Every year The Children’s Auntie takes The Youngest camping. This started when The Youngest was four years old, and out of nowhere announced that she’d like to try camping in a tent. The Auntie, being quite indulgent of her nieces and an avid camper to boot, took her camping. And they’ve been going ever since.
This year was a “record year:” four full nights, Sunday-Thursday. Usually I camp with them, but The Middle Child’s annual sleepover with her three best friends had to be this week, as one of the three will be leaving town shortly for most of the summer. So I only went for two days, and for the first time, Our Best Friend went with us.
Rule #1 of camping with dogs: Don’t forget the dog food, extendable leash, and poop bags at home. Instead of his normal diet food, OBF got Beneful, which is the only dog food they sold at the camp store, at $9.75/bag. It’s like Froot Loops for dogs. He didn’t seem to mind. At least the poop bags were free. (I still haven’t found the bag of supplies. Or my other set of keys. I think they might be together. Somewhere. I hope.)
Rule #2 of camping with dogs: Pick a dry time to camp. It’s been raining buckets for weeks, and muddy paws were everywhere. We tried giving him a mat to sit on in the dining tent. It didn’t work.
And of course, Rule #3: Don’t camp with dogs who have anxiety disorders. Every time I walked away from the camp site, he howled. Every time The Youngest pedalled off on her bike, he howled. Every time a dog walked past our site, he barked. And when night fell, he barked at every person, every shadow that passed by. I was sure he’d get us tossed out.
But of course he didn’t. Everyone who saw him stopped to admire and pet him. Everyone asked, “What kind of dog is he?” to which I answered, “A mutt,” and “We like to play ‘Guess the Mix’ with him.” He didn’t notice when we accidentally ran over his food bowl with the car; it’s okay to eat your Froot Loops out of a disposable bowl when camping. He slept in the tent with us, on his own little bedroll. He didn’t even wake me to take him out at his usual time.
It isn’t easy to travel with a dog. We had to take turns going to the bathroom, so someone could be with him at all times. I was using a makeshift leash out of twine, and sustained some nasty rope burns when he lunged out of my hands. Still, this trip confirmed something that I already knew. Even though he’s a mutt, a German Shepard/husky/malamute/Australian shepherd/what-have-you mix, his deepest nature is GSD. He has picked his Person, and I am She.
On our way there, we stopped at Timmie’s to get coffee. My sister-in-law held the leash while I went in. He paced and whined, watching the door the whole time, until I came back out. At the camp site he sat by my chair. He sat on my feet. He slept by my side. He even came into the porta-potty with me, and he doesn’t know how to hold his breath. He’s the poster dog for unconditional love and devotion.
We left The Youngest and her Auntie to camp for two more days, and came back Tuesday. Driving home, just the two us, he fell fast asleep in the back row of the van. No anxiety, no whimpering, no whining, just complete trust and security.
Sometimes I feel he just tolerates the attention he gets from other people. For him, it’s all about me. I think I can let go of some of the guilt now. My priorities for him– more exercise, better diet, and some training– are not his priorities. His priority is to stay as close to me as possible. Another owner might walk him twice a day, feed him a raw diet, and train him to walk on a leash and heel like a show dog. But underneath all that “improvement” would lie a broken heart, and a dog yearning for home. My life is too unpredictable right now to say “until death do us part,” but the guilt at the idea of giving him up has now overbalanced the guilt and frustrations of keeping him.
In the chaos of career setbacks and raising teens and getting divorced, he is the one constant in my life; he might drive me nuts, but at least I know what to expect. Some of it is even positive. While giving him up makes practical and financial sense, it would still feel like a failure and a loss. Who needs more of that? With the encouragement of family and friends (both on-line and in real life), some good meds, and a little luck, I’ll keep pushing forward one day at a time. Something has to go right eventually. And I’ll be holding a paw along the way.
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