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Archive for July 1st, 2010

Living large on the Street of Little Motels

Life is good on the Street of the Little Motels.

Wednesday took us from Kanab, Utah, past Lake Powell and into Page, Arizona, a destination chosen only because it was where we were by evening, once again facing the prospect – having not planned ahead (ahead, of course, being the best way to plan) — of finding another dog friendly motel.

Crossing over the Glen Canyon Dam and pulling into town, I checked my AAA handbook, “Traveling With Your Pet,” which listed all the usual suspects – Motel 6, Best Western, America’s Best Value and the other lookalike big chains that rarely exude the slightest local color.

But as I was tooling down the main drag, I saw a little sign pointing toward what was called the “Street of the Little Motels,” and I followed it.

Actually, it’s two or three streets, occupied by row after row of squat cinderblock structures, many of them brightly painted, with names like “Debbie’s Hide A Way,” “Bashful Bob’s” and “Lu Lu’s Sleep Ezze Motel.”

I figured the little motels on the Street of the Little Motels — though none of them show up in most travel guides — were probably more reasonably priced, being little, than those on the street of big motels, so I stopped in one, the Red Rock Motel, and asked the proprietor, Dail Hoskins, if dogs were allowed.

He said they were, but that he liked to meet them first and interview them before making a commitment. So I fetched Ace from the car and walked back in. Dail and Ace hit it off right away.

Still, there were conditions. “I have three rules,” he said. The first was dogs can’t be left unattended in rooms. Though I disagree in principle, I conceded. I asked him what the second one was. “Dog’s aren’t allowed on the bed.” I conceded to that one, too. “What’s the third?” I asked. He rubbed the Fu-Manchu mustache that forms a grey horseshoe on his tanned face and looked up at the ceiling.

“Can’t remember,” he said.

With that we closed the deal — $44 including tax. On the street of big motels, with boaters arriving for the long Fourth of July weekend, I probably would have paid in the $70s.

By the time the paperwork was filled out, Ace had grown on Dail even more, and he invited him over to meet his dogs, Marley and Mo. He went so far as to offer his fenced backyard to Ace, in the event I wanted to go out.

I parked in front of my room, 108 B, and was pleased to see it had its own sand yard, a grill, and a picnic table out front. Inside was a full and fully equipped, if somewhat retro, kitchen, with a linoleum floor that, being cool, Ace found quite to his liking.

In addition to my spacious kitchen, there was a roomy bedroom, with TV, bath, and the all-important, in Ace’s view, air conditioner. It basically had all the comforts of home, which, not having a home, I haven’t had – at least to myself – in a while.

I unpacked, did a little nesting in my room for the night, and took Ace to meet Dail’s dogs before hitting the Safeway, where I bought a small bag of charcoal, a six pack of Shiner Bock (which I developed a fondness for while in Texas), some hamburger meat, a single bun and some beans. (They’re cooking as I write.)

The Street of the Little Motels in Page’s Old Quarter is just a couple blocks off the main road through town. The motels aren’t packed with amenities, but for my money (What! That’s all I have?), they’re a far better choice than the big name competitors. The big motels say sameness, the little motels ooze character.

I’m enjoying the hominess of it, Ace likes it better than any motel we’ve stayed in so far, and I’m pretty sure I won’t have a nasty note taped on my door. So we’ve booked a second night.

The structures on the Street of the Little Motels went up in the late 1950s, when work was beginning on Glen Canyon Dam. They were built to handle the influx of thousands of government-hired dam workers who moved to the then-isolated Manson Mesa, a portion of which was procured from the Navajo in a trade.

After the dam was completed in the 1960s, the cinder block buildings were sold, mostly to serve as motels, and for a while – what with Lake Powell having been formed, turning the area into a prime recreation destination – they prospered. Along with the boaters, though, the big motel chains moved in, making life a little harder for the little motel guys. Dam shame.

Some of the individually owned little motels are apartments now, or hostels, some are a little down at the heels, but a handful, like the Red Rock, are alive and well, well-kept and worth visiting – not just a room but a home away from home.

That’s all for now. My beans are burning.

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)

Red dogs, green dogs, shy dogs, mean dogs

It was, mostly, a red collar crowd.

My time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, helping out as a volunteer, was mostly spent among those dogs who, due to their unpredictable behavior, have been assigned red collars — meaning only staff can interact with them.

I drew duty at Dulcie’s School of Dance, an octagon-shaped structure whose residents, for the most part, misbehaved either before or after their arrival at the southern Utah animal sanctuary, and who — though red collared dogs can be adopted under the right circumstances — in many cases will live out their lives there.

Dulcie’s is occupied by outlaws like Wooley Bear, a 12-year-old border collie mix who is one of Best Friends most prolific biters, a mutt named Billy Brindle, and Boo, a 14-year-old boxer who has spent more than a decade there.

Caregiver Carin Carothers was my supervisor, and she made sure a closed gate was always between me and the mostly notorious canines she oversees.

I did get to help make dinner though, and wash the dog bowls, and attended two classes — one for shy dogs, one for unpredictable and aggressive ones.

Shy dog class was easy lifting — not unlike a day at the park. I took a seat, bag of dog treats in hand, and waited for students, all green or purple collared dogs and all fearful of humans to differing degrees, to cautiously approach.

It’s all aimed at getting the dogs — many of whom came from hoarding situations — to trust humans more, difficult as that sometimes is to do.

Later, I caught part of a class for dogs who, rather than being shy, are aggressive.

I took a seat under the shade and watched as Carin and four handlers, each working with a single dog, sought to keep that dog’s attention focused on the handler. Another volunteer was called upon to approach the leashed dogs who, the hope was, would continue focusing on the treats and their handler rather than snarling and lunging at the person approaching.

I was wondering who that volunteer had made mad when I was called upon to do the same thing — repeatedly walk up to within five feet or so of a dog and be distracting.

Almost every time, the dogs failed to notice me — the preferred reaction, though I didn’t like it much. The only thing worse than not being able to pay attention to a dog is when a dog pays no attention to you.

Later, though, I did enjoy bonding with Smitty, another Dulcie’s resident — a green collar placed in the unit to be a good influence on the less friendly dogs. Carin suggested I take the coonhound for a spin in my car around the canyons — and Smitty seemed to love it, peering intently out the window.

We stopped for a walk at an idyllic little park, nestled on the side of a canyon, whereupon seeing a couple of other dogs, Smitty began baying, his howls echoing off the canyon walls.

Though we only planned for a day of volunteering, we stopped by Best Friends again yesterday, mainly to take Smitty for another spin.

This time he was even more gung-ho about the ride, throwing his front paws on the back of my Jeep and awaiting to be hoisted the rest of the way. Looking at him in my rear view mirror, I could swear he was smiling.

We tooled around the canyons, stopped and spent some quiet moments at Angel’s Rest, the pet cemetery on the grounds of the sanctuary. We listened to the wind chimes, and sat in the shade of a gazebo. He hardly howled at all this time, instead laying quietly and staring at me.

Were I not on the road for an extended period, or maybe if I had a bigger vehicle, I’d have taken him with me when I left Best Friends Wednesday afternoon. That I didn’t means you still can.

My day and a half as a volunteer at Best Friends may not have saved the world, but I had a good time, and I think Smitty, who’s not yet two years old and still a little shy around most people — did, too.

And while I’m not saying it’s karma or anything, I noticed as I headed back to the highway that my car’s version of the red collar — my malfunction indicator light — was no longer lit. I’d been fretting about it ever since it came on when I rolled into Phoenix last week.

I do believe that doing good things makes good things come back to you — just maybe not that instantly. And if there is such a thing as karma, Smitty — the role model at Dulcie’s, that green collar who lives among the reds — has good times ahead.

Kanab: Overflowing with dog friendliness

Kanab, Utah is by and large a dog-friendly town. About a third of its motels permit dogs, as do most of the restaurants with outdoor dining. You can hardly drive down the main street of this one-stoplight town without seeing someone walking a dog.

It’s the headquarters of Best Friends, the world’s largest animal sanctuary. It’s in Utah, a place  whose major religion has so many rules, state and local governments don’t feel obliged to constantly come up with new ones (though I’m told there’s a two-dog limit in Kanab proper). And it’s in the west, free and open, where a man can be a man, and a dog can be a dog. Many an old-time western was filmed in the surrounding hills and canyons.

But even here, there’s truly “dog-friendly,” and there’s “well, ok, since nearly half of American homes have dogs, and more people are vacationing with dogs, we’ll put up with them because we’ll make more money that way.”

Which brings me to yesterday’s shoot-out. It was just one of words, left on notes, attached to my motel room door.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary doesn’t permit volunteers to bring their own dogs, and for legitimate reasons. Making things more incovenient, there are no kennels in town, just a couple of pet sitters. It would make enormous good sense — given the number of visitors, some who come to town with dogs — for either Best Friends or some entrepreneurial type to establish a kennel and day care business nearby. (Note to self: add that to the possible future careers list.)

Anyway, given those circumstances, when I reported for duty at Best Friends, I left Ace in my air conditioned room at the Bob-Bon Inn, where, judging from the autographed photos on the lobby wall, most of the cowboy stars you’ve heard of, and many you haven’t, stayed — back when they were alive.

I left a note on the door of my room that there was a dog inside, and that I didn’t need my room cleaned, and I came back to check on Ace and take him for a walk around lunchtime before returning to Best Friends for a couple more hours.

When I returned to the motel late in the afternoon, another note had joined mine. It said:

Sure enough, their written rules had specified just that (without the exclamation points), but somehow in my Internet search for a dog-friendly room, bouncing between five or six motel websites, I’d missed that.

Ace, of course, caused no trouble. He didn’t bark, or soil the new carpets (though the overflowing toilet came close to doing that yesterday morning). Even though the room, nice as it was, was only the size of a prison cell, Ace was content to peacefully hang out in the air conditioning.

That night, fortunately, I was scheduled to meet a member of the Best Friends staff for dinner at a dog-friendly restaurant. And this time, at the Rocking V Cafe, the dog friendliness was real. The first thing Terrah, our waitress, did was to check and make sure there was water in the dog bowl, provided at every outdoor table, and bring out some dog treats.

Then she fell in love with Ace. Then all the other diners fell in love with Ace. As usual, he stopped traffic, made friends and, except for a few pedestrians who veered around him, made people happy. It was a true dog-friendly experience — so much better than the phony variety.

(Willow Canyon, an outdoor gear, book and coffee shop, also passes the dog-friendly test, and I’m told Laid Back Larry’s, a vegetarian restaurant/coffee place on Highway 89, is also an especially dog-friendly venue.)

After dinner, Ace and I walked downtown, then returned to the motel. I had planned to ask to stay a third night, but, in light of the exclamation points, I decided not too, leaving my key in the room and checking out quietly and without confrontation.

Unfortunately, I left behind a clogged toilet — which I’d say is the fault of the plumbing not me. As much as the proprietors probably fear dog waste, they were left with the human variety. I briefly thought about going to the office and asking for a plunger.

But I’m a motel guest! Not a plumber!

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)