A Dog’s Life

I spent about two years thinking about this trip, saving photos and notes about all the national and state parks I wanted to visit, along with Unitarian Universalist congregations on most Sundays. I planned to camp nearly every night, just me, my dog, and the stars.

Reality struck once I started researching the parks and found that national parks aren’t dog friendly. Many state parks aren’t, either, although national forests are. Most cultural centers and other local attractions aren’t dog friendly, neither are most hotels, which is why an iPhone app called “Bring Fido” found its way onto my phone and has since proved very helpful.

It became clear that I would need to rethink my sabbatical so it worked while traveling with a dog. My trip could no longer be about seeing everything I wanted to see; rather, it would be about creating an adventure that would suit both me and Bella. I wanted each of us to have an opportunity to have fun, to grow, and to explore.

I was most worried about Bella’s safety when I needed to use a restroom or buy groceries in hot weather. Temps rise shockingly fast in cars, so it’s unsafe to leave pets inside once outdoor temperatures are over 70 degrees. People with RVs often have generators or solar-powered air conditioning, but the options I found for cars/SUVs got poor reviews. The solution I gleaned from online groups was simple: Leave the ignition and AC running, use a spare key to lock the car, and make sure Bella is restrained so she cannot accidentally shift the car into gear.

Bella has learned how to contain her boundless energy and put herself into a Zen-like state in the car. She has learned hotel manners, being quiet for the most part, and taking stairs slowly. She has been a good guest in my friends’ homes, and she hasn’t had a single accident on anyone’s floor! That had been a concern of mine because she wasn’t completely housebroken at home–perhaps it was a territorial thing.

Bella’s first dog park visit, Baton Rouge, LA

Thanks to an online guide to dog-friendly spots in Baton Rouge, Bella got to visit her first dog park, and it was a delight to see her run full speed, unfettered by a leash. She chased and was chased, rolled in mud, and proved that she can get along with other unleashed dogs.

Seeing her do so well at the dog park made me more comfortable with the idea of letting her go off leash at my friends’ farm in Witts Springs, Arkansas. There were a few scuffles, especially with Maggie, another alpha-personality heeler, but for the most part, the pack of five dog residents, two parrots, two pigs, a half dozen hens, three cats, and eight horses got along great. Of course, the pigs had their own pen, the horses were fenced, and the parrots were caged. The cats quickly taught Bella that they were not to be messed with. Only one hen lost a few feathers thanks to Bella — my fear that she’d kill one wasn’t realized.

Bella has matured in the eight months we’ve been together, since I adopted her. She’s proved herself to be loving and fun, and she’s lived up to her breed’s reputation for energy, intelligence, and an uncanny ability to communicate about more than biological needs.

I’ve grown, too. I’ve learned to trust the bond we’ve established, to trust that Bella sees me as her person, and to trust that I can manage a dog with such an independent streak. I love and respect this little beast, and I know those feelings are reciprocated. I’m so very glad we are on this journey together.

Sunset on Witts End Farm, Witts Springs, AR