People often ask me: “Why travel with your dog?” It’s a hassle. It severely limits the hotels I can stay at, and usually costs me more. It slows me down. It’s hot. I have to stop so he can pee. It makes dinner meetings almost impossible. Well, any normal meeting or interview impossible, really. Oh, and the big one: I HAVE TO DRIVE ACROSS THE COUNTRY INSTEAD OF FLY. So why do I do it?
Let me count the ways Rusty (and Lucky before him) makes it all worthwhile.
There was Connor, in Kansas City, a Toronto 30-something out with his boys for their annual weekend trip to a U.S. ballpark. He took a break from helping his bro convince everyone they were on a bachelor party trip (free shots!) to pet Rusty. He’d lost his golden a few months ago, Connor said, and he had to say hi. Soon, he was taking a selfie with Rusty and sending it to his wife. In the meantime, I learned all about Connor’s family business, what Canada thinks of Donald Trump, why drug tests are both more common and less common up north and… 30 minutes later, he didn’t really want to leave when the Uber arrived to take his friends to the next bar.
There was a young fellow in Columbia Missouri, who seemed to timidly want to pet Rusty outside the coffee shop. But really, he was just being himself, a single Bengladeshi man most recently from Jamaica, Queens trying his hand at Midwestern living. And he really, really wants to adopt a dog, he just hasn’t quite worked up the resolve to do it yet. Frequent readers know my love affair with Columbia, a perfect college town in an underrated state. I always wonder what it’s like to live there if you don’t look like me. Well, he was more than happy to share (as he shared half his sandwich with Rusty). He beamed while telling me about the rainy night recently when he’d forgotten to cover his motorcycle; some friendly Missourian had covered it for him overnight, he said. He misses NYC, and all the fun things to do there, but life is a heck of lot easier, and people are a heck of a lot nicer in Missouri, he’s found. By the time we left, perhaps an hour later than I was supposed to leave town, I was pretty sure Rusty had won over yet another convert, and some shelter dog will soon have a very great life with my new friend (and his two cats!). We’ll be grabbing drinks next time I’m in Missouri.
Not far down the road, in time Rocheport, along the Missouri River, Rusty cost me a lot of money — cash I was happy to spend. While enjoying a beverage after biking on the Katy Trail, Rusty forced himself upon Oliver, a older basset hound who was more or less following a man named Mike. After unsuccessfully trying to start a wrestling match with Oliver, the two got down to serious sniffing while Mike eventually mentioned that he makes mandolins for a living. In a “factory” at his house nearby. Soon, Oliver, Rusty, and I were running up and down the stairs of a converted farmhouse full of mandolin wood in various states of repair. With wooden frames hanging on the walls like skeletons, the smell of fresh cut timber consuming me, I got a hours-long lesson in mandolin making from an old hand at the craft. You’d better believe I left with a Big Muddy Mandolin Company model that I will treasure for the story as much as the sound. I’m also glad Rusty didn’t chew any half-made mandolins. Of course, I was late when I left. (Do you sense a theme here?)
In Denver, I visited my brother, who has an aging, sickly beagle named Copper. Sickly, that is, until Rusty stopped in. Within minutes, Rusty and Copper were arguing over stuffed dog toys. My brother was astonished — it was his most active day in months, maybe longer. Yes, dogs really do possess the fountain of youth.
In Cincinnati, Rusty led me to Crowly’s in Mt. Adams, where he was allowed inside and tried to jump on the bar — not the first patron, I’ll bet. Although it does highlight the importance of a good lead or dog harness uk. In Seattle, he pointed me to FlatStick Pub in Kirkland, perhaps the most fun bar I’ve hung around in years. Every beer is a local microbrew, and it seems nearly every table has a dog. Staff make it a point to pet every hound and make them feel at home.
And that’s the point. See, the problem with bars is that they sometimes get overstuffed with testosterone. And jerks. People who own dogs, and people who love dogs, are rarely jerks. One of my friends even decided to start a dog day care business she loves dogs that much! I’ve seen this impact 1,000 times — with dogs and babies. People just behave better when they are around animals. They are soothed; they apologize; they say please, and thank you, and “Can I pet your dog?” Critically, they talk to each other.
“What’s your dog’s name? How old? He looks like my mom’s/brothers/neighbor’s dog! He looks just like the dog I had when I was a little boy. Bear. I still miss Bear.” People talking about their childhood dogs don’t get in fights. They do, however, connect. They tell me about adopting dogs after their parents pass away. About bad breakups (who gets Fluffy?) and the first time they laid eyes on their puppy. And everyone, everyone, tells me about a dog the had to bid farewell to — a subject I’ve written about quite a bit.
When I lost my dog Lucky, I mentioned how invisible I felt. Walking around the block without a four-legged friend, folks don’t stop me to say hi. If I smile, they think it’s weird. With a dog, I’m a celebrity. And so it is with travel.
Let me tell you how this story would read if I went on this road trip without Rusty.
OK, maybe not that bad, Sure, as a journalist, I’d force myself on people eventually. But it’s no exaggeration that Rusty brings me 20 times the joy and conversation.
And we’re just talking about bars. Sit outside a coffee shop with a dog anywhere in America and entire families come up to say hello. Wait staff arm-wrestle for chance to bring you a dog bowl with water. I wildly overtip everywhere because of how darn nice people are. Once in a while, they even find out about my blog and read it. Taking a dog when you travel is good for the economy, I say!
And so, by the time my trip ended in Wilmington, Ohio, I was happily sitting outside at the General Denver Hotel — the Cheers of that small town — and learning about its efforts at revival. I should have been ready for something magical, but I wasn’t. An old man sllooowlllly walked by with a cane, stopped dead in his tracks, and smiled at Rusty, but seemed unsure what to do. I motioned that he walk over and pet Rusty, which he did, an inch at a time. Rusty never needs a second invitation, so he darted over and sat on the old man’s feet, as he does. The man turned out to be the town’s revered art teacher. We didn’t talk, but in a city where the amazing downtown murals are a critical part of urban renewal, it seemed important I make his acquaintance to understand the soul of the place. He walked away happy.
Moments after, a beautiful women crashed the party, got down on both knees, and gave Rusty a long, deep hug. One in my party knew the women, and asked how the fund-raising was going.
“We finished,” she announced. “In this town, it’s so easy.”
The fundraising was for Honor Flights. Wilmington residents pay to fill an airplane with World War II, Korean, and Viet Nam veterans so they can go to Washington D.C. for a day and visit the memorials there. As she repeated how generous town residents were, I felt a lump in my throat.
No, we hadn’t been talking about art teachers. Or veterans. Or even community. We’d been talking about economics. And yes, that’s important. But somehow, through the magic of dogs, I learned so, so much more.
One hunter I talked to on this trip — who missed his long-gone golden retriever — talked about following his dogs wherever they went. Sometimes, they’d take crazy unexpected turns or crazy paths to birds. But they’re never wrong. They always know what they’re doing. I’ve shot rifles, but never hunted, but I have the same experience with Rusty. When his brain tells him to go somewhere, he’s always right. There’s always spilled kibble, or a half-slice of pizza, or a child’s toy, or a child, at the other end of his nose. He knows.
And so, on these trips, I’ve learned to follow his lead, at least as best I can. Sure, he’s got a bit of ADD. But he’s never wrong. He always finds the good story. He’s the reporter I can only hope to be. And that’s why I travel with my dog.
The postscript for this story, if you are still with me, is a big thank you to everyone who is working to make places more pet-friendly. I know it can be a hassle. But as I tried to point out above, I think many business owners don’t realize the unexpected rewards that come with the hassle. Sure, there are bad dogs, just like there are bad people (probably a lot more bad people). And it is a risk.
But think about the stories you are missing!
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