One month ago today, a man and his dog left the comfort of their Baltimore rowhouse and set forth across America on a journey with no firm destination and of no definite duration.
An unemployed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and soon to be published author (the man, not the dog), he decided he could keep doing his website and look for jobs just as easily on the road as he could from home — and in the process feel a little less dejected and rejected, a little more alive, perhaps, even, at 56, a little less old.
Don’t get him wrong, he loved his routine, and so did his dog — but within routine, you can also find the word rut, and sometimes there’s not much different between the two.
Rather than pay for housing, he decided to pack up his website, his dog and himself and hit the road, documenting their adventures — a la John Steinbeck and Charley, but with the modern-day benefits of Mapquest, Google, WordPress and cellphone – all while trying to get by on the amount he once paid for rent, roughly $1,000 a month.
After one month, and 3,300 miles, he — who, in case you haven’t figured it out, is me — can report that he nearly met that goal; that his dog, himself and, we hope, the website are all better for the experience; and that the journey is going to continue for a period that, like the man, will be indefinite.
Life on the road has its downside — the constant packing and unpacking; the where did I put my so and so; the heat; the where am I going to stay tonight; the expense, which we try our best to mitigate; and the uncertainty, which can be both good and bad.
But the gypsy in us — and there’s more gypsy in us than perhaps we thought — is loving it as we drive across America, through cities large and (preferably) small, checking its pulse (it still has one), revisiting some people and places and getting acquainted with some new ones.
So far, I can report, Ace, car and I are holding up well, though just this week a “Malfunction Indicator Light” started flashing (on the car, not me or Ace). It’s a little disconcerting since we’re contemplating crossing a few empty deserts in the week ahead, and according to my owner’s manual it could be a sign of major engine or transmission problems, or perhaps nothing at all. I think I’m glad I don’t personally have a malfunction indicator light.
So far, healthwise, my only problems have been dental, even though some have questioned whether they might be mental.
A trip to the dentist would have sent me over budget, so I decided on do-it-yourself dental work. Since no pain was involved, at least if I refrained from eating, I bought a product called Dentemp O.S., and, after locating my detached cap in a pocket of last week’s pants, glued it back on. I used some more of the product to fill the cavity.
Health insurance for me, like a lot of Americans, is still — despite all that reform (is it done yet?) – something my finances won’t permit.
Looking at our overall spending since we departed, our biggest expense has been gas ($580 worth), followed by lodgings (eight nights in motels at $334), then food, which — if you subtract the amount spent on buying dinner for those who took me in (about $200) – was $120. That comes out to $1,034 — less than I was spending on rent and electricity during my stay-put existence.
The key to staying within my self-imposed limits is going to be mooching accommodations when I can, camping when I can, couchsurfing some more, continuing to avoid dentists, and not covering so much ground that gas eats up my budget.
Ace and I have both lost a little weight — not a bad thing for either of us — and he seems to be enjoying the trip so far. He’s as eager to meet new people as he ever was, and with all the new dogs he has met, he’s becoming even more sociable and reliable.
No matter where we are, he has taken to giving me a look around 11 a.m. that — and maybe this is just my imagination — seems to ask, “Is it checkout time?”
He’s getting used to being a rambling dog, and next week we plan to get motoring again, heading out of Phoenix for a while and going north and then west, or maybe west and then north.
We’re trying to set up doing some volunteer work at Best Friends, the Utah animal sanctuary, hoping to visit the Circle L animal rescue ranch in Prescott, and maybe will venture into California, where I’ve been feeling the urge to revisit Salvation Mountain — a man-made, hand-painted, mostly garbage monument (to God, not Dog) I wrote about nearly two decades ago when I traveled the country (sans dog) as a newspaper reporter. It’s near the Salton Sea in an area known as Slab City, which attracts an interesting mix of vagabonds and nomads.
Our trip may or may not be a neverending journey, and it may or may not someday evolve into a second book, but this much is for sure, there’s a neverending supply of stories — dog ones and people ones — out there.
And we’re off to find a few more of them.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, america, animals, arizona, camping, dog friendly, dog's country, doggin it, dogs, dogscountry, expense, food, freeloading, gas, highways, home is where the dog is, john woestendiek, lodging, miles, motels, new mexico, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, salvation mountain, slab city, travel, traveling with dogs, trip
A majority of pet owners would pay $500 for life-saving veterinary care, but less than half would fork over $1,000, only a third would spend $2,000, and only about 20 percent would be willing to pay $5,000.
So says an Associated Press-Petside.com poll about the cost of health care for animals, conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media.
Only at the $500 level were dog owners (74 percent) more likely than cat owners (46 percent) to say they would likely seek treatment. In the higher price ranges, the two are about equally likely to seek vet care.
“Euthanasia is always sad but when finances have to be considered, when you feel there is a possibility you didn’t or couldn’t do the right thing, you feel guilty,” said veterinarian Jane Shaw, director of the Argus Institute in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. “We are at a point where we are talking about basic life needs or survival needs.”
One in five pet owners said they fret a lot about being unable to afford seeing a vet. Dog owners are more likely to worry than cat owners, and low-income people are among the biggest worriers, which is probably because they have the biggest worries.
About one in four people, or 27 percent, said pet insurance is a good way to save money on vet bills, though only about 5 percent of pet owners actually have it.
The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010, and involved phone interviews with 1,112 pet owners nationwide. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 9th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: afford, affording, animals, ap, associated press, care, cats, cost, dogs, euthanasia, expense, health, insurance, medical, news, pet owners, pets, petside.com, poll, spend, spending, surgery, vet, veterinarian, veterinary
A Wall Street Journal columnist posed that question recently after hearing from a “sizable” pack of angry readers who took him to task for lamenting how much of his paycheck was being gobbled up by medical care for his dogs.
Neal Templin, author of the Journal’s “Cheapskate” column, focused on his beagle in the original column, and recent vet visits that set him back more than $1,000 each — one of which was to treat his dog for injuries received after he escaped from home and was hit by a car.
“Your dog-owning incompetence is matched only by your lack of journalistic and personal integrity in not taking responsibility for … allowing the dog to escape in the first place,” one reader wrote Templin. “If your dog liked you he probably wouldn’t escape or howl.”
Templin noted that dogs are becoming family — not just backyard denizens.
“When I grew up in the 1960s, you took your dog to the vet for shots or perhaps to have a broken leg set. But if a dog got really sick, it died.
“It’s different today. Vets do aggressive cancer surgery and hip replacements. They pump dogs full of expensive drugs for various maladies. In short, dogs get many of the same procedures we humans get. But it’s not cheap, and if it’s anything like human medicine, it’s going to get more expensive as vets take increasingly sophisticated and heroic measures to keep dogs alive.”
So the answer to the question Templin poses in his aptly-named column depends not on the dog, but on the human that owns it — and on that human’s priorities.
“There are many who think burning 18 grand to keep a dog around for six or 12 extra months is madness,” a Massachusettshe man wrote. “Sometimes I think so, too. But my wife died from lymphoma two years ago, and I have no children. What am I going to do, buy a bigger television set?”