Zoe the Dalmatian is fifteen, and like all old creatures, she does not enjoy change. In her life, each day should be a healthy mixture of sleep, food, walkies, and attention, with a possible side of peanut butter. While the occasional trip to the store is welcome, long car journeys are not.
At all. Ever.
It’s not that she gets car sick, it’s that she gets pessimistic. It’s because Zoe is the dog equivalent of a cat. Giving wag-tailed affection to all she meets is for lesser beings; Zoe prefers to turn an irritated back on houseguests. When my parents leave for a weekend or two on trips where Zoe is not invited, she reacts to the attention lavished on her from my sister and me by going to another room and sulking. Why wasn’t she invited on the trip? Why did she have to stay home? Why can’t life just continue to revolve around her? As this offended behavior has, in old age, grown to include widdling in secluded corners to be discovered later, this has not endeared Zoe to her babysitters.
This is why, when my mother and I decided to visit my brother in Tennessee on the same weekend as my dad was heading out of town for a cycling event, we just took Zoe with us. Not that that made a difference in the histrionics, because we still had to get out the suitcases.
Suitcases! Being left behind! Noooooooo!
Have you ever seen a Dalmatian sulk? She follows my mother around, head down, tail tucked, for hours at a time. Days, if the suitcase happens to be out early. She whines. She pants. She hovers at the top of the stairs and becomes cranky because she hasn’t gotten her eighteen hours of sleep a day, as is required for old Dalmatians with waning bladder control.
In short, she throws a fit, convinced that she is being abandoned, betrayed, and all-around ill-used. If you loved me, you would be here all the time always. Forever.
Until she realizes that she’s coming along. Oh, those are my blankets in the back? Well. Okay. Yeah! She prances around like an arthritic puppy who can’t manage to actually get herself into the car anymore, which she is. She is coming along; balance has been restored. Plus, car rides involve lying down in the back two feet from my mother, her favorite activity. All is well.
Or it would be, except for one thing: she doesn’t sleep in the car.
See, Zoe’s tiny canine brain has designated cars as places of uncertainty. At any moment, she could need to chase a squirrel, or bark at a tree. Car travel cannot be trusted.
Instead, Zoe sits in the back seat pretending to sleep, possibly in an effort to lull the scenery into a false sense of security. As Zoe has the same secrecy as a two-year-old hiding a poo, this involves much twitching, sighing, and pretend snoring. Each glance to the back seat on the humans’ part is met by a side-eyed examination as Zoe determines whether we’re in danger or not.
For eight hours.
This is fine by me. Some of you may recall that there used to be two Dalmatians—that Zoe was joined by Simon, and of the two, Zoe is the far preferable travel companion. It’s not that Simon didn’t like car rides or travel or even that he got anxious—in fact, all this delighted him. It’s that he inevitably stuck his head over the seats and panted Satan’s bottled farts into our faces until we all gagged that made travel such an avoidable experience. Zoe at least limits her fumes to the occasional buzzing toot between suspicious glances.
But this refusal to actually rest means that by the time we reach whatever destination, Zoe is inevitably exhausted. Forget her usual eighteen hours of sleep, she probably only got twelve or so. On trips to see aunts or uncles, this means that the arrival is greeted by Zoe’s plodding to her blankets in whatever corner we’ve stashed them, turning around the designated three times, tucking her nose, and settling down to a nice rest.
This trip, though, ends at my brother’s house, and my brother has three things that turn it into Zoe’s worst nightmare. They are, in order from worst to worstest, a cat, another dog, and a ferret.
Yes, that order is correct.
Zoe is, above all things, a cat herself, and so she acknowledges their feline kinship by leaving them alone. At most, she quirks her eyebrows at how every time she goes for a sniff, the cat simultaneously inflates itself and springs a hissing leak.
The dog, however, is another story. Like a toddler being faced with another two-year-old, Zoe regards another dog as a rival. Toddlers hit each other; Zoe finds the other dog’s food and consumes it, heedless of the stomach problems this invariably creates. In fact, those make it better, because then she gets hugs and attention and the other dog doesn’t. Win-win, really.
So far, so good.
But then there’s the ferret.
The cat leaves Zoe alone. The dog stays out of her way. The ferret, though, oh-oh, the ferret sees Zoe as a very large toy.
Zoe hates the ferret.
Not only does it try to sniff her, and to steal her shiny collar, but the ferret has the audacity to do what she does to my mom and follow her around, bugging. In short, it’s a very long, rather smelly version of her. But unlike with the cat, where Zoe is willing to recognize what she considers her better traits, this is a mirror that shines darkly. Here is the Zoe she does not acknowledge.
And so the dog spends the trip unable to relax because she’s too busy feeling put-out. Even us packing up to leave doesn’t soothe her, because in her tiny mad mind, suitcases can mean only one thing: abandonment! In this case, to her own private version of hell, a house with slippery floors and a ferret who keeps bothering her. Her happy-geriatric-puppy dance at the sight of her blanket in the car has a slightly desperate edge to it. Take me away from here! Even eight twitching hours waiting for the trees to attack is better than this.
If you haven’t traveled with a dramatic Dalmatian before, I highly recommend it. It won’t be relaxing and it won’t be pretty, but there’s no better way to learn to ignore a tantrum.
Or, in Zoe’s opinion, we should just stay home and avoid the whole thing. We would, if we really loved her.
I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, writer of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels of the dark and gritty type. When I’m not wrangling ridiculous dogs, I’m at my desk in Southeast Ohio, conjuring nightmares and occasionally winning at Dominion. Okay, okay, usually winning.
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