If you want to challenge the assumption that you love your dogs, place them in a car already jam-packed with a fair amount of your belongings, and then drive nearly 3,000 miles in four days.
Now I've traveled plenty with dogs over the years (I can barely stand to leave them behind), but the longest drive I've ever taken was a two-day journey from my home in northern California to some dog shows in Colorado, and that was just with one dog. When the opportunity came up to spend a few months in a beach house in northern Florida, though, I knew I'd be driving, and I knew the dogs would be coming along.
The most important piece of equipment for traveling with a pet is a book that lists pet-friendly lodgings by state and province. The one I took was by AAA; Mobil offers one, too. I also figured I'd be using my laptop every night to check pet-travel Web sites (such as www.petswelcome.com and www.traveldog.com). But after a 12- to 14-hour day of driving, I found I didn't have the energy to turn on the computer or figure out where (or if) I could plug in the modem line. Considering that my fixed travel plan went off the rails the second day, having a book with listings (and a cell phone) proved to be invaluable.
The listings were useful, but the hotels themselves often aren't as pet-friendly as they seem. The majority limit guests to one small pet, not the two big retrievers and the oversized Sheltie who served as my traveling companions.
Still, there's always room for negotiation, even with hotels that insist on the small dogs I don't have. I found that by talking to the manager directly and offering a deposit or even an additional room fee, I was able to find decent lodging fairly easily every night. And I never once had to pay the additional fee or deposit that I offered. Feeling both grateful and responsible, I was sure to leave the room as free of dog hair as possible, and I scrupulously picked up any canine deposits on the grounds.
After lodging, exercising the dogs was the biggest challenge. Rest areas really aren't well-suited for canine travelers -- they're crowded and too close to the highway. Instead, I looked for fields at the edge of restaurant and gas clusters, off the road and far enough from traffic for a quick game of fetch. The retrievers are active dogs with high exercise requirements, and I'm not sure they would have made the journey as well as they did without a daily 30-minute workout.
Leashes are a necessary part of the traveling dog's gear, and I found both the standard 6-foot variety and the adjustable reel-type Flexi to be of equal value. The Flexi is great for those short stops when all a dog needs is a quick potty break, since the device gives a dog up to 30 feet of roaming without ever being off-leash. The one warning with these kinds of leashes is that their handles aren't meant to provide much security -- one good tug and the leash will fly from your hand. If your dog's a bolter, you're better off with a longer version of a traditional leash.
In the end, the journey turned out to be more long than challenging. The dogs were well-behaved, and the final destination made it well worth the effort. I loved my three dogs just as much at the end of the trip as I did at the beginning. And once they saw the beach where they'll be playing for the next few months, I swear they loved me even more.
PETS ON THE WEB
I'm so impressed with the Chameleon Journals Web site (www.chameleonjournals.com) that I will not resort to some silly comment about how it could be better if the background changed color. This extraordinary site simply could not be better in any way. It's one of the best-looking, best-organized and easiest-to-navigate pet pages I've ever run across, and it's packed with helpful and well-written information on these interesting creatures.
There is also great information on care, on finding a veterinarian (not all veterinarians are well-suited to caring for exotic pets), and on health problems that can doom a chameleon. In the Gallery section, you can find some lovely pictures as well as a time-lapse clip of a chameleon being born. And if you need more information, a click or two will sign you up for the chameleon e-mail list, where you can tap the expertise of other enthusiasts.
Many parrots, especially cockatoos, cockatiels, macaws and African parrots (both greys and smaller birds such as Senegals) love to have the area around their ear canal scratched.
The avian ear, like all of a bird's anatomy, is streamlined for flight, so you won't find an outer ear on a bird. Instead, look for a swirl of soft, protective feathers in the place where you think the ear should be.
Birds don't hear high- and low-pitched noises as well as we do, but within the range they do hear, they are able to discern more details. The song of a finch would have to be recorded and played at about one-tenth speed for us to be able to hear the richness and detail of sound a bird can.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My Westie, Bonnie, is 12 1/2 years old. She has been losing her hearing for a few months, and now she cannot hear me speak to her. She seems nervous about all of this, but our vet says she will get used to it in a few months.
Is there anything I can read to learn more about how to help me communicate better with her? I am working on hand signals for "come," "stay" and "treats."
I tried to find some info on the Internet and could only find that there is nothing you can do to correct hearing loss. (I knew that.) I want to know how to make my Bonnie feel comfortable and safe. I love her very much and will try hard to do anything to make her content. -- M.A., Rocklin, Calif.
A: Hearing loss is not uncommon in older pets, and your veterinarian is right: Your dog will adjust to the change soon. In fact, I have found over the years that people get more upset over their pet's hearing and vision loss than their pets do.
In my home, 14-year-old Andy is rapidly approaching total deafness, and I swear he finds it convenient -- no more of those pesky requests to do this or that. Like you, I have introduced hand signals for commands, and I've substituted treats and extra petting for the praise he can no longer hear. Since many older pets who are losing their hearing are losing their vision as well (this is true of Andy), I find it's useful to make hand signals as broad and dramatic as possible -- a swoop in of the arm for "come" instead of a little hand wave.
The important things to remember about living with a deaf dog are to avoid startling your pet and to take extra precautions when it comes to keeping her safe. Some dogs may snap if wakened without warning, so it's important to rouse Bonnie by stamping on the floor near her and letting the vibration wake her up. As for safety, remember that off-leash outings are off-limits for deaf dogs, who cannot hear if a hazard such as a car is near. (Cats who are losing their hearing must be kept indoors for the same reason.)
In many breeds, deafness is a congenital problem, especially for Dalmatians and dogs who are primarily white in color. As many as one in 10 Dalmatians are born deaf, which is why it's so important to buy a pup from a reputable breeder who has a veterinarian test to certify the hearing of the parents and of the puppy you wish to take home. Deaf pups used to be routinely killed, but many people these days are more willing to take on the special challenge a deaf pup presents. These pets can be trained using American Sign Language, and will reward their owners with all the love and affection of a dog with normal hearing.
The best resource on the Internet is the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund Web site (www.deafdogs.org). In addition, I recommend Susan Cope-Becker's "Living With a Deaf Dog: A Book of Advice, Facts and Experiences About Canine Deafness," a self-published book that's available for $15.95 from Dogwise (www.dogwise.com, or 1-800-776-2665).
Q: We recently gave our cockatiel to a friend. Dude is about 5 years old and had never laid an egg in all the time we had him. Several days ago, Dude laid an egg. What should my friend do with it? -- F.W., via e-mail
A: I'm guessing Dude is of a variety of cockatiel where the gender isn't discernible by markings. In any case, it's clear that he is really a she.
As for what to do with the egg: Throw it away. Without a male to provide the other half of the equation, the egg is infertile and will not hatch. If Dude (or should I say Dudette?) keeps laying eggs, have your friend take her to a veterinarian with experience in birds. Chronic egg-laying can be a health problem if not addressed by an experienced veterinarian.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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