I’m sitting on a patio overlooking an unbelievably blue Atlantic. We’re traveling again.
And that brings me to the inevitable question. What do we do with the dog?
My wife and I love going places. We’ve done it mostly in brief for our 29 years together.
Short trips to the beach and Christmas with relatives were the norm. Once in a blue moon, a trip to an actual vacation spot or dream destination. We’re happy our adult kids share our wanderlust, and the two of us will go farther when we retire.
I understand it was cold, rainy and a little snowy this weekend in Annapolis. Sorry.
Not to rub it in, but it’s 80 degrees and sunny here. I’m writing this looking at the ocean in Sousa, a beach town just outside Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.
The water is a bit chill and even when the warm afternoon wind kicks up the sand a bit, rum and Presidente beer wash it away.
Every time we travel, though, we have to answer that question about the dog. Take him with us? Who can watch him if we don’t? Put her in a kennel?
We’ve done it all.
Right now, it’s harder than ever. That’s on me.
After two years of COVID concerns limiting our travel, we’re back out there. But in that time, I’ve been working exclusively from my house.
It’s been the best two years of my dog’s life. Long walks, lots of play and constant company are now what he expects. Twenty pounds of terror, he’s a Bichon-Shih Tzu mix with the personality of an 80-pound retriever.
Usually, at some point in the workday, he’ll curl up someplace he can see me at the keyboard and start his latest nap. His eyes crack open occasionally to check that I haven’t moved. We can go on like this for hours.
If he’s enjoyed it, so have I. I’ve been a dog person since age 2, when my mother came home with a cocker spaniel named Taffy. That hyperkinetic nut job was the first in a long line of pooches that made me a better person.
They kept me from wandering off by myself. What I lack in emotional IQ, they provided. They taught me that seeing the world is more than an assignment. I shared my love for dogs with my kids.
Now though, our pup – a pup no matter how old – and I have bonded way beyond that. I admit to having long chats with him because there’s been no one else at home many days. He’s made it possible to get through the isolation with my sanity in hand until the humans come home.
Our first family dog was a 75-pound Rhodesian ridgeback mix with enormous teeth and the personality of a shy little girl. A sweet girl, but dumb as rocks. We would park her for a week in a kennel during Christmas or Thanksgiving while we drove to see my wife’s family in Kentucky every year. She seemed no worse for wear.
A Boston terrier followed, and we learned that you can drive a long way with a 30-pound dog and two bickering kids in the back of a Honda Pilot. Intelligent and playful, he was a great traveling companion.
Our drive to Montreal and Niagra Falls – always do the Canadian side – was the most stressful trip, only because I read somewhere that if the maple leaf border guards rejected his vaccination papers, the options were to drive home or leave him at the border.
Some people saw it as a choice. Twelve years later, my kids still shudder to think about kicking him out of the car. I shudder to imagine that drive home. Montreal was great, and our Boston loved le chien at the park.
Although I’ve always thought of myself as a lover of big dogs, our pets got smaller. Next came the current pooch – a 20-pound mix happily described to inquiring friends as a Shih Tzon – and he fit perfectly into the treks to Kentucky or weekend trips down to see my mom in Ocean City.
Now, this is a dog with a misinformed understanding of his size. He loves the big-dog section at the Quiet Waters Park, getting right up under the rottweilers and labs as an equal. He has an obsessive thirst to kill a squirrel, kept at bay because he’s just not fast enough – but it’s close.
He hates the wonderfully friendly St. Bernard up the street with a hot passion expressed in unstoppable barking and tooth-chipping efforts to turn the knob on the door. He loves to roll in the mud, particularly after a bath.
Road trips continued to be the smart option with the kids in school and a dog we could take along. Then my wife and I brought home my mother’s funny, irascible little dog when she moved into a memory care facility.
He could be a biter when irritated and repeatedly sneezed at my daughter’s face to ward off her affections. But it was hard not to love a little dog with such a well-defined sense of what was right and wrong for himself.
To be truthful, though, four people plus two dogs in a car for 9 hours was my limit on traveling with pets.
Then came college and beyond for my daughter. My mom passed away and so did her dog. Flying was suddenly an option again.
My wife won a trip to Santa Monica for her company’s sales awards banquet. We took along our son, still in high school, but the pup stayed home.
We’d tried kennels with the little guy once, but his forelegs were sopping wet when we got back. It took us a day to figure out he’d been obsessively licking them in an attempt to comfort himself.
That’s when a pet sitter entered our life. We hired my wife's friend, who built a good, little business coming into people’s homes to care for their pets.
Two visits a day? No problem. How about a third so he won’t get lonely? OK, I’m sold.
It is not cheap. But it is worth having him at home, with familiar places to sleep and someone dropping by regularly. The pet-sitter sends pictures.
This isn't without emotional cost, though. Our dog climbs into the suitcase whenever my wife starts to pack. He races for the car when we walk him before leaving for the airport.
Before COVID, we flew to Kentucky to see my daughter and my inlaws. We tried packing the dog along a few times, but there was that moment when he just had to get out of his travel case. Had. To. Flight attendants spot that sort of thing. Not sure we’ll do it again.
Our son moved back after college and commuted or worked from home while waiting out COVID. Last fall, a chance came for us to grab a vacant berth for two on someone else’s sailboat trip through the U.S. Virgin Islands. My wife and I seized it and our son stayed home with the dog.
Then as we reached two years and a reopening economy, our son moved out to an apartment with his girlfriend and a roommate.
So for these few days in the Dominican Republic, we’re relying on their hospitality.
Even though our dog is our son's dog, too, I prepped him like a helicopter mom seeing my only child off to a first sleepover with strangers. I buzzed my son with instructions on food and walks, things he already knows because he’s lived with this pooch for almost half of his life.
Did he know that dogs take a while to settle in a new place? Did his girlfriend know dogs in a new environment can lose a grip on years of good behavior and drop a turd in the middle of the living room? Did his roommate know to shut his door if he didn’t want the dog exploring how the shoes smell?
So, away we went, a little anxious but confident in this new arrangement. We’ll use our sitter for longer trips, and when I drive to Kentucky next month to help move my daughter and her dog to a new city, our pup will come along for the ride.
And just because my son knows me, he sent me a picture of our pup on his first overnighter.
He was covered in mud.