A few weeks ago I headed out on a road trip. I live in Rhode Island, but had some personal business to attend in southern Louisiana, about 1,500 miles away. Alongside me was my daughter, Emily, who’s four and a half.
On our way driving back, we’d planned a stop in Gadsden, Alabama, in the northern part of the state along Interstate 59. We planned to rendezvous with Renee, a heroic volunteer with an enormous heart for shelter puppies. Renee has saved many dogs and puppies from rural shelters in Alabama, where their lives were in danger because of perpetually overcrowding. She was fostering a number of puppies and had friends fostering others.
We’d made arrangements that on my way passing through, I would pick up several puppies on behalf of my rescue, Southpaws Express (which I wrote about for Dogster in 2012). I’d bring them up north, and then our own rescue’s fosters would care for them until permanent adoptive homes were found.
In Gadsden, we started loading supplies from Renee’s truck into my Hyundai Elantra (not a vehicle I can recommend for dog transports, I must say). While we were talking and configuring, Renee also set up an ex-pen in a shady, grassy area so that the puppies could take turns running around (and having a chance to pee and poo) before their first long stint in the car.
We were at a large gas station. Several times, people stopped, turned around, drove over to us and leaned out their car windows, inquiring, “How much for the puppies?” We politely waved them off: “They’re not for sale.”
We’d have liked to talk more with the folks who stopped by, tell them about the overflowing shelters, about rescue, everything, but we didn’t have time; I had to get on the road. Renee remarked that it isn’t unusual in this area to see puppies for sale or being given away at gas stations or large parking lots.
We fit nine dogs and puppies into the sedan. A crate on the backseat next to my daughter’s carseat held two Pit Bull mix pups. Another crate, on the floor behind the driver’s seat, contained their two litter mates. Secured atop the crate on the backseat was a very small crate holding a single Chihuahua mix puppy. And, in the front seat, there was a crate with a small terrier-type female and her three tiny nursing puppies, only one of whose eyes were open already.
Leaving Gadsden, I hit the gas, hoping to make it through Knoxville, Tennessee, before the worst of the rush-hour traffic (which, in my experience, is always bad there). We made good time and stopped for a rest (and doggie potty break) shortly after getting past Knoxville. Before nightfall we made the Virginia state line, and pushed all the way up to Wytheville, Virginia, where we had decided to stop for the night.
It was about 10 p.m. when we pulled into the hotel. I went inside with my daughter and got us checked in. Then we faced a daunting situation.
When I’d made the reservation, I had mentioned we were traveling with pets. I hadn’t mentioned that was nine dogs, and thought now that might not technically be allowed. We’d best be discreet, I thought.
There was only one elevator to our second-floor room, and it was almost right next to the check-in desk in the lobby. After dropping off some of our luggage in the room, as we came back down to the lobby, Emily asked me, “How are we going to get all the puppies up there?” I quickly hushed her, whispering in her ear that we couldn’t talk about the puppies in the lobby, and that we had to sneak them up there!
We grabbed a rolling luggage rack from the vestibule in front of the lobby and headed to the car. We loaded up two of the crates and a couple of our own bags. Then I draped the entire pile with a full-size bedsheet that was covering my car’s backseat.
I told Emily, “Here’s hoping the puppies don’t make any noise when we’re going through the lobby.” We strode back inside and headed to the elevator with our odd-looking luggage rack, doing our best to act normal. The puppies were perfectly quiet, as if they knew the plan. We boarded the elevator and no one else was riding up. “We made it!” grinned Emily. I nodded and said, “But we have one more round to go.”
So back down we rode, and loaded up the two remaining crates, positioned the sheet, and rolled it all into the lobby. One of the puppies was whining softly. We dashed for the elevator as fast as we could. We had company on the way up this time, a middle-aged couple. They heard our sheet pile whine. I winked, they smiled, and nothing was said. We made it back to our room. “You are the best partner in crime!” I giggled to Emily.
Now to get all the puppies settled for the night. I covered the bathroom floor with newspapers and took turns letting out the puppies for playtime, dinner, and potty. But I discovered that their Southern fosters must have been working on their housebreaking; the Pit Bull puppies didn’t want to do their business, especially pooping, in the bathroom. I thought maybe after another meal at breakfast time, then they would do so. But no, they didn’t.
So, first thing the next morning, I knew we’d have to make an extra stop somewhere so all the pups could have an outside walk. We performed our secret-getaway sequence with the luggage rack and bed sheet (we were pros at this now!), and immediately drove over to a nearby gas station with a grassy hill beside it that was just right for our purpose.
I got out the first couple of puppies, giving Emily one leash while I took another. She is just old enough to be able to reliably keep hold of a leash, and was a true helper on these pit stops.
I again observed that puppies at a gas station tend to attract attention. This time, a woman in shorts and T-shirt came over, gushing over the cuteness of the puppies. I decided to recruit her to help walk them. She waved her family over, and before too long, several other travelers joined up as well, helping to give the pups and the mama dog nice, extensive walks before their long day on the road.
The first woman told me that her family was from Ohio and on their way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Her husband took pictures of our hillside dog-walking crowd. And then we were on our way.
That day on the road seemed endless. Emily played on her tablet (what did parents do before those things?), and gave me updates about how the pups in the backseat crates were doing. She’d stick her fingers in a crate and report, “The puppy is licking my fingers.”
After one of our gas-meal-water-and-walk puppy pit stops, I permitted the Chihuahua puppy to ride in Emily’s lap in the carseat, at their mutual insistence. He wriggled and bounced for a few minutes after we got on the interstate, and then fell asleep curled up in her lap, and she also dozed off. They both slept snuggled together for the next couple of hours, shifting their positions occasionally without either of them waking.
For the entire trip we could only stop at drive-through places for our meals because there wasn’t a safe way to leave the pups in the car while we went inside to eat. We’d eat in our cramped seats and give little leftover pieces of our McNuggets and the occasional french fry to our doggie companions.
By the end of the day, we had run into so much bad luck with traffic jams, road construction, and accidents causing delays, and our already long travel time had become hours and hours longer.
Around 10 p.m., outside of Harrisburg, PA, I found a Cracker Barrel restaurant where I could park the car in view of our table, so Emily and I went to sit down for a real meal, finally. As we were filling our bellies and stretching our legs, I told her my thoughts. “We would be so late getting into a hotel tonight, and going through all that hauling crates back and forth. I think I’m going to drive straight through to Rhode Island. You can sleep, honey. When you wake up, we’ll be home.” Emily was delighted with that plan. Of course, she didn’t have to do that actual driving.
It was a decision I came to regret, after many more traffic delays and frustration, but I was committed. We finally arrived in Rhode Island around 7 a.m., all passengers safe and sound, driver safe if slightly less sound. Right away upon our arrival home, I was able to hand off the puppies, and Emily, to my wonderful rescue partner/best friend, Lucy, and turn in to bed to sleep the day away.
“Tomorrow,” I told Emily, “we’ll take some pictures of the puppies and get them up on the adoption websites. Soon they’ll all find new homes and this will all be worthwhile!”
The Chihuahua puppy is in his forever home, as are three of the Pit Bull mix pups. The fourth, Renee (named after our Southern connection!), is still in foster care, waiting for her perfect match to come along.
Tinker’s babies are now about eight weeks old and getting cuter by the day! They have a number of applicants, and will be ready to meet potential adopters next weekend. They will still stay in foster care for another month past that to round out their socialization, and will have their neuters before transfer to their forever homes. Tinker herself has an adoptive home waiting once she is ready to leave her puppies and have her spay.
Would you like to help save homeless dogs and puppies? We are always seeking quality volunteers and fosters in the Northeast and the Southeast! If you are interested, please see our website, Southpaws Express, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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