Molly on top of the Rimrock overlooking Billings, Montana.
I hardly even go to the grocery store without my dog–but I never realized until last week that traveling with a dog is actually massively inconvenient.
Molly and I were on the road again, this time to Bemidji, Minnesota. Like our trip to Billings, we were visiting family, and once again we were traveling with my brother Robert.
Robert and Molly at Fort Totten State Historic Site, near Devils Lake, North Dakota
These past two road trips were (so far as I know) my brother’s first experience traveling with a dog. (We never had a dog growing up.) I was a little bit dismayed to realize just how inconvenient dog travel is, and how much I’d learned to take it all for granted. How far I’ve fallen.
As for my brother … well, it was a learning experience for him, too.
Now, Molly is not what anybody would call a slobbery dog. But she does like to hang her head over your shoulder while she’s sitting in the back seat so she can see out the windshield. I guess I’ve just gotten used to a fifty percent chance of precipitation in the car. But I can’t say my brother was all that impressed with the odd glob of saliva running down his shirt collar.
Two-lane highways, a staple of American road travel, became a matter of life and death. I suppose I shoulda warned my brother that Molly barks at on-coming traffic. Very loudly. In your ear. Sometimes she throws herself against the rear seat window so hard, the whole car rocks. And you’re never really sure when all this is about to happen.
I tried, years ago, to train Molly out of this habit, but it’s one of her few besetting sins. I finally gave up on it, and now I don’t even notice it anymore. But Robert narrowly avoided swerving out of his lane a couple times. If Molly’s just making sure the driver’s still awake, it really works.
Fortunately, my brother isn’t the sort to apply human standards of behavior to dogs. “Those cars are clearly a threat and they must be eliminated,” he concluded. He assured Molly that the fact she never caught one didn’t reflect badly on her. And on the way home from Bemidji, he began to work on a theory why she barked at some cars and not at others. Black cars (and other dark-colored vehicles) were bad luck.
View of Lake Bemidji from our picnic bench in downtown Bemidji, Minnesota
Apparently my taste has hit rock bottom since I adopted Molly. I take drive-up windows and in-car dining for granted. (And you should always save the last bite for Molly.) My brother usually enjoys a more cultured experience. Locally-owned restaurants and dishes he’s never tried before are his big thing.
We ended up with a variety of strategies to get our three square meals a day. Sometimes we called ahead to restaurants with outdoor patios and asked if dogs were allowed. Sometimes we ordered take-out. And other times we broke down, went to a drive-through, and ate in the car or in a park. But never did we lock Molly into a hot car or leave her alone at the hotel.
The boardwalk Bog Walk at Lake Bemidji State Park
Fortunately, my brother and I are both the trail-hiking, bug-swatting, tree-hugger type. And fortunately, hiking trails are pretty much the most dog-friendly tourist attractions in the country.
Museums and interpretive centers … not so much. Which was a problem. My brother thrives on museums. And frankly, I like them, too, when I get a chance to see them. Which isn’t often with Molly.
Interpretive Center at Pompey’s Pillar, Montana
We again used a couple of different techniques. One involved taking turns going inside while the other one of us dog sat. Sometimes this method only gave us five to fifteen minutes inside any building–but for me, this was five to fifteen minutes I ordinarily never get to have!
Another technique took advantage of Molly’s irresistible cute factor.
I explained to my brother that if there were no signs saying “no pets,” my policy was to walk in–with Molly–smile sweetly, and ask if my dog could come with. Molly would take over from there. Or more accurately, she had usually taken over everyone’s heart the minute she set paw in the building. This is where good training, a calm demeanor, and a winning expression pay off.
Oh, please, can I come, too?
This technique doesn’t work every time, but you’d be surprised how often it does!
And why did we go through all this extra hassle to bring Molly? Because some of the relatives we visited were in nursing homes–and had specifically asked to see her.
My brother had another dog epiphany as we walked down hallways of care facilities and were stopped by almost everyone we passed, residents and nurses alike. “She makes people happy,” he observed.
That’s true pretty much everywhere she goes–and that’s another reason why I love to travel with her. I’ve even gone to some attractions, only to find that Molly became the attraction as soon as she arrived. I love the way Molly can become the highlight of somebody’s day, just by being a dog.
Molly making new friends at Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota
And for not being a born dog person, my brother did an amazing job on his maiden canine voyage. He put up with a lot, and never complained (okay, except for the dog drool). But he even shared the last bite of his last in-car dinner with Molly!