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We survived Niagara Falls

I almost lost Ace at Niagara Falls – and in the worst imaginable way.

After leaving Saugerties, we headed across New York state, stopping overnight in Syracuse,  mainly because Ace desperately needed a bath. I think even he – scratching a lot of late — agreed with that assessment. He jumped right into the Motel 6 bathtub, sat patiently as I used the ice bucket to soak him down, and smiled as I scrubbed him with an oatmeal-based flea and tick shampoo, rinsed him and toweled him off, using every flimsy white towel in the room

The next day, smelling better — him, at least — we continued to Buffalo,  where I got a break from motel charges and fast food by staying with an aunt and uncle in Amherst.

My father’s brother and his wife, while dog lovers, are not believers in the whole idea of them living in the house. Their children’s dogs, and even their own dog, were never permitted in the house. I respected that, and figured, with the temperatures still above freezing, one night as a real dog wouldn’t hurt Ace.

I laid his blanket near the door, and he had a spacious, well-manicured, fenced backyard at his disposal. He seemed to enjoy everything about being outside – except for the fact that the people were inside. He’d sit at the window and gaze in forlornly, especially when he sensed food was being served

Only twice during the night did I hear him whine – and in a way I’d never heard him whine before. Usually he will emit a two syllable sound, when he’s upset or impatient. Something like “ruh-ROOOO.” On this night, he came up with a four syllable one, something like “ruh-REEE-RAAA-rooo.”

The next morning, when I stepped outside, he was the most energetic and playful I’ve seen him since our trip began. I think a night in the fresh air, as opposed to a Motel 6 smoking room, did him good. The stop did me good, too. My aunt and uncle fed me well, and sent me with a sack lunch on my visit to Niagara Falls.

It was only a slight hassle entering Canada after crossing the Rainbow Bridge  (not be be confused with the mythical one where pets wait for their owners before going into heaven). I feared, with all I’m toting inside and atop my car, someone might feel the need to search it all; instead I just got a verbal grilling.

“What’s the purpose of your trip? What’s all that in your car? Are you carrying any firearms? Do you have any tobacco?”

My answers seemed to satisfy the Canadian agent – except for the one pertaining to the purpose of my trip. He spent a long time looking at the ohmidog! magnet sign on the side of my car.

“It’s a website about dogs,” I explained. “Right now, I’m traveling across the country with my dog, like John Steinbeck did, and writing about it.”

His face had a blank look.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “Do you sell stuff on your website?”

“Not really,” I answered.

“Do you breed dogs?”


“How many dogs do you have in there?”

“In the car you mean? Just one.”

He handed me back my passport and signaled me through, and I followed the signs to Niagara Falls, which led me to an $18 parking space a short walk away from the falls.

Once there, as has happened at other scenic wonders, some of the tourists seemed more taken with Ace than the tourist attraction.

At least 20 people took his picture. Some asked to pose with him. One  volunteered to take a picture of the two of us together, with the falls in the background, as if we were honeymooners. And at least 30 asked the eternal question: “What kind of dog is that?”

Although the sun wasn’t in the right place, I tried to get some photos of Ace with the falls in the background. The edge of the falls, on the Canadian side, is blocked off by a railing. There’s a stone wall, about two feet high, with iron rails running above it. The stone wall was wide enough for Ace to get up on and sit, so I had him do so — right next to the sign that said “Danger.”

I had taken a few shots when a gaggle of tourists stopped, one of them with a little girl who just couldn’t stop squealing at Ace — squeals of delight, but squeals all the same. Ace isn’t a fan of the squeal. As I was holding on to his leash, putting my camera away, and answering questions about my dog, Ace – I think to distance himself from the squeals — jumped over the rail.

There was grass on the other side, about six feet of it, before the sheer drop. He walked toward the edge, to the point that I was leaning over the rail, holding his leash, trying to reel him back in. I pulled him back to the wall, and when I told him to jump back over he did.

Fortunately, no authorities saw the incident and I didn’t get the scolding I probably deserved. Then again, neither do all those people who seem to not give a second thought to holding their young children over the rail to give them a better view.

We moved along after that, weaving through all the tourists – and there were hordes of them, from all over the globe, some stopping me so they could take Ace’s photo, some asking to borrow him to pose with (Okay, but not near the rail), some wanting their children to meet him. One Japanese man, clearly wanting to ask about Ace but not a speaker of English, simply gave me a thumbs up.

It was a lot like our experience at the red rocks of Sedona, only multiplied. Then, too, Ace’s close call reminded me of that sad story we heard at Glen Canyon.

Back in the car, well away from the falls, I scolded myself again for letting my attention get diverted, and unwrapped the ham sandwiches my aunt had prepared.  I ate one of them. You can guess who got the other.

Sitting there in my $18 parking space, happy I hadn’t lost my dog to the roaring natural wonder, I gave silent thanks — that the only Rainbow Bridge either of us were crossing that day was the real one, and for the day I met him at Baltimore’s animal shelter.

After five years, the honeymoon continues.


Comment from Diane McCornack
Time October 21, 2010 at 10:15 am

I gasped aloud as I read. It my heart heart beat fast and stomach jump. I’ve had those close calls with my fur babies and it scares you to death. I’m so happy for you and Ace on the outcome of this one. And like me after one of those I’m sure that you will forever be vigilant on that front! Love your blog and have recommended it to many! Thank you for sharing Ace with us!

Comment from Susan
Time October 21, 2010 at 11:06 am

So glad he didn’t jump off the edge. I have a vivid memory of my eldest brother holding me over the railing of Niagara Falls when I was about 3. “Don’t yell for Mom,” he said, “or I just might drop you!” I’ll let you guess whether he’s my favorite sibling.

Comment from Anne
Time October 21, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I too have an aunt and uncle in Amherst!! Glad Ace ‘decided’ to come back to the safe side of the fence. Aren’t the falls wonderful? We love your blog. If ever in Florida we’d put you up (2 old cats, 1 small dog, 1 tortoise a six year old and me). Ruffle Ace’s feathers for me.

Comment from PawshPal
Time October 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I took my dogs to a national state park once in California. There were these wild dogs there that kept following us. I wasn’t sure if they were curious or were thinking that my dogs were gonna be their lunch. There was a pack of them so I didn’t want to risk anything so I started bustling along.

And they started following.

At one point (i shouldn’t have one this but..) i started running at slow speed so as to give an impression that i was jogging. But animals don’t understand the concept of “exercising” and took it as chase.

I actually feared for mine and my dogs’ lives. Luckily, a park ranger came by and he saved the day. (well, if you consider a loud 1980’s ford explorer engine noise as an act of salvation…)

Comment from Lynn (in Louisiana)
Time October 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I so enjoy this blog. Thank you John and Ace.
This post resulted in me clicking on back stories which led to clicking on more back stories for over an hour!! I would love to read a post about how you first got Ace. Is it on here somewhere???
Oh, and I said silent thanks too. Please give Ace an ear scratch for me.

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time October 21, 2010 at 2:40 pm

OK, so you just scared us out of a few years’ growth over here. Glad Ace is none the worse for his experience! What’s involved in taking a dog into Canada?

Comment from Kelly
Time October 22, 2010 at 4:15 am

OMG!! Thank goodness you happened to have him on the leash! I’ll bet you were totally freaked. That heart in the throat feeling is no fun.

Comment from debbie
Time October 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I too gasp as I read about Ace jumping over the rail. But what was more rewarding in this story was your words of reflection of how much you cherish Ace.
It’s interesting that being around water’somehow seems to have that ablility, to allow us to reflect and rebirth…