January 25, 2008

Doggie-Friendly Wanderlust

As many of my friends know, I have a penchant for travel, for going to places different than my usual haunts. Even when we lived in a place as beautiful as Tennessee, I found that being in the same old place for months at a time was soporific. I remember meeting people who said, with pride, that they had never left the borders of Knox County in their lives, not even to go to Gatlinburg or Nashville -- while they seemed proud to be so "home town," that sounded akin to a prison sentence to me.

A trip out of town, even for a weekend, is a generally effective tonic to the problem of one's surroundings becoming insipid. Now, as I wrote at some length the other night, having pets is a drag on that sort of plan for recreation. Pets need maintenance and attention, and I feel badly enough that we work so much and have to confine the animals for hours at a time. I realize that dogs and cats don't see confinement as a necessarily bad thing, but all the same I know they like human company as much as we like theirs. (I can't even imagine what it would be like to have a baby. Over several iterations in the past few years, we've seen various friends try to travel with their babies. It's a moveable feast, a festival of schlepping around hundreds of pounds of stuff.)

So, I found the right wife, one who shares my disinterest in having kids. But we like our animals very much, and we also like to take these trips, which creates something of a tension with respect to the time involved.

The cats are significantly less work to tend to than the dogs -- we can buy timed feeding devices, for instance, and leave out big bowls of water, and they'd be fine for three or four days at a time completely on their own. (We'd have to figure out a way to deny them access to the kitchen cabinets in the interim or they'd eat all of our food, too -- but that's a problem we can solve later.) I'd suggest simply leaving the food out for the cats, but they compete to eat food faster and seem to always be hungry; so I fear they would plow through a five-pound bag of cat food in about twenty minutes.

But the dogs require more maintenance, because they have to poop outside and need a higher degree of human interaction and exercise. So that's what keeps us coming home instead of traveling. Kenneling the animals is an option, but a little bit pricey. And I feel less bad about asking a friend to come by once every two days or so to check up on the cats than I would about asking a friend to come by three times a day to check up on the dogs.

We can take day trips without too much difficulty; if we can get mobile in the morning after feeding the animals and getting the dogs out in the back yard for a few minutes, we can drive an hour to an hour and a half, do something for a few hours, and then drive home, in pretty much the same amount of time that we would normally spend at work. That gives us about a hundred-mile radius for such a trip. Enough to go do one thing, and maybe have a meal, in Los Angeles; if we push the time a little bit, we can go as far as Santa Barbara.

I've reached the point mentally that going to Los Angeles is simply not different enough from my usual circumstances that it would satisfy my desire for geographical variety. I need something different. I want to see green things that aren't juniper bushes or Joshua trees, and water that isn't stagnant mud in a ditch. I want to eat somewhere that isn't a branded chain or franchise. I like going to hilly places where wine is grown; I've wanted to take The Wife to see the sequoias and the Sierras since we moved back to California (but she was more interested in San Francisco, and that was fun too).

So it was with no small amount of pleasure that I stumbled across Dog Friendly Travel. I'm not being paid to endorse the website and there are surely several others similar to it. But the idea of taking our dogs with us on a weekend jaunt is appealing in its own right -- we can do dog-friendly things like taking walks in the woods (yes, we know the dogs would drive away a lot of the wildlife but so be it) and strolling through little towns, and having the dogs hang out while we eat outside in a cafe is very appealing. But mainly having the critters with us, knowing that they're safe and tended to, while still being able to go visit somewhere new or at least different, is the real attraction. I found some B&B's that like dogs in the Sierras, so that's the way I'm leaning. I doubt The Wife wants to go now -- it's cold there and she doesn't do cold well. But in May or June, when things start to get warm, a little retreat to the high country with the dogs sounds like a great thing.

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