Sitting on the hammock, embracing the sun’s warmth and cradling an unopened book, it felt like I’d been here for days; like this was my life. In the distance I can hear the rustling of the leaves, the inaudible chatter of friends, and the promise of some peaceful days ahead.
I lean back into the hammock, the twining of the ropes imprinting themselves on the backs of my bare legs and arms as I stare up at the fullness of the jackfruit tree looming over me. Life can be so joyous; where do we belong, if not with nature. I let my mind wander, and I feel my eye lids heavy as they slowly force their way shut. It may have only been a few seconds, and I am jarred back to consciousness by multiple voices screaming, ‘No, drop it’, quite frantically too.
Hesitating and all too knowingly, I sit up and glance towards the portico of our pet-friendly home-stay for the weekend. Five humans running after one small dog, as six other varied breeds and sizes of dogs excitedly and blindly join in on the chaos, for fun; an amusing sight.
I resign to the comfortable position I was in just before this madness ensued, and as the exaggerated screaming fades into background music, I wonder how I got here.
A journey begun young
When I was younger, two and a half decades younger, I remember standing in the layout of our building, beaming at a community dog after I had just fed her, it was my first time. Looking back, I think of what it must’ve looked like from the outside. A five-year-old, standing proud, clutching an empty bowl as hundreds of red ants made their way up my feet and legs. Obviously, I didn’t notice at the time, and armies of red ants have this habit, a terrible one in my opinion, of conspicuously hanging about for some seconds before deciding to go in on their victim.
All at once.
I’m only glad that when I reminisce, I still feel a deep sense of satisfaction from feeding a dog, knowing she would sleep well that night because of me, instead of the unimaginable pain of a leg that was swollen to thrice its size, or how even a bucket of iced water and a chilled Lolli did little to muffle my sobbing.
So that’s how I got here.
Many moons and four rescued dogs later.
When we decided to adopt a dog, I knew he or she was going to be a part of my life, like a child would. In a country like India, this can be challenging. But not impossible. In fact, in just the last few years, the number of pet-friendly people and places have multiplied. There’s a much-needed awareness about adoption of dogs, and for making dogs your family. Not your watchman.
So, of course, now that I’d decided that dogs are family, and my family and friends-like-family like to travel, I needed to find ways to travel with our dogs. Now this seems difficult, because honestly it can be. But there are ways you can make travel easy for your dogs and for you. Our dogs are rescued, which often means they have been separated from their mothers at an earlier than normal age, and/or have grown up under circumstances I know little or nothing about; they needed time to open up and trust us.
It’s important to really learn to get to know your dogs and build a bond with them before you decide to take them on a road (or any other kind of) trip. Because all dogs are not the same. They have their own personalities and triggers. Think of a dog as an adult in the sense that not everyone is the same, they react differently to different situations; we must learn and respect who they are.
The dog-travel checklist
Once you know what makes your dog/s comfortable, it’s important to follow a basic travel check-list that ranges from things to carry to things to prepare and be prepared for.
Where should you go?
This is easily the most important thing on your list. Confirm that the pet friendly place you’re traveling to is indeed ‘your’ pet-friendly.
Make sure that the resort is safe for dogs in general, is enclosed within a compound, has pockets that can be cordoned off in case there’s friction amongst dogs, and allows dogs in all spaces within the resort. The most important aspect is to ensure the staff are pet friendly. When you take your dogs on a vacation, it needs to be a relaxing and enjoyable experience for them too. Read up reviews extensively, and ask people who have visited the place for honest opinions, and then make your decision. Because I like to have access to a kitchen to store and cook their food, I prefer home stays, but sometimes resorts and hotels have balanced dog meals on the menu, so that works too.
Choose a place that has something for your dogs to do. It doesn’t take much – an open space and a safe water body.
What should you carry?
While it’s good for dogs to have new experiences, it’s critical that you maintain some sense of routine and familiarity for them. So carry their things, items that make them feel secure – bed, bowls, toys, chewies, an extra set of harness, collar and leash, and so on. We have a bag that’s dedicated for them, it resembles a diaper bag in structure, so we compartmentalise their things. I often include their towels and bathing accessories because they insist on diving into the filthiest pond, so this always comes in handy. A basic first-aid kit is critical to your dog’s travel bag because you cannot always control a nosey nose.
I don’t read the newspaper, but I do subscribe to it so we carry them on road trips; they’re just super handy.
How do you prepare for travel?
This is where knowing your dogs comes in handy. Our dogs have motion sickness, so we choose to travel at the break of dawn, while they are on an empty stomach. We also have never travelled with them on more than a seven hour journey and if you are doing a longer journey, make sure you look up places you can stay at on the way to break up the monotony of the car ride. You can line the car seats with bedsheets or anything else to keep them comfortable and also hook them up to a seat belt for dogs. I personally haven’t tried this because the car seat we use is like a cocoon in itself. We tend to pack the night before, just so we are not stressed out before travel. Dogs are very intuitive and you really want them to feel safe and calm before a trip.
Sometimes, especially if the journey is long, you may need to stop for toilet breaks. It is seriously important that you choose areas off the highway that are quiet and safe for them to go. Always keep them hooked on the leash and keep a close watch on them and the surrounding to ensure their safety.
What are the essential things to remember?
- Keep your dogs on the leash (hooked to the harness or use two leashes for the collar and harness each if your dog is known to be skittish) for the first few hours or even an entire day of your vacation, until you can see that he is comfortable with the space and people around him.
- If people and other dogs or loud sounds startle or scare your dogs, do not leave them off leash at all except in an enclosed area where you and they are within eye-sight of each other.
- Always ensure that your dog’s collar has a name tag with their name and your number.
- If your dogs are like ours, and take time to trust people, then travel only with people your dogs have met and are comfortable with.
- Do not force your dogs to something they are scared off or uncomfortable with the hope that they will come to like it.
- Make sure that your dogs are well socialised before allowing them to mingle with others, and in the same note, make sure other dogs there are socialised so you can leave your dogs safely around them.
- Dogs may fight but before they get into a fight there are plenty of warning signs they give off and it is your duty as a pet parent to understand these signs as well as triggers that lead to a fight.
- Dogs are easily excited in new places, and can roam around endlessly looking for new sniffs, but you need to make sure they get adequate rest. Otherwise you will have a grumpy puppy on your hands.
- Dogs are wonderfully adaptable but it’s up to us to allow them to do so in a way that is enriching to who they are and to the bond you share with them.
I bring myself back to this quaint little homestay in Coorg, miles and miles away from a tarred road, and I feel blessed that I can share my life with a dog. I feel like I did as a five-year-old, dreaming of the time a dog will sleep well again, because of me.