Standing in below-zero temperatures silently begging our dog to poop as she charged through the snow was nowhere in our plan for this great adventure, yet here we ingloriously stood.
The circumstance surrounding this arctic vigil was our drive back to Minnesota to close on the sale of the house (or ‘dirt home’ as wanderers call houses) and tie up loose ends. We decided to drive back because we needed the truck to haul stuff and certainly had the time. At least, that’s what we tell everyone but in actuality the true driving factor (no pun intended, but it kind of works) was what to do with Roxy. Few things make me realize how much I am subject to the whim of larger forces beyond my control: thunderstorms, earthquakes, rabbits in my garden, and most everything about my dog. Under normal conditions, I don’t mind if Roxy takes her time doing her business as it is a chance to be outdoors, Dave and I fleshing out some random topic while she is in pursuit of the perfect patch of grass to decree pee-worthy. She will canvas the entire area, bracketing in a search-and-rescue style grid to pinpoint the exact spot. Where most dogs seek out where other dogs have previously trod in what I highly suspect is canine pee-mail, Roxy will give wide berth to any area where she smells evidence of other dogs in her requirement for pristine turf. One distraction and we must move somewhere else and start all over. And it must be actual turf, as we discovered on previous travels through Southwest US where there was only packed dirt and rock, and it would take forever to find a single pathetic weed to provide the necessary organic material. But these were not normal conditions, and I had no desire to explain to an ER doc that I had frostbite because this 40 lb furry tyrant is particular about where she uses the doggie loo.
But overall she is really a great traveler, which facilitated our original decision back in January to head to Florida to look for a boat while the house was on the market. We knew from our many moves that there are two aspects of selling a home that can be problematic: having to keep it clean all the time, and having to disappear with the dog whenever there is a showing. I cannot even imagine what the first challenge must be like when you have small children (or teenagers, for that matter), so we had a bit of an advantage with that one. As for the second, where do you go in the middle of winter in Minnesota when you need to disappear for an hour or three? With a dog? During a pandemic? Faced with this, we decided the best approach was to just leave until the house sold. Just another time the dog was dictating our actions. Combined with the need to find a boat we left the house-selling in the capable hands of our realtor, hitched up the trailer on a cold January morning the day before the house was to go on the market, and set off for Florida.
Roxy always seems to know when we are getting ready for a road trip – probably from the luggage in the bedroom or the flurry of activity while loading the truck – and if the door of the truck is open she’ll sneak in, maintaining a low profile in the hope that we won’t notice her. She’s been known to silently sit in there for a couple hours while we finished loading the trailer, and we haven’t quite figured out if it’s because she really wants to go or fears being left behind. But she hasn’t always been so eager to travel. When she first followed us home while we were out walking Jazzy, our other dog at the time, we quickly learned that she got carsick within minutes of leaving the driveway. There’s a photo of Dave and Roxy that captures the moment I realized we were keeping her after two weeks of trying to find her owner. He’s in the passenger seat looking down at Roxy in his lap while she gazes up at him with her head on his chest. It’s one of my favorite photos. But the rest of the story of that picture is that within seconds, Dave is yelling ‘she’s gonna barf!’ and hanging her out the car window. For the first few months she cowered whenever we tried to get her in the car. To add another layer of difficulty, Jazzy would totally freak out when Roxy barfed and run as far away as she could get – which in a car is not very far. Once when Dave was in the passenger seat and both dogs were in the back, there was suddenly a panicked 60 lb dog flying between Dave and the car door, hell bent for the front floorboards. We looked back to find Roxy and her regurgitated breakfast, surveying her loyal subjects while pondering what all the fuss might be about.
The good news is that she outgrew her motion sickness, and now is eager to go anywhere but still dictates a great deal of our terms of travel. She just stretches out in the backseat (her throne), popping up whenever she senses the engine downshifting and literally panting down the driver’s neck to get the window rolled down so she can stick her head out. (We do have a rule that the window doesn’t go down until the car speed is lower than the outside temperature.) She’s so quiet that it’s not unusual for me to turn around to make sure she’s still there and we didn’t accidentally leave her at the last rest stop. When we left MN for FL, there was a cold spell extending further south than usual so we decided to stay in hotels for the few nights of our travel instead of trying to find open campgrounds. Pet friendly hotels are getting harder and harder to find, and thus she was once again dictating our plans. We discovered that most Fairfield Inns allow pets and have reasonable rates — reasonable for humans, that is. The additional $50 pet fee compared to $85 for the two of us meant that she was more expensive than each human. Ours included breakfast, at least, and she didn’t even get a Scooby Snack on her pillow. But without any other options, we just chalked it up to further Tyranny of Dog (and enabled by the hotel industry).
Making the trip in reverse this past week, there was an even colder spell gripping the entire country as we headed north after a month in Florida and we were trying to thread our way between two storms. In Chattanooga, we stayed in the same Fairfield Inn we had on the way down. Roxy must have known this and immediately made herself at home, hopping up on the single king bed and stretching out along the pillows. Since we had paid for the deep cleaning and de-allergizing (pretty sure I just made that word up, but it sounds fitting so I’m leaving it) that we had been told was the basis for the pet fee, we didn’t stop her as we usually would as she pawed at the bed covers, producing the doggie version of turn down service. And she gave us the stink eye when we finally made her move to the couch so we could go to sleep.
Which brings us back to standing in a minus-nine temperature doing the Roxy Polar Poop Plea. She wasn’t happy to be out in the cold any more than we were, and there was an obvious battle raging between her feet and her gut. She’d venture into the snow to sniff out a spot, but then her paws would get sub-zero snow in them and she’d try to avoid walking on all feet at once, then stand there with paw up, commanding her loyal subjects to tend to her. The paws (hers and ours) eventually claimed victory and we gave up, hoping that we would not be dealing with Roxy panting down our necks as soon as we got out of the parking lot.
In light of our future maritime adventures, I bet most of you are asking the most frequent question we’ve encountered as we talk about our cruising quest: how does a dog go to the bathroom on a boat? The answer is that we will be staying in marinas and having access to shore pretty much every day, so it will be just a slight change in our routine. On the days we are transiting, it will be like a road trip, with the exception that we can’t just pull off at a rest stop. Okay, that’s a big exception. For those occasions, there is Astroturf. And when you need to clean it you just drag it over the side of the boat. I’m guessing that the smell of decaying sea life will actually be an attraction for Roxy, considering how much she likes to roll in dead critters. Shoot, one time when Dave wouldn’t let her roll on a dead turtle we came across along the sidewalk, she peed on it instead. And again the very next day when it was still there. So we think she’ll pick up this aspect of boating just fine.
The moral to this story? There is none! Dogs are just what they are. Roxy accepts us unconditionally for who we are, and trying to find deeper meaning in her just takes away from the joy of her quirks and randomness – like her Happy Butt Dance when we come home, her crazy sleeping positions, the way she suddenly flops over onto grass in the middle of a walk, barking at snowmen or the trashcans because they weren’t there the day before when we did the same walk, perching on tabletops and strange places to get the best view. We already knew that we mere humans were not at the top of the hierarchy in our household and resistance was futile. We bought our first RV for Jazzy. We jest (in earnest) that we bought the house in MN for the two dogs and they just let us live there with them. Roxy now barks at me quite demandingly if she thinks I’m not giving her a chewy treat fast enough after dinner. We spoil her with the last bite of bacon, rolled down car windows, and unrestricted access to upholstery. I’ve always said that if reincarnation exists then I want to come back as my own dog.
We have come to the conclusion that the Tyranny of Dog is not so much how she rules our lives but more how she commands us to smile even when we don’t feel like it, forces us to accept the weird and goofy that is her, or makes us want to join her in impulsively flopping over and rolling in the grass. Whatever adventures are in store for us down the road, we know that having Tyrantasaurus Rox with us will make for many entertaining stories.