Home Is Where My Dogs Are
J. T. Macek
© Copyright 2018 by J. T. Macek
Leaving our furry friends was never an option. I don’t want to judge people dumping pets at shelters, but I do. That's how we got our terrier Biscuit. Her human moved saying he couldn’t take her. Who knew Alabama didn’t allow dogs? Our animal companions didn’t get a vote, they were coming.
The fastest way to get all of us back home would’ve been to charter a small plane, and in my lottery-winning fantasy life we could've done that. A more economically sane method would’ve been renting one of those snazzy recreational vehicles with kitchenette, pull-out beds, and flat screen TV. No such luck. American RV Rentals prohibited pets. Who'd RV without their dogs? Only mean people.
We went with Plan C. Van would take the five big dogs –Roxanne, Ernie, Lucie, Maggie, Bonnie, and tiny terrier Biscuit, who’d follow him forever, in the Durango SUV while I take the little dogs in my Chrysler hatchback. We hoped for pet-friendly places with soft mattresses during our cross-country trek. They're friendly to one, max two dogs no larger than 25 pounds – that’s our mini-pin Shorty and chi-mix Brandy. My idea of roughing it is a hotel with a leaky faucet, but I’d sleep in my car for my dogs. I did.
We shipped our life’s stuff in a POD modular unit then pulled out at 11AM after an all-dogs-on-board check. I popped in Willy Nelson’s traveling song hitting repeat along I-10 through southern Arizona, all of New Mexico, into El Paso. When we drove through a dozen years ago, construction clogged the city’s freeways. The roads still weren’t finished.
Van thought we'd pull into a truck stop for the night, but a gazillion truckers had the same idea. On our third try, we parked at a desolate Flying J and settled in. CiCi, Shorty, and Brandy didn’t mind the sleeping arrangements, opting to snooze curled against each other in the passenger seat while I moved from front to back, to front, to back, twisting around terriers Robbie and Terry.
Van got coffee for us the next morning. “I reclined my seat until I was almost lying down, but I couldn’t get comfortable.”
Planning was essential. We stopped every two hours at gas stations to replenish and relieve - cars, dogs, us. In that order. Van had purchased a wire kennel enclosure, the kind shelters bring to PetSmart for adoptions, so we could walk one dog while the others stretch outside in the sun. The dogs weren’t up on the plan. They barked, whined, smashed, crashed into the wire. We’d kept the Chewy.com cardboard shipping box in case of a potential return/refund. That’s planning.
We made great time. Arkansas - night three. My cell phone pinged. Turn your overhead light on. A battalion of mosquitoes camped on the ceiling, and I swear I saw one readying a bugle for the charge.
We forgot bug spray. Obviously, we didn’t plan for every contingency. I trekked into Travel Center. Shampoo, Band-Aids, hot coffee, beef jerky, and whatever else truckers might need, including toddler-sized diapers. I scanned the counters for Off! insect repellant. Nada. I’d picked up some Spanish while living in Arizona. Refusing to become a feast for tiny vampires, I crossed the five lane road to Love’s to continue my quest. Eureka! We sprayed ourselves, dogs, car windows. My extra effort paid off because none of us woke to itchy welts.
Eating was easy. I fashioned a kitchen in my hatchback. The cooler became the table, various boxes, the countertops. I arranged dog bowls, then filled them with dry kibble and Iron Skillet buffet. Who knew restaurants sold meals by-the-pound? Awesome! Roast beef, roast pork, mashed potatoes, corn, steak fries, apple crisp, and every artery clogging foodstuff I could imagine. We filled one Styrofoam container for us and one for the dogs. Veterinarians everywhere might cringe, but our dogs didn't complain about roast chicken.
We tried to be considerate and hygienic pet owners, collecting euphemistic “gifts” left by our dogs. Most of the time. We'd been on the road for about twenty minutes, then Van exited and pulled into a truck stop. Unusual timing, but I followed. A beautiful place with an acre of lush green grass, sculpted shrubs, leafy deciduous trees waiting for someone’s lawn chair and Margarita. Van leashed Ernie, our 85-pound yellow lab. Ernie walked five steps, squatted, let it rip.
"Ernie had to go."
"I see that."
"He was whining and walking around, coming up to my elbow and nudging me."
"I'm glad you stopped."
"Can you imagine what would've happened if -"
"I don't want to think about it."
We took some extra time there and - thanks Higher Spiritual Being of The Universe - none of the other dogs got sick. We didn't clean up Ernie’s “gift”. We’d already shipped the shop-vac. Maybe we didn’t plan as well as I thought.
I loved driving cross-country. The scenery changed, except west Texas. Cactus spotted desert to undulating hills to flat fields to tall woods to crowded cities to woods, hills, cities. The dogs weren’t as interested. Cici, our Cairn, pawed at my arm wanting perpetual belly rubs and Terry the Terrier tried to wangle under my feet next to the brake pedal. To keep the dogs from being too bored, I occasionally yelled “squirrel" in an excited voice. There wasn't one but they barked and jumped on the window glass. In Illinois I yelled "deer" when I saw grazing black and white Holsteins. Shorty barked and ran window to window along the dash. I hoped that wasn’t illegal.
Our greatest fear, Van and mine not the dogs’, was that one jumped out of the vehicle before tethered with a leash. We shouldn’t have worried. The big dogs waited in the back of the SUV while Van leashed, lifted, then set our shepherd-mix Roxanne on the ground. She limped along on her bad knee, sore hip, and achy back but her gray face smiled at being part of the pack. I smiled, too.
We relished our first weeks at our new house. Lucie, Maggie, and Bonnie – black lab, cattle dog, Border collie - chased Michigan gray squirrels not Arizona lizards, then at night snuggled beside us on blankets on the floor. Our modular units filled with appliances and furniture hadn’t yet arrived.
We settled into our new home, into our new routine. We see our kids and grandkids and visit mom and dad each month. I had worried that our sunshine accustomed canines might panic at Michigan’s snow, but when I pull on my parka and thermal boots, all 11 race through the doggie door knowing that we’d walk the perimeter of our two acre homestead. If the dogs could talk, I’m sure they’d tell me that Dorothy was right when she said, "There's no place like home." Home is with my family, home is where my dogs are.
J.T. Macek is a writer, professor, and pal to 10 dogs all living in rural Michigan.