Golden Gadabouts — Do You Have One?

Summer is past its midpoint so most folks may have already made plans for a warm-weather vacation or at least a few days respite away from home.  On the other hand, perhaps some of you (like me) treasure a fall vacation, when the weather is a bit cooler, vacation spots are a bit quieter, and prices can be a LOT cheaper. In any case, I thought it would be fun to talk about vacationing with your dog(s) and hear some of our/your respective experiences.

My dream vacation is one that many people have a hard time relating to. For the past ten years or so, I’ve tried to go away every fall (September or October) to a little cabin in the woods or perhaps by a lake – a different one each time. I tell folks that as long as I have my dog, my coffee pot, and a bunch of good books, I’m in heaven. I love the solitude, the peacefulness, the uninterrupted time with my Golden.

For me, the more private and secluded, the better.  Yep, I’m a hermit at heart! Some people, upon hearing my plans, are aghast.  “You’ll be all by yourself? In the woods?????” I heard this many times from a former dental hygienist who just could not fathom the idea, as well as from various friends and co-workers.

This out-of-the-way cabin in Berkley Springs, Virginia was one of my all-time favorites. I spent a glorious week here in September 2006 with my Golden girl Tyler, age 13 at the time.

We both loved the deck with a beautiful view of the mountains. Tyler was recuperating from some surgery (hence the shaved belly) but was quite invigorated by the crisp air and woodsy smells. (Not that she is showing it here….!)

While my “cabin retreats” have brought me great pleasure, I’ve found that searching for each year’s destination cabin is half the fun! I know I’m not alone in spending way too many hours surfing websites and studying pictures and descriptions to find just the right spot that meets my criteria and looks soooo inviting. Pet-friendly destinations seem to have proliferated over the past few years, which is a great boon for those of us who love traveling with our “Golden Gadabouts” in tow.

Word-of-mouth is always a great way to learn about potential places of interest, which is why I’m hoping some readers of this blog will share their favorite spots! There are, of course, a ton of websites to peruse…

You can start with some of the sites specifically dedicated to places that allow pets, such as PetFriendlyTravel.comTrips With Pets,  or my current favorite, BringFido.com.  Just as useful (if not more so), are the sites that serve as intermediaries for private owners wanting to rent out their homes – these include Vacation Home Rentals, Home Away, and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner).  At these sites, you can easily use the search function filter options to select only the pet friendly options.

Here are some of the key factors I’ve learned to keep in mind during my “hunt” for a vacation spot that will be memorable (in a good way!):

First, narrow down the kind of lodging you prefer.  As noted, my first choice is a private cabin, cottage, or house. B&B’s can be super charming and welcoming, and a good number do allow dogs. Be sure your dog will be a good guest and not disturb others staying there at the same time (human or canine).  A small motel can be a good economic choice as well.

Decide what features are priorities for you. High on my personal list are cozy, comfortable furnishings, a nice deck or porch that is secure for a dog, an appealing view, lots of nearby places to take long walks together. A well-stocked kitchen is not essential for me (cook…what’s that??), but might be for you! I like to browse in little country shops if they are around but don’t need major sightseeing attractions. If you have kids along, obviously activities that cater to them will be important.

Pay attention to features that could be problematic for your dog, especially if he or she is a senior or has any chronic health conditions. Early in my travels, I took my two boys, Hobo and Bailey, to a place called Cedarwood Lodge, in central Pennsylvania. The picture of the bedroom/sitting area in the loft was especially charming. Once there, however, I discovered that the only way to access that bedroom was via a very steep, pull down stairway. Well, Bailey had very bad arthritis and Hobo was nearly blind, so obviously I didn’t even attempt to have them go up. We all three slept in a small downstairs bedroom instead!

It looked awfully charming, but with two senior dogs along I never made use of this loft area in the cabin.

Pictures are great, but can be misleading.  Naturally, any homeowner or business owner wants to show their facility in the best light. Photos may make rooms look larger, brighter or cleaner than they turn out to be in person. My boy Morgan went with me on two cabin retreats. The first was to a log cabin in Fort Loudon, PA.  I wasn’t overly excited about the place from its pictures and description, but needed a close, relatively low-cost choice that particular year.  Opening the front door on our arrival, Morgie and I were greeted by at least eight stuffed wildlife heads (bear, deer, etc.) mounted on the perimeter of the living room.  Now, that might not bother some people, but as someone uncomfortable with hunting,  I found it both distasteful and a bit creepy. Oh well, we made the best of it!

Looking at the living room photo now, I do see one deer head showing. Somehow my eyes missed that detail during the planning process, however, so I was quite taken aback by the “welcoming committee” that greeted us on arrival!

Be sure you  understand and adhere to any special restrictions regarding pets. You may be charged more for bringing a pet, and the extra cost can be an actual fee or a refundable deposit. Some places allow only small dogs; some have a limit on the number of dogs staying at any one time. It’s not unusual to find rules that prohibit dogs from being left unattended in the home or room, unless crated.  If you don’t feel you can adhere to the stated guidelines, it’s best to look somewhere else – you don’t want to run into problems while there or spoil the opportunity for someone else if the homeowner decides pets are not worth having after all.

Be prepared with information in advance about local vets and emergency clinics. Your dog may experience gastrointestinal distress from a change in water, get bitten by an insect (Tyler had a nasty spider bite on one trip), injure a paw or worse while playing, or otherwise need medical attention. A canine first aid kit may suffice for minor situations, so make sure you bring one along. For more extensive medical needs, know where you can go for veterinary help before (or if) you need it.

And, keep in mind how much time is needed to get to a local vet. I once planned a trip to Creekside Resorts in southern West Virginia. I had my cottage picked out and my yoga mat purchased. I also planned to indulge in some of the spa services offered. I was so looking forward to it! Then, a few weeks before, Tyler was hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia after being diagnosed with megaesophagus and myesthenia gravis.  She recovered in time for us to go away, but her health was very fragile and another bout of pneumonia was definitely possibly. Creekside had little cell reception in the cottages and was hours away from the kind of specialized care my “T” might require if she relapsed. I cancelled the trip and lost my deposit, but saved my peace of mind.  (We found a cabin in the Poconos instead that year!) I’d still like to visit Creekside someday – anyone up for a trip to West Virginia??

OK, now it’s YOUR turn – what are some of the places you’ve visited with your “Golden Gadabout” (or any dog, for that matter) and what are some of the tips you can share about successful travel with your pet?  What websites do you like best? If you have some great pictures of your pooch on vacation, send them to me at donna@dvgrr.org – I’d love to see and share with others!

Oh, by the way, Alli and I are headed to a little cottage in Cape May Point for a few days this September. Coffee pot and books will soon be packed!

Here’s Alli at our cottage retreat in Connecticut last year — her first vacation with me. Oops, I probably shouldn’t reveal that I let her get on the sofa. Notice her pink Hugglehound in the opposite corner. Always nice to bring along a familiar friend for your Golden Gadabout!

“The Spirit Within” – a Puppy Mill Video Created for HSUS

A few months ago, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) invited individuals and organizations to submit video depictions on the topic of “Why Puppy Mills Stink.”  Their goal was to enhance awareness of this issue and select a winning video to serve as a new PSA on the puppy mill problem. The rules were pretty simple – be creative, stay under 90 seconds, only use footage of puppy mills provided by the HSUS.

“Let’s enter,” I proposed to the DVGRR management team, and all agreed it was a worthwhile venture.

Heather Hatt and I brainstormed some ideas and I got to work shooting some video with my little pocket Flip camera. The time frame for submission was pretty tight so we had to work quickly. Since DVGRR’s main role with puppy mill dogs is helping rehabilitate them for adoption, that’s the focus that made sense for our video.

I wanted to start by showing the contrast between two dogs of the same age and breed, but with vastly different backgrounds.  For the non-puppy mill dog, I chose Miles #3 (11-263), because you can’t get much more joyful than he is! Miles hammed it up with our Intake Manager Fay Jenkins, both looking like naturals in front of the camera!

Miles is a Golden who loves life!

Buddy #70 (12-031), was my choice to show the ravages of living in a puppy mill. Some of you may recall his semi-disastrous trip to Golden Gateway earlier this year.  En route from a western Pennsylvania shelter, Buddy accidently got loose at a turnpike rest area near Altoona.

Our Facebook page from February 16 described our terror regarding Buddy’s escape.

After a few hours of dread while we awaited news from our transport volunteer (and a few thousand prayers from our Facebook friends), Buddy was thankfully recovered and arrived later that day to our great relief. He’s one of the most traumatized puppy mill survivors we’ve seen…the turnpike “adventure” didn’t help but it was those years of living under horrific mill conditions that account for 99% of his fear. Filming him was difficult, because outside of his kennel run he is in constant motion…pacing and circling out of deep-rooted anxiety.

A mentally and physically exhausted Buddy, shortly after his safe arrival at DVGRR.

Project Home Life volunteer Susan Sacchetti graciously participated in the video’s segment on rehabilitation, along with sweet and pretty Missy #11 (12-089). And lastly, to show the full circle of transition from mill to home, I visited a lovely retired couple from Lancaster who have adopted three Goldens from us – two of them former puppy mill dogs. It was wonderful to see the progress made by Teddy (formerly Charlie #15) and Robbie (formerly Boise), and how far they’ve come from their days living in squalor.

We edited and tweaked and finally sent in our entry for consideration by HSUS. For those who haven’t seen it, here is the final version:  The Spirit Within: Surviving the Stink

I am very grateful to all who subsequently voted for us in the “People’s Choice” portion of the video contest – we had many supporters! I’d love to tell you that we were selected as a winner, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Nonetheless, it was a great experience and we’ll be able to use this video for other educational purposes. (Feel free to send the link to anyone you feel would benefit from watching it.)

I kept abreast of the other entries during the contest period, as they were all posted on YouTube. Many were simple but powerful, and one in particular (called I Will Be Saved) took my breath away. I was pleased to see that it was ultimately the winner of the People’s Choice award – well deserved! You can see that video as well as Angel’s Story, the overall winner, on this HSUS website page.

As for my three canine participants at Golden Gateway, Miles and Missy have both been adopted and are doing great in their new homes.  Buddy is still with us, but if all goes well he will soon be adopted by a wonderful family with the experience, dedication, and fortitude to help him overcome his past history and let his inner spirit flourish. Please keep your fingers and paws crossed for Buddy!

Our dream is to see this haunted look in Buddy’s eyes replaced with one of trust and tranquility. We know it can happen, though it will take many months…possibly years. Please advocate against puppy mills so other dogs will be spared what Buddy has endured.