While I feel pretty attuned to my dog – though nowhere near as attuned as he is to me – there have been times, lots of times, during our seven months of traveling that I’ve wondered what he really thinks of it all.
We’ve been on the go since the end of May, not staying anywhere, until our most recent stop, for longer than two or three days. More often, it has been a new Motel 6, or similarly priced lodgings, every night, followed by four, five or six hours of drive time, then landing in a new place, with new smells, which must be sniffed out and, of course, peed on.
By the time we’re done, in another week, we will have traveled over 22,000 miles, he will have peed on 31 states (and Canada) and we will have crossed the country twice in our red Jeep Liberty.
And he will have, hundreds of times, looked up at me with those big brown eyes, which are so highly expressive.
If only I knew what they were expressing.
The back of my Jeep, which once meant he was heading on an outing, has become — other than me, and dinner — one of the few constants in his life of late. It, more than any place, is home, and he still jumps in it excitedly.
During our four weeks of sitting still in Arizona, he still waits to jump in the car. Is it conditioning, or is he truly eager to go; and, if the latter, is it because he has come to love the road, or that he wants to finally get the hell home?
Is he enjoying the adventure, or, irony of ironies, does he find the Liberty confining?
While Ace seems to have adapted wonderfully to the new routine – or lack of one – and shows no visible signs of being unhappy, I still wonder if not being rooted, not having one place to call home, is bothering him.
Does he find being a vagabond liberating, as I – most of the time – do, or is he longing for a place of his own, an end to the travels, a return to the daily routine? Dogs do seem to love their routines.
His tail has remained curled most of the time, and that has always been the most obvious barometer of his mood.
But there are times I look at him, when he’s lying with his head on his paws that I wonder: Is he sad, is he depressed, or is he just lying with his head on his paws?
It’s important for me to know, because this trip, in more ways than one, is about him.
In addition to having nothing better to do, thinking it might be fun to travel across America, documenting our daily exploits and seeking out dog stories — to put together a “Travels With Charley” for modern times, only a more dog-centric version — this journey was also sparked by a feeling I was left with after writing my first book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
After researching the often incredible lengths bereaved pet owners go to when their dogs get sick and die, including that most high tech length of all – cloning – it struck me, in what is likely neither a deep nor original thought, that we humans could, and should, do a better job of savoring our loved ones (of all species) while they’re still around. Maybe then, rather than prolonged and paralyzing grief, we could, knowing we had fully celebrated their lives, better accept their deaths.
I don’t really know if that would lessen the pain of a loved one’s departure. It could, for all I know, only make it worse. But that’s not the point. The point is we humans, as the song goes, “don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” that we take things for granted – not just unpaved paradises, but our parents, our planet, our friends and our dogs.
And while I’m as guilty as anybody on the parents and friends part, I resolved – after writing about how people go so far as to “stuff,” mummify and freeze dry their deceased pets, or pay $100,000 to produce a genetic replica through cloning – that Ace would be appreciated. In life.
That doesn’t mean spoiled and pampered — that’s entirely different. But I made a promise to myself to fully enjoy my dog — to, if it’s not too precious a word, treasure him (not that I didn’t already) — in our relatively brief time together. (Ace, who came into my life when he was 6 months old, is going on 7 years now, and being a big dog, will be lucky to reach the teens.)
I saw the trip, rightly or wrongly, as a way to do that – to take the time we shared beyond the routine of coming home from work, walking to the park, eating dinner and snuggling in front of the TV — though, again, for all I know, perhaps that was the life that Ace really preferred.
If, as I suspect, our dogs reflect our moods, then doing what makes me happiest, I reasoned, would make him happiest – especially given the fact that we’d be doing it together — and probably nothing makes me happier, other than Ace laying his head on my belly, than traveling, writing, seeing new things, and meeting new people.
So, even though finances didn’t really permit it, with an assist from my 401K and unemployment benefits, we set off on this journey, not being sure where it would lead, how long it might last, or what, other than some stories to share, it might result in.
At first, I planned for three months on the road. When that was done, we kept going, heading to the former home of John Steinbeck on Long Island and, on the same day he left 50 years earlier, starting again, roughly following the same route the author took in “Travels With Charley.” That took another three months.
Now, we’re preparing to head back east – we’re still not sure where home is, but Baltimore will do for now. We’ll be sticking to interstate highways to make better time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this trip, it’s that schedules and itineraries – and particularly interstate highways — make traveling, at once, more stressful and boring. They snuff out any opportunities for spontaneity. You miss out on the character, and characters, America has to offer.
But as we “make good time,” I’ll be a little less stressed about whether Ace is enjoying the ride.
Despite all the time I pondered the questions; despite my long looks into his soulful brown eyes attempting to gauge his emotions; despite some one-sided conversations where I’ve attempted to explain things, with his only response being giving me his paw; despite priding myself on having some dog empathy, I’d been unable to figure out the answer to that question: Is Ace having fun?
So, last week, before I left Cave Creek, I sought a second opinion.
It was Ace’s second visit with an animal communicator – the first having come when I was researching a series I wrote for the Baltimore Sun about trying to uncover the past of my mysterious new dog, adopted from what used to be the city pound.
What was he, and where did he come from? For the answers then I turned to DNA testing (which showed him to be a Rottweiler-Chow-Akita), to legwork (walking the streets of the neighborhood where records showed he’d been picked up as a stray) and, finally, to an animal communicator. Perhaps the answers, I figured, could come straight from the source: Ace.
I’m neither a big believer, or for that matter a big disbeliever, in those that claim animals talk to them, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen – to them, or, if possible, to Ace.
Not long after parking myself in Cave Creek, Arizona, I visited For Goodness Sake, a thrift store that donates part of its profits to animal rescue organizations. At a weekend fund-raising event there, I entered a raffle for a session with a local animal communicator, and I won.
Last week, Ace and I sat down with Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals.
And according to her, Ace had lots to say.
(Tomorrow: Ace talks)
Posted by jwoestendiek December 28th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animal communicators, animals, arizona, behavior, cave creek, communicate, country, debbie johnstone, dog, dogs, dogs on the road, empathy, happiness, john steinbeck, liberating, liberty, listen 2 animals, miles, moods, pets, reading, road trip, routine, steinbeck, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, trip, vagabond
Not that visiting my ex’s is a recurring theme here or anything, but this week we checked in on another one — a homeless cat I first encountered underneath a stairway in Baltimore, next door to a bar, took into my home after hearing she’d been kicked around some, then struggled to find a forever home for.
As it turned out, forever would be in Oklahoma, and therein lies a story.
It was January of this year, and a big snow was on the way to the northeast when Miley temporarily moved in. Word was, some of the street toughs had been kicking her, and she’d snuck into and been thrown out of the two bars on the corner before taking refuge under the stairs.
At the time I didn’t know she was a she, so I dubbed her Miles.
For months, no one stepped forward — not the cat’s previous owner, not a future one.
But then I heard from Kitty Diacon, who saw the video, read the story and said she’d love to have Miles, who by then was Miley — renamed after a visit to the vet, where she was checked out and determined to be spayed female.
Kitty lived in Oklahoma, but as it turned out, that wasn’t too big of a problem, as she was a truck driver and was able to schedule a load that would bring her near Baltimore.
I handed Miley over to Kitty in Frederick, Maryland, back in April, and made another video about that:
Miley logged thousands of miles in the truck before she got home and began adjusting to a new family in Waynoka, Oklahoma.
This week, our “Dog’s Country” travels — which were the reason I decided I couldn’t keep Miley — were taking us to the general vicinity of Oklahoma (i.e. Texas), so we called and asked if we could stop by for a visit with Miley.
Kitty was on the road, but she called and said I should drop by and see her husband John, who, due to a job-related medical disability, is home all the time. At the time she took Miley, she said she wanted her to help keep her husband company during the day.
A few readers expressed skepticism about it — worried that, given the animals in her truck, Kitty might have been one of those nefarious sorts who take in animals, then sell them to dogfighters or for use in medical labs.
In talking with her though, and especially after meeting her, I was convinced she was a true animal lover.
Turns out John is, too.
And he seems to have no shortage of company — eight dogs and three cats (not counting those Kitty was traveling with in the truck), two turtles, an 18-month old son and three baby possums he was nursing after his older son struck the momma possum with his car.
“We’ve got a soft spot for critters,” Kitty explains.
“Miley’s pretty well adusted,” Kitty said. “She’s getting John trained pretty good.” When her water dish runs dry, Miley goes and sits in the sink until the water is turned on. Then she likes to play with stream as it flows from the faucet.
She never did that at my house, but then I yelled at her when she jumped up on the kitchen counter.
When I stepped inside the Diacon’s home, Miley seemed to remember me immediately (or maybe that’s wishful thinking). She brushed up against me and let me pick her up, something she didn’t do that often when she lived with me.
John, a Navy veteran who was left with disc problems from driving a fertilizer truck and who’s still fighting his workmen’s comp case, spends time tending to the animals and his son, Patrick, and working on cars and radios in his garage.
John introduced me to the rest of the animals, and I spent a few more minutes petting Miley before saying goodbye.
If I had any doubts about Miley’s new home, they were gone by then.
(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America)
Posted by jwoestendiek July 23rd, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: ace does america, adopt, animals, baltimore, bar, cat, cats, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, ex-cat, john diacom, kitty diacom, miles, miley, new home, ohmidog!, oklahoma, pets, revisiting, truck driver, waynoka
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
My former cat Miley — the one I took in from the streets of South Baltimore for the winter — is still on the highway, having logged more than 5,000 since joining her new truck driver owner, Kitty.
Miley has now passed through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia — and that’s just to name a few.
Kitty says Miley is doing wonderfully, and has taken well to living in the truck cab, along with Kitty’s other cat, Chuzzle, and two pit bulls.
They were in Louisville when she touched base with me, headed for Waco.
In another week or so, she predicted they’ll be back home in Oklahoma, where she expects Miley will keep her disabled husband John company as he works on CB radios in the garage. It’s not unusual for Kitty to be gone three weeks or more on the job.
Kitty said she kept Miley in her carrier for the first leg of their journey together — from Frederick, Maryland, where I dropped her off, to Bedford, Pennsylvania, where Kitty was taking a load of Oklahoma hot dogs to a Wal-Mart.
She went inside to do the paperwork and returned to the truck cab to find Miley had managed to pop it open and take up a more comfortable spot on a pillow on Kitty’s bunk — “as peaceful as she could be,” Kitty said. She hasn’t been back in the carrier since.
She’s doesn’t mind the noise and rumble of the big rig and is getting along fine with the dogs, but still hisses when Chuzzle, a male Persian cat, gets too close, especially when it’s time to eat.
“I can’t thank you enough,” Kitty told me, when, as I see it, she deserves the thanks for giving Miley a permanent home. “She is just so awesome”
Posted by jwoestendiek April 23rd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abandoned, adopt, animals, cat, cats, chuzzle, foster, highways, home, kitty, miles, miley, ohmidog!, oklahoma, persian, pets, rescue, south baltimore, states, stray, streets, temporary, travel, traveling, truck driver, trucks, winter
A quick update on my former temporary cat Miley, now heading to Oklahoma with her new owner, Kitty, a truck driver who saw the ohmidog! video and offered to provide a home for the Baltimore street cat:
“Miley is settling in real well. She is still not sure about Chuzzle. When he gets to close she hisses and growls and runs to her food dish and starts eating her food, almost like she is afraid that Chuzzle is going to eat it.”
This does not surprise me. Miley, in the three months I kept her after taking her in, liked her food early and often – maybe a result of her time foraging on the street.
As soon as I got out of bed in the morning, she’d approach and give a prolonged meow, which didn’t sound like “meow” at all; really more of a wail that continued until breakfast was served. Between the wailing and blocking my path when I tried to walk, she trained me to fill her bowl first thing in the morning.
Annoying as that was, yes, I still miss my unofficial foster cat some. I still stumble out of bed some mornings and, in my pre-coffee haze, head for the cat food.
I’m sure Miley and Chuzzle will work things out, with help from Kitty, who should be arriving back home in Oklahoma soon. Her message was relayed by her husband, who said Kitty reports Miley is a “wonderful cat.”
“I’m looking forward to getting her home with me,” he said.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 18th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, animals, baltimore, bar cat, cat, cats, chuzzle, foster, kitty, miles, miley, ohmidog!, oklahoma, pets, rescue, road, shelter, south baltimore, street cat, truck driver