Dread and More Dread ...,
It Began with Tara,
A Really Long Year,
The Endless Planning,
Pong the Dalmatian,
Hanging Up the Tacos,
The Tara Foundation,
"Do You Take Pets?",
"Poop" ... Just This Once,
Solving the "How",
Sally and Jack,
The Team Comes Together,
Harley and Dinah,
I Hate Home Depot,
Crazy Sky and the Coyote,
Walking the Dogs,
Time to Let Go,
Mamie and Coki,
The Gang Was All There,
You Know the Old Saying ...,
Simon the Psycho,
The Barking. My God, the Barking,
Noel and Kahlani,
My Career Went to the Dogs,
Tommy and the Snake,
That Lying Calendar,
Dogs Can Bring Us Together,
Back to Basic,
Dogs and Ducks Don't Mix,
A Moment of Weakness,
Feeding Time at Home,
Go East, My Friends,
Please, Please, Don't Kill the Dog,
Welcome to Maine,
Looks Can Be Deceiving,
Please, Not the RV Again,
Dorothy, We're Not in California Anymore,
Also by David Rosenfelt,
About the Author,
Dread and More Dread ...
We were going on a journey that I expected would end up somewhere between that of Lewis and Clark and that of the Donner Party. Someone once said that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. That's how I knew I was in for an ordeal.
We were eleven mostly intrepid travelers, closing the traditional exploration circle by heading east from Southern California to Maine. No wagons, just three RVs. After all, this is the twenty-first century.
Of course, we didn't have many of the difficulties that the early pioneers had to endure. They were going through uncharted territory; we'd MapQuested the route and had three GPSs to make it foolproof. They had limited rations; we had refrigerators full of food, and stoves and microwaves with which to cook it. Not that we were without our refreshment challenges; for instance, we'd have to use a manual corkscrew for the wine.
Their communications went as far as their voices could carry; we were loaded down with cell phones, BlackBerries, and iPads. One of our group said that we actually had more computer power on board than astronaut Alan Shepard did when he first went into space, but I have no idea if that's true.
One thing we shared with our predecessors was the presence of plenty of animals. Their animals were crucial to their trip, but ours were the very reason for our journey.
Their animals represented the transportation itself; the horsepower behind the vehicles was alive and breathing. They probably also provided food, but I'd just as soon not go there. But if the pioneers hadn't had the benefit of their horses, when we talk about going out west today, we'd mean Cleveland.
In our case, three gas-fueled RV engines were our power source. The animals were the passengers; we were transporting our dogs, all twenty-five of them, to our — and their — new home. They were all rescue dogs, a small portion of the thousands that we have saved from the misery of the Los Angeles shelter system, but this trip was likely to make new demands on their endurance.
Our group included nine other people that volunteered for the trip, which was pretty remarkable. Some were friends; others were readers of my novels whom I'd met only once or twice. Three of them I'd never met at all. Giving us their time and energy in this way was amazingly generous, and I planned to thank them four or five thousand times before we got to Maine.
Of course, at the time I was thinking "if" we got to Maine.
The truth was, this undertaking could have been even more daunting. Twenty-five is pretty much the fewest dogs Debbie and I have had in the last ten years. We've had as many as forty-two, but we feel that more than forty is slightly eccentric.
The human members of our team, none of whom had known each other previously, had been corresponding by e-mail for weeks. They were totally enthusiastic. They seemed to regard this as an incredible adventure, destined to be a source of great memories for years to come.
Since I've always been an "RV half empty" sort of guy, I expected it to be torturous at best, and a disaster at worst.
Which brings me to the obvious question: how the hell did we get into this situation?CHAPTER 2
It Began with Tara
Well, more accurately with Tara's mother, Debbie Myers. On September 26, 1992, we went out on a blind date to the movies, fixed up by a mutual friend, Cheryl Wlodinger. We saw Billy Crystal's Mr. Saturday Night, but, rebels that we are, we saw it in the late afternoon.
At the end of the film I flashed my most winning smile and asked Debbie if she wanted to go to dinner. She declined, saying that she had to go home to administer eye medicine to her dog.
Based on that response, I had a hunch that the heretofore irresistible Rosenfelt charm had not yet reached its full effectiveness. Fortunately, she saved me from an insecurity crisis by subsequently agreeing to go home and deal with the medicine, and then meet me at the restaurant.
Her round-trip would take forty-five minutes, and though the dinner would have delayed the medicine-giving by only a couple of hours, she didn't want to wait. Her dog had an eye infection; she needed the care, and she needed the care on time. It seemed strange, and a bit suspicious.
As it turned out, the eye medicine story was real, and I was soon to find out that Debbie was simply a lover of animals to a rather abnormal level.
Since we didn't talk much during the movie and drove to the restaurant separately, we knew almost nothing about each other when we finally sat down to dinner. I barely had time to start displaying my killer personality when the waiter came over to tell us the specials. They began with a veal chop.
Debbie cut him off with "We don't eat veal," and when he left, she launched into a spirited dissertation on the cruelty that goes into the preparation of that particular meat. I was so clueless that I didn't even know what animal veal came from, so I silently figured she perhaps had a pet veal at home to go with her eye-sick dog.
But her feelings about the matter were not the point. Who was she to decide what I would or wouldn't eat? I could have whatever the hell I wanted. It turned out that I wanted pasta, and by an amazing coincidence, I haven't wanted veal in the twenty years since we sat in that restaurant.
Debbie and I hit it off pretty well and found we had plenty to talk about beyond our shared disdain for veal. It was on our third date that I met her golden retriever, Tara, whose eye infection by then was just a memory. This kicked off a series of dates on which we would take Tara for walks, to the park, to the beach. She would go pretty much wherever we went.
That was the beginning of our love story, and things were also going well between Debbie and me. It wasn't long before her adoration of Tara didn't even seem so over the top; this truly had to be the best dog in the history of the world. And my insecurity about the delayed dinner was long gone; if Tara needed eye medicine, I would have left Heidi Klum to make sure that she received it.
Tara possessed a sensitivity that most humans don't even bother aspiring to. She had a built-in mood sensor, which enabled her to be sympathetic when Debbie or I was upset, playful when we were feeling good, affectionate when we needed it, and always — I mean always — ready to accept petting. She brightened up every room, park, or beach she visited.
She had her quirks, but like everything else about her, they were adorable. She loved biscuits but would never give us the satisfaction of seeing her eat one. Instead she'd let it lay there, feigning indifference, until we left the room. When we came back it was invariably gone, with only a few telltale crumbs as evidence. And the smug look on her face said, "I won again."
We had a certain walk we'd take her on that was probably her favorite. But when we were passing a house where she knew a particular German shepherd lived, she would stop cold, refusing to take another step. This was true even when the other dog was nowhere to be found.
We'd have to pick her up and carry all eighty-five pounds of her the fifty feet until we were past the house, at which point we'd put her down and she'd happily continue the walk. I don't think she was afraid; I think it was just a game she was playing with us. A game she never lost.
Tara was eight when I met her, and nine on the awful day that her nose started to bleed while we were taking a walk in Beverly Hills. We rushed her to the vet, who said it was either a foxtail caught in her sinus cavity or nasal carcinoma. If it was the latter, and that was what he suspected, it would "result in her demise."
He sent us to a surgeon, who confirmed the dire diagnosis. We authorized him to operate on her, even though we understood that there was no possibility it would save her life. We did it because he told us that it would give her more time, and there was pretty much nothing we wouldn't have done to get more time with Tara.
She came through the operation well, even if we didn't. Debbie told me that the night of the surgery was the first that Tara had ever spent out of the house. Debbie had once turned down a fantastic job opportunity in London because to have taken it would have meant that Tara would have been subject to that country's six-month quarantine policy. Such a thing would have been incomprehensible.
We brought Tara home two days after the operation. The surgeon admonished us not to let her get excited, or her nose would start to bleed. So when Debbie came home from work, she would park at the bottom of a three- block hill to prevent Tara from hearing her car. Then she'd sneak in and be in full petting mode before Tara even knew what hit her.
Tara lived three months after that, a period in which she was never alone, not even once, not for a minute. Medically, and quasi-medically, we tried everything, including such things as acupuncture and sprinkling shark cartilage in her food. The literature cited as evidence of the latter's effectiveness the fact that sharks never got cancer, a claim I was never able to confirm. But we tried it, because we would have done anything that had the slightest chance of success, so long as it did not affect the quality of whatever life Tara had left.
We took her on vacation to Carmel and stayed in Doris Day's dog-friendly hotel. We went to Zuma, Tara's favorite beach in Malibu, three times a week. But she gradually started to slow down; walks were becoming shorter, and her breathing was becoming heavier and more labored. While both Debbie and I noticed it, neither of us would admit it, and Tara's occasional good days provided sustenance to our denial mechanism.
Tara's appetite also diminished gradually until finally she was refusing food. We discovered that hot dogs were the one thing she could not resist, so we grilled them twice a day. It was foolish on our part, and we've gotten wiser since. Tara was telling us that it was time to go, and we were trying to create reasons for her to stay. Just for a little while longer.
Debbie was having a lot of trouble dealing with her emotions during this time. Her vet recognized this and put her in touch with Marilyn Bergman, who, along with her husband, Alan, is an extraordinarily successful songwriter. They had been through the loss of their dog, and the vet thought that Marilyn could be helpful.
She certainly was. She talked to Debbie about the need to let go, for Tara's sake. She described her own, similar experience, and it definitely had an effect on Debbie.
Soon after, the day finally came when we couldn't fool ourselves anymore. We took Tara to the park for a picnic, and she wouldn't eat, not even the cherished hot dogs. We also noticed that she would not sit in the sun; obviously her condition had expanded to include an aversion to bright light.
We took her directly from the park to the vet, and he got right to the point. "I'm sorry, but it's time."
It's very hard for me to convey how I felt at that moment. It was as if a train had been slowly bearing down on us, and though we saw it coming months in advance, we just couldn't seem to get out of its path. The sadness was unbearable, oppressive; it seemed as if we were suffocating.
We felt as if we had let Tara down. She was depending on us — we were the only chance she had — and we hadn't come through. She deserved so much more, but we just couldn't seem to give it to her.
But whatever guilt and grief we were experiencing, the bottom line was that the vet was right, and none of the other stuff mattered anymore.
It was time to let Tara go.
He put two blankets on the floor, double thickness so they would be softer, and Tara laid down on them. Debbie and I both got on the floor with her, a position we have assumed with many other dogs since.
We held her while the vet gave her an injection, which was a sedative designed to calm her, though she really didn't need calming. She was peaceful and accepting.
He shaved her leg above her vein and administered the pink liquid. She didn't react to anything he was doing; she just stared into Debbie's eyes, silently saying good-bye.
I swear, she looked at us with a level of dignity and courage that only golden retrievers possess and told us that it was OK.
And it was.
We stayed with her, alone in the room, for at least fifteen minutes after it was over. I don't think a word was spoken the entire time.
When we finally got up and left, Debbie and I went back to the Malibu beach that Tara loved so much, and we sat there and took turns crying and consoling each other. I tried to focus on the consoling, since she had known Tara for nine years, while I'd had the pleasure for only one.
It would be a while before we fully realized what a transforming experience the past three months had been. Our lives would never be the same; we would soon embark on a mission that could fairly be described as dog lunacy.
But at that moment, all we could focus on was the oppressive sadness that we felt. We talked about things Tara had done, quirks in her behavior, and how much we loved her. We decided in the moment that neither of us would ever eat a hot dog again, as a way of honoring her.
At this writing it's a vow we have kept for twenty years, even extending the ban to pigs in a blanket. As someone who grew up with the idea that a great meal could be enjoyed while standing at the counter at Nathan's in Coney Island, I confess that I wish Tara had instead had a preference for broccoli in those final days.
Debbie and I would find ourselves laughing at some memory, but the laughter was short-lived. It was just so hard to process the knowledge that Tara had died.
Except she hadn't.
We would see to that.CHAPTER 3
A Really Long Year
In one crucial way, Debbie and I reacted very differently to losing Tara. I was ready to get another dog right away — a golden retriever, to be exact. But Debbie couldn't bring herself to do it; she seemed to shut herself off from even considering the possibility.
Every dog she saw reminded her of Tara, but no dog could ever be Tara. And certainly no dog could ever replace her.
So instead of taking walks with a dog around our Santa Monica neighborhood, we would just be two humans out for a stroll. The problem was that I think there are more goldens on a per capita basis in Santa Monica than anywhere in the world; having a golden must be a town ordinance or something.
Every time Debbie would see one, which meant at least once on every block, she would start to cry. And I'm not talking about eyes filling with tears and getting choked up. I'm talking about full-blown sobbing, right there on the street.
It's fair to say that our walks were not something I looked forward to.
A friend suggested that we might get some comfort from volunteering at an animal shelter, and I was enthusiastic about the idea. My hope was that it would get Debbie comfortable with dogs again and maybe even pave the way toward our getting one. I think she had some trepidation, but she went along.
We went to the West Los Angeles shelter for an orientation meeting. It's one of the better shelters in Los Angeles County, but that is bestowing faint praise, since the other ones are, in varying degrees, disasters.
The staff started the meeting by telling the apocryphal story of a guy walking on a beach where thousands of starfish had washed ashore and would die if not quickly returned to the water.
He began picking up the starfish one at a time and tossing them into the water. Another man came up to him and pointed out that with so many thousands of stranded starfish, he was wasting his time and effort. There was no way that one person could make a difference.
The man responded by picking up another starfish and returning it to the water. "I made a difference to that one," he said.
The point was that even though the Los Angeles shelter system is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of abandoned animals, we could make a difference by focusing on saving one animal at a time. It made sense to us, so we signed on.
We should have stuck with the starfish.
We reported dutifully for work two evenings a week and a full day on Saturday. We also took dogs to mobile adoptions in shopping centers, waiting for people to come by, fall in love, and take one home.
But there were too many great dogs and not enough decent potential owners. So we had to sit in the overcrowded shelter, watching as dogs languished in cages until some of them were euthanized so that others could take their place. We also had to watch as people came in and adopted animals to use as guard dogs, or worse.
As bad as that was, it's not what pushed us over the edge. One day we were in a shelter in Baldwin Park that made the West LA shelter look like the Ritz-Carlton. A guy came in with his three sons and their one-year-old Lab mix. As we listened, the idiot explained to the shelter worker that they were turning the dog in; they didn't want it anymore.
Excerpted from Dogtripping by David Rosenfelt. Copyright © 2013 David Rosenfelt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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