the seven pound shaved Shih Tzu slumbering on the seat next to me and pondered my choices. I checked in the motel and returned to the truck for my luggage. I removed everything from my satchel and stuffed Cisco inside and zipped him up. I grabbed my suitcase and slung the now kicking satchel over my shoulder and quickly unlocked the room. Cisco was not happy. In fact, it was so easy sneaking the dog into my room, I repeated it a couple more times on my trip back to South Carolina!

On Interstate 81 there is a scenic mountain highway that I always wanted to take: The Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a fee since it is a national park and because the speed limit ranges between 10 and 30 miles per hour, it adds a lot of time onto the trip. I wanted to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail and was proud of myself for bringing appropriate footwear for the first time in my life. However, I was now saddled with Shane’s frou frou dog who really didn’t like me after being stuffed, albeit temporarily, inside luggage. I stopped at the gift shop and nature center for a trail map. A park ranger highlighted the trails that allowed dogs. There were two and I pulled into the parking lot of the closest one which promised a waterfall at the end. It would be a four hour roundtrip hike. I clipped Cisco’s Harley Davidson leash to his matching collar and hoped that he was just as tough as his fashionable motorcycle gear.

Partway down the trail I found a fallen hollowed-out tree and thought it would make a cute picture. I checked it for snakes and satisfied that it was safe, I stuffed Cisco inside for a photo shoot. He kept jumping out so I didn’t get many pictures. I continued down the path with Cisco in the lead. It was a fairly easy trail all the way down. There were no ups. Just downs. Then the trail ended at a stream, not a waterfall. I began to think that I read the map wrong, which was entirely possible since I was known for being directionally challenged. Then I saw the trail marker across the stream. Great…the stream was part of the trail. I bent down to pick up Cisco, however he was already frolicking in the chilly water. I stepped on the stones in the water and tugged Cisco through behind me. Now I had a dripping wet shaved Shih Tzu and I was really getting the strangest looks from other more seasoned hard-core hikers that were on the trail. I finally reached the overlook and the waterfall. Underwhelmed, I took a few pictures and began the long hike back up the trail. I finally noticed that the trip to the waterfall was completely downhill and the entire trip back would be up, up, up. I didn’t even have my own dog with me who was much bigger and loved to pull. Looking at the seven pound dog in front of me who didn’t even seem tired, I doubted his ability to help pull me up the trail and he kept looking back, giving me dirty stares when I would frequently stop for a break. I reached the truck before the sun set and headed out of the park. Each time I would stop for a break and attempt to walk Cisco, he would back away from me with a growl. Even now, although more than three years have passed, Cisco growls and barks when he sees me. Sometimes I wonder what he would do if a brought a piece of luggage over…


The Dog Parade

I recently read that “dogs sleep a lot”. I wholeheartedly believe that statement. While my dogs have things that keep them occupied such as destroying their toys, barking at everything and nothing as well as backyard border patrol, they don’t have responsibilities, chores or hobbies.

When Chase was a puppy, my mother would frequently stop by my house to walk him while I was at work. Each time she found him slumbering, stretched out full-length across my bed with his head resting on my pillow. I am positive that even now, with the dog-shaped indentations in the memory foam mattress as irrefutable evidence, all of my dogs snooze the hours away between the time I leave and my return home. Sleeping and building even more adrenaline for their time to shine and entertain.

As I pull into my driveway I can’t help but hear the dog posse barking. Upon entering the house I am greeted by a tap-dancing English setter demonstrating the full-body wag, two English cocker spaniels joining in the dance and a dachshund slipping and sliding beneath the tangle of legs. Moving further into the house, the Dog Parade commences with Chase high-stepping in the front, Molly and George following with an enormous stuffed animal clutched firmly in their mouths and Charlie, The Little Engine That Could, bringing up the rear.

The Dog Parade is special, even unique, and only exists when these four dogs are together. I still receive a special homecoming performance when they aren’t all assembled. I’m just not treated to the parade.. And I find that no matter how tired I am or what kind of day I faced, the amazing Dog Parade never fails to bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart.


Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

My mother and grandmother discovered Dolly on a December morning while delivering Meals on Wheels. As Mom approached the weather worn trailer with a foil-wrapped meal and sweaty carton of milk, she noticed a tiny brown puppy huddled against the moldy stairs. Upon greeting the meal recipient, she inquired about the new dog. “That ain’t my dog!” the lady rasped.

It was enough for Mom. She coaxed the shy puppy into her minivan and discussed with Grandma their options. They knew that my father, recently retired and ever-present in the house, would not approve. Grandma fell in love with the dirty, quivering bundle of matted fur instantly; however Mom decided that the only choice was to take the puppy to the animal shelter.

For two days Mom thought of the puppy. Finally, mind made up, she returned to the shelter to retrieve her. It was nearly Christmas and both my sister and I were in town. The small puppy looked clean but had awful tufts of brown, red and black fur that stuck out in a Medusa style of snaky cowlicks. She huddled in a pile of Chase’s plush animals and reminded me of the scene in E.T. when the alien hid amongst a shelf of toys.

Mom told everyone that she was merely fostering the dog she had named “Shy” until she could find a suitable home. Liz and I didn’t think it was appropriate to name the dog after an adjective and began to call her “Dolly”. Dad was not amused and began to refer to Chase as “the real dog”.

Because Mom needed to work and asking my father was clearly out of the question, Liz and I took Dolly to her first vet appointment. I gathered the paperwork from the shelter in case it was needed. Browsing through it, I found an adoption agreement and a receipt for seventy-five dollars…proof that my mother wasn’t fostering this dog! Even worse, she could have had the dog for free if she hadn’t brought her to the shelter in the first place.

Chase and Dolly’s initial meeting was not love at first sight. Dolly was huddled under the piano bench, her odd colors blending in with the assortment of toys she had surrounded herself with for protection. My five-year-old dog poked his nose beneath the bench to be greeted with snarls, snaps and growls. Now, more than two years later, Dolly charges him, knocking him over, and greeting him with barks of happiness and kisses. One mention of “Where’s Chase?” and she races through the house searching and whining.

It is amazing to see the two dogs, equal in size, run through the woods together. Side by side, their wavy fur is a perfect color contrast: his white with freckles of orange and hers gleaming brown with the sunlight catching flecks of amber.

Mom routinely takes Dolly on walks in the woods each day. Any dogs who are visiting are welcome and encouraged. Dolly has even guided them, sans human, down the pine needle littered trail revealing all of her secret places. She is a gentle dog, not easily excitable or high strung and a perfect companion for an older person.

On her continued Meals on Wheels route, down the narrow sand-packed road where Mom first spotted the wary bundle of fur, she still looks for Dolly’s potential parentage. The possibilities have been pondered and argued numerous times: Chow? Irish Setter? In the pet store there is a pricey mixed breed DNA kit available that would certainly end the debate once and for all, but I prefer to borrow from an old childhood rhyme. “Sugar and spice and everything nice”, that’s what Dolly is made of.


The Dogs of Babel

I love bookstores. I even love those huge bookstores with tables and shelves of bargain books. I have picked up some fantastic finds in the bargain section. The Devil in the Junior League was hilarious and was a perfect unabridged audiobook that helped me pass the time on a trip. Recently I found The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst.

I love dogs and other furry companions. I just don’t go out of my way to purchase a book simply because it has a dog theme to it. Yes, I’ve cried and laughed through Marley and Me long before it was a bestseller. This book seemed interesting because it tells the story of a linguist professor who comes home to find his wife has accidentally fallen from a tree in their backyard, breaking her neck. The only witness to her death is their dog. The husband has no idea why his wife was climbing a tree and begins to see strange clues in the house that lead him to believe that her last afternoon was anything but ordinary. In his grief, he decides to train the dog to communicate so that one day, he might be able to put all the pieces together.

While I haven’t finished the book, there is an early chapter where the main character is attempting to figure out just how many words the dog already knew. I began to think about how many words and commands Chase knows. He has the obvious words from training like “Come, Sit, Stay, Heel, Down” and an assortment of parlor tricks like “Paw, Roll Over and Bow to Sarah”. But he has picked up many words along the way. He loves the word “Cheese” and knows exactly what it means. He goes into a frenzy with “Walk or Car Ride”. He will tap dance with delight if he hears the words “wanna go out?” If a door bell rings on television he will begin to bark, but if I utter “It’s on TV, Chase” he usually stops. Each of his toys have names and he recognizes them as well. “Where’s Your Bear?” or “Where’s Your Puppy?” and even “Where’s Your Alien?” Chase will grab his teddy bear, puppy or even the lime green alien from Roswell, New Mexico and shake it in my face.

The book also reveals that a dog is very sensitive to other non-verbal language and can use those things to help interpret future events. Chase becomes depressed if he sees me packing a suitcase and doesn’t see his dog bag packed, too. He knows that I will be going on a trip without him. He knows that I am going out if I spend extra time in the bathroom with makeup and a curling iron. My grandmother used to swear that my childhood dog, Drummer, could tell time. At precisely five-thirty every evening he would plant himself at the door to the garage, waiting for my father’s arrival.

No, I am not about to embark on a journey to teach my dog how to talk. He already is persistent enough just the way he is. He knows how to communicate. He stands in front of me whining and wailing and slapping my leg with his paw until I utter the words he has been waiting for: “Show Me”. Off he runs, sure that I am following, to show me the back door, the water bowl, the food bowl or something he feels he deserves on the counter. He also uses his communication skills on the other dogs in the house. If one has a bone that he covets, Chase will whine and wail and moan, then race to a door or window barking crazily. The other dogs will follow and join in the brouhaha. Chase will then double back to the forgotten treasure and snatch it up.

As I continue to read my newest bargain treasure, I think that many of us, at one time or another, may have wondered what our furry companions would say if given the opportunity. They are witnesses to many things. My dog, Drummer was the sole occupant when my home was burglarized when I was in elementary school. Chase was remarkably calm with a neighbor’s autistic son who held him close and stroked his fur for nearly an hour. My three McClellanville dogs were a great comfort to me during some times of emotional distress and would gather around me, forgoing their usual romping and hunting activities in the marsh. Maybe the reason that we enjoy our animals so much is that they don’t communicate verbally. They don’t say things that would hurt us, there are no misunderstandings, and they truly love us, unconditionally.


Bring Your Dog to Work: A Ghost Story

I used to work in a haunted office. I can hear the snickers now, but it is true. I don’t consider myself the most sensitive person as far as that kind of thing goes. I remember, years ago when I was living with my cousin in his turn-of-the-century brownstone, coming home to find him pale and trembling on the couch. I laughed when he told me he had seen a ghost.

The ghostly activity began in the office shortly after the company owners purchased the renovated historic home. Typically footsteps could be heard pacing in the reception area in the later hours of the day. Things would disappear and then reappear in strange places. Door knobs would turn but no one would be on the other side. The accountant’s ten-key calculator would make calculations on the paper tape overnight. Because the strange occurrences were more prevalent at night, employees did not like to remain after hours. Even me, the non-believer.

One evening, I needed to be at the office to work extra hours on an important project. I intended to stay until about nine o’clock but didn’t relish the thought that I would be alone so I brought Chase along for protection. My office was on the second floor so I locked the employee entrance behind me and set the alarm for the doors. Upstairs, Chase seemed determined to inspect every office and every garbage can so I locked him in with me. He curled up on the floor beside me and went to sleep for approximately forty-five minutes. Suddenly, his head popped up and he stared intently at the door. Tail wagging, he approached the door and bent down, tail in the air, trying to peer underneath the base. I called him back but he wouldn’t settle down. He approached the door again and refused to listen to me. My dog was completely focused on what was on the other side of that door.

I decided to call it a night and turned off my computer. The switch for the downstairs reception light was on the second floor which meant that I would be walking down the stairs in the dark. Firmly clutching Chase’s leash, I turned off the light and then scolded myself for not leaving any lights on in another office below. The darkness was inky black as I hesitantly felt the first step with my practical three-inch heel sandal. I pushed Chase ahead of me and gripped the banister. We made our way slowly down the stairs. On the third step from the bottom, Chase froze. Then he slowly started to wag his tail at an invisible something in front of us. My heart was racing as I not-so-gently nudged him forward. He refused to budge and began to wag his tail more rapidly. As panic began to set in, I moved around him and pulled his leash from the safety of the floor, forcing him to comply. I walked quickly toward the back door, relieved at the small sliver of light from the outside parking lot. I locked up the building and retreated to my car, deciding once and for all that I would never bring my dog to work with me again!


The Name Game

It was a beautiful day, sunny but cool enough to work outside. A perfect day to finally clean my car. Despite being careful to put a blanket or towel on the seats before allowing the dogs entry, the leather always seemed to bear evidence of muddy paw prints. The windows had layers of dog nose drawings…even the sunroof bore the distinct nose writing of my dog!

All dogs were in the yard doing dog things: Chase was stalking birds, Charlie was destroying tennis balls while George and Molly walked on water. The pond was once again filled to capacity and the dock had disappeared two inches below the surface. George had a knack for finding the dock and it appeared that he was walking on the surface of the pond. Suddenly, all dogs were on border alert. The Yorkie from next door violated the border rules and entered protected territory. Molly, George and Charlie raced to defend their backyard. Chase was too preoccupied with the birds. The Yorkie disappeared and I resumed scrubbing the grime from my car.

I took a small break and watched Chase pointing and creeping toward a bird in a fruit tree. I noticed the Yorkie lurking in the cedar tree barrier. It too was stalking and creeping…right toward Chase. As it sprang forward yipping and yapping, a small ponytail bobbing from the center of its head, its owner began screaming at it to obey. Chase ignored the small furry football. The owner continued to screech from the privacy of her own yard, unseen by me. “Truffle! Truffle! Get over here NOW!” Seriously. The dog’s name was Truffle.

Before I adopted Chase, I scoured the internet in search of a perfect dog name. There are thousands of names out there but there seemed to be a common number one rule: think of how you will feel shouting the dog’s name in public. Throughout my life with Chase, I have had to shout, scream, yell, screech and holler his name in public more times than I care to admit. Usually I am running after him while others snicker about how appropriate his name is. The funny thing is I didn’t name him with the thought that I would be chasing him. He was five pounds when I got him. His head was bigger than his body. I could outrun that dog in four-inch stilettos. He is named after a poker hand. I like poker…not verbs. What can I say?

Truffle made a few more appearances in the yard with bold attempts to break Chase’s focus. Truffle’s owner remained hidden, anonymously behind the trees screaming Truffle’s name incessantly, imploring him to obey. I casually walked and played with Truffle toward the border, sending him home to the pair of legs I could clearly see on the other side. Then, quite smugly, I confidently called my own dogs home. They all ignored me. No surprise there. I went inside, banged their dog bowls around, and added kibble and rice. I had the attention of three dogs who sat in front of me drooling. I placed the bowls on the sunroom floor which overlooked the backyard. I could clearly see Chase in the garden, still focused on his beloved birds. The food won and he dutifully returned for meal time, no shouting, screaming or hollering on my part. Appearances are everything and bribery is not beneath me!

Clean car, four well-named happy and fed dogs…a perfect Sunday afternoon.


A Tale of Two Groomers

It was time. Six years overdue. Chase's first official haircut. A Kodak moment for certain and I was unable to take him for his scheduled time so I had a friend drop him off at the local groomer. The "stylist" would call me when Chase was ready which would take an estimated four hours. That suited me because then I could pick him up. I was more than ready when the groomer called. The GPS in my car had the address programmed and very soon I discovered "where the sidewalk ends"...literally. Dilapidated , faded clapboard homes with patches of clay and weeds lined the pot-hole abundant road. I actually passed the groomer's because I couldn't believe that it could be housed in the crumbling duplex that was a combination liquor store and pet couture. And it only got better. As I entered the pink and green garishly decorated waiting nook, Chase detected my presence and utilized his counter-surfing skills in an escape attempt. A wiry man with a mullet was brandishing a hair dryer at a poodle client. He deduced that Chase belonged to me and shuffled on over. I paid twenty-five dollars…a bargain considering Chase’s ears were completely puffed up in an eighties AquaNet bulky shoulder pad style and he smelled like he had been rolling in a Designer Imposters perfume. He also sported a Pennsylvania Dutch patterned bandana around his neck. I buckled Chase in the car and fled the ghetto. Back at home, his dog posse greeted him with growls and wary looks. I suppose he smelled funny.

Several days later when all of the styling gel wore off, I realized that the groomer had simply washed and fluffed my dog. No hair had been cut as requested and his style wasn’t even close to a traditional English setter. It was time for the bright lights and big city of Atlanta and Pet Smart. Yes…Pet Smart. Since they already had most of my money on pet products I figured that they might as well take the rest of it too. Seventy-five dollars and three hours later, my dog had his first haircut, pedicure and teeth cleaning. His orange spots were no longer hidden jewels and a report card detailed all products used and the fact that he was a “happy dog”. They even set a follow-up appointment out of courtesy. In order to continue to see his hidden colors, I would need to keep that appointment.

Back at home, the dog posse greeted Chase with their usual indifference. And for this tale of two groomers, the one at Pet Smart was definitely a cut above!