People are surprised when we tell them that we plan to get rid of all of our worldly possessions and travel. But they are incredulous when we tell them that we plan to take our Australian Cattle Dog, Bella. Even many dog-lovers are taken aback at our plan to attempt long-term travel with an active 45 pound dog. Although I’ve always loved dogs and had at least one throughout my life, we did not plan to take a dog with us on our retirement travels. But plans are funny things….
When I met Nick, his daughter Lindsey had a young Australian Cattle Dog named Nikki. I had never known a “blue heeler” before Nikki, but she was the most intelligent dog I had ever met. Her devotion to Lindsey was stronger than any dog/human connection I had ever seen. Nikki was affectionate to all, but cosmically connected to Lindsey. It was extraordinary.
Nikki lived with us as Lindsey grew up and stayed with us when Lindsey went off to college. But kids grow up and move out, and they take their dogs with them. We had been prepared for the kids to grow up and move on, but our house was heartbreakingly empty without Nikki. We would open the door and expect to see Nikki greeting us. We would see “ghosts” of her in her favorite spots in the house. But retirement was just a few years away, and we agreed that getting a dog was impractical.
That lasted about 6 months. The house was just too empty without Nikki. Once we agreed that we needed another dog, we knew that it had to be a female “Blue Heeler” puppy. I guess we were trying to find another Nikki. The search took 6 more months, but in the May of 2015, I finally found a breeder in Kentucky who said she might have a puppy for us. This puppy had been promised to a breeder in Italy, where she would grow up to be a show-dog and then breeding stock. However, initial tests indicated that the puppy was deaf in one ear. If she was unilaterally deaf, she could never be bred by an ethical breeder. If a second test confirmed that she was deaf, we could have her.
I did not hesitate. Yes! I wanted this little girl! We wanted a pet, a new family member and had no desire to breed dogs. I researched unilateral deafness and decided that we could manage the few issues that it could present.
It was a long two weeks waiting for the second hearing test. I couldn’t bring myself to wish that the puppy was deaf in one ear. Instead, I wished that it turn out best for the puppy. I wished that the puppy would have be loved and have a happy life.
The breeder was driving the pup to northern Georgia for the final hearing test. She promised to call me when the test was done. I got the call at 10 PM on a Friday night and immediately got on the phone to book a flight for the following morning. I cashed in all my Delta frequent flyer miles to fly to Atlanta and fly back home again on May 30, 2015. The puppy was small enough to fly as carry-on on the flight back, but required her own reservation. The Delta reservations guy observed Nick and I could have flown to Europe for the number of miles that were needed for me to fly to Atlanta on such short notice. I was so excited I could barely sleep.
I had purchased a soft sided dog carrier that I could carry-on the plane in anticipation for the trip. I packed up some basic puppy supplies (leash, collar, poop bags, treats, toys and a collapsible dish for water and food) and flew out of the Albany airport very early on Saturday morning. A few hours later, I picked up my rental car in Atlanta and headed north.
The puppy was adorable, spunky, curious and had ears that bobbed up and down as she gambled about. I spent just a few minutes getting to know my sweet puppy before getting back in the car and heading back to the airport in Atlanta. I put her leash and collar on, and tethered her to the front seat of my rental car for the ride. After a few howls and some tugging on the leash and collar, the pup settled in for the ride.
As we got closer to Atlanta, I stopped at a high-end strip mall so she could take a quick tinkle and spotted a pet store, I meant to ask the breeder for a baggie of kibble, but had forgotten, so we stopped in to pick up some puppy food. I wish I could remember the name of the store, they were so nice!! They gave me some puppy-food samples so I wouldn’t have to lug a big bag on the plane, and they gave Bella a “bully stick”. I purchased an antler for her and we were back on the road!
When we got to the rental car return, I placed the pup in the carrier for the bus ride to the airport. We had a couple of hours to wait before our flight. After checking the puppy in at the Delta counter, I took advantage of the “dog-park” at the Atlanta to play with her and give her some freedom. The dog park is pretty small, with AstroTurf instead of grass, but it was nice to let Bella get off leash for awhile. There weren’t many other dogs there, and none of them stayed more than a few minutes. There wasn’t any shade and was was a hot, sunny day, so we didn’t stay that long either. I put Bella back on her leash and found a nice shady spot where she could chew on her new bully stick.
And what the heck is a bully stick? I pulled out my phone and Googled it. Uck!!! I was tempted to pull the dried bull penis out of her mouth, but she really liked it. Finally, it was time to put her in the carrier and head towards the gate.
I had to remove the pup from the carrier so they could do a special scan of both of us at security. There weren’t many empty seats at the gate, but I found one and tucked the carrier with its precious cargo under my legs. She didn’t make a peep. The pup was complete still and silent in the terminal and all the way home on that first flight. The poor pup was probably shut-down from the sensory overload. When I got to my car in the parking garage at the Albany airport, I slipped her out of the carrier and clipped on a leash for final leg of the journey, a 45 minute drive home. The minute those paws hit the ground, she tinkled, creating a huge puddle on the concrete. What a good girl!
Nick was waiting for us when we got home. We played with our sweet, silly girl for a while before we placed her in a crate in our bedroom and climbed into bed. I was prepared for a rough night with lots of sad, puppy noises, but after just a couple of soft whines, she went to sleep.
We tried several names for her before we settle on “La Bella Mezza Luna”, in honor of her half-masked face. We called her “Bella”. She was a little rascal, right from the start. Her temperament was NOTHING like Nikki’s, but she captured our hearts with her sassy personality.
If you’ve ever had a puppy, you know that the first year is full of fun, joy and challenges. And cattle dogs are…well…a different breed of dog. Often described as willful, they will test you at every turn. Believe me there were many times when I questioned whether we would be able to attempt long-term travel with our demon puppy.
Bella’s First Trip
When Bella was just 18 weeks old, we took her on her first big trip. It’s a long drive from Saratoga Springs, New York to Topsail Island, North Carolina. It takes about 16 hours, and we dreaded the long car ride with our active puppy.
We got a late start on the first day of that trip and decided to drive as far as we could before finding a hotel. I knew that some of the big chains promoted themselves as pet friendly, so I was sure we would be able to find a room when we needed one. What I didn’t realize was that the big chains charged big fees to keep a dog in your room. I still question whether a hotel chain should promote itself as pet friendly if they charge an extra $75 for your dog. That doesn’t seem very friendly to me.
In retrospect, we should have just paid the extra money. It was very late at night when we finally found a hotel that didn’t charge an extra fee, but the room was awful! It was a little too pet friendly, if you know what I mean. It smelled of too many dogs and mold. Too tired to drive even one more mile, we set up Bella’s crate in the room. Even though she’d been in the backseat of our VW Passat for for 10 hours, sweet Bella reluctantly went into her crate and we all fell asleep. We hurried out of that stinky hotel room as quick as we could the next morning.
The next day we arrived at our beach house. We had booked this rental for a big extended family vacation well before we had gotten Bella, and dogs were not allowed. Instead, Bella had a reservation at a nearby kennel in Surf City, where we could check her out of the kennel every morning, play with her on the beach for a few hours, and then check her back in for the night. When we arrived at the beach house, the cleaning staff was there and they were clearly alarmed at the sight of our Bella on the deck. Within moments, the owner of the beach house was calling me to “check in”. I assured her that I had made arrangements for Bella at the kennel, and that she would not be allowed in the house.
As we waited for other family members to arrive at the beach house, we took Bella to the beach for her first ocean experience. I can’t imagine what she was thinking when she saw it. We waded out into the water, and I could tell that she was a little scared, but her drive to be close to us was stronger than her fear. After an hour or so on the beach, we drove Bella to the kennel for her first night at “dog camp”.
It was a very relieved and happy puppy that greeted us the next morning when we picked her up for the day, and a reluctant one that we took back that afternoon. By day 3, Bella had figured out the routine and happily spent days on the beach with us and nights in the kennel for the rest of the week. She loved digging in the sand, chasing birds and hanging out with our extended family,
This first trip calmed some of our anxiety about the decision to include her in our retirement travel plans. At 17 months old, while she’s still a young dog, she’s no longer a puppy. We’ve focused on obedience training and exposed her to many different situations to prepare her for travel, and I think she’s ready.
Would traveling without Bella be easier? Absolutely. Will it limit some of the places that we travel to? Definitely. Will it be more expensive? Yes. But we are a family and I can’t imagine leaving her behind.
I’d love to hear about your travels with your pets! Please leave a comment!