By Jim Farber
Winifred, also known as Winnie, Pretty Girl and Tootsie Pop, was one pampered pooch, a member of the 1 percent club. She spent her time behind a pair of gated communities — her spacious home in Brentwood, California, on Los Angeles' fashionable west side and her desert getaway "cottage" within a gated golf-course complex in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs.
Every day when Winifred took her walks the sights, and particularly the smells, were so comfortable, so familiar, a well-kept list of olfactory references. When she was urged to get into the Mercedes station wagon it was almost always for a trip between her two residences, and she enjoyed lolling in the backseat as time and the road rolled by.
Then one day the routine changed. It wasn't a big change, but it was sufficient to give Winifred (a handsome golden lab-Australian sheepdog mix) the sense that something was up. Her owner, Anne, took her outside and fitted a fashionably appealing blue saddle-style backpack on her. Hmmm. "What is this?" she must have thought. But she was willing to cooperate if it pleased her owner. It was less pleasing, however, when the backpack was stuffed and she kept bumping into things she shouldn't ordinarily bump into. She didn't care for this sensation of suddenly being a double-wide.
What Winifred did not know was that she was about to have an adventure, a three-day hiking trip into the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains. And she was going to be expected to carry her weight, which would consist mostly of water, snacks and a convenient collapsible water dish that she would soon discover was a treasure not to be left behind.
In the beginning the trip seemed like the usual LA-to-Palm Springs commute. But then, as the hours slipped by, Winifred began to realize "We're not in LA or Palm Springs anymore." The air smelled different, really different. Nothing matched up. There was also the inconvenience that when they stopped she wasn't allowed in restaurants. It was discrimination, plain and simple. She watched as service dogs with their colorful little bibs were let in.
Their destination was Mammoth Lakes, where they would be staying at the Sierra Lodge and the Westin Monache Resort. Both made a point of being "pet friendly." The Westin even went so far as to provide complimentary food and water bowls and a nice soft pillowy doggy bed.
The policy, however, did not solve a seemingly contradictory problem, a sort of canine Catch 22. On the one hand, both hotels were welcoming to pets. At the same time, state laws required that pets could not be left alone in the room nor were they allowed in the hotel restaurant or, for that matter, any indoor restaurant. This left two options: Either Winifred would need to be locked in the car (which might work for a few hours in the cool of the evening) or restaurants would have to be found that offered outdoor "pet friendly" seating. Luckily, Mammoth Lakes Village is a pretty doggy place, so there were quite a few eateries that fit the bill.
Then came Winifred's first day of roughing it — a 10-mile hike on the Duck Pass Trail. Her pack now fully loaded, she dutifully posed for her portrait in front of the sign announcing they were about to enter the John Muir Wilderness. And as the hike began, Winifred was determined that if she was a tenderfoot, she wasn't going to show it. "This is great," she seemed to be saying to herself, especially when her leash was removed and she was free to fully explore this brave new world of dust and rocks and pine trees and so many new smells she didn't know where to store them all.
It didn't take long before she settled into a rhythm, bounding on ahead then waiting for her companions to catch up. And when she met other dogs heading down the trail, they all were friendly and anxious to share an introductory sniff.
There were so many new experiences and sensations to catalog: wading across streams and into lakes, climbing up the rocky trail and enjoying the sensation of nestling into a shady bed of pine needles. "This is great!" she seemed to be thinking. "I like being a wilderness dog! I even like being dirty!"— another new experience. By the time the hike was over she seemed like a seasoned mountaineer.
For three days Winifred's adventures continued. She rode on a gondola all the way to the top of Mammoth Mountain, which looked out on the sawtooth peaks of the Minarets. There she met an intrepid band of mountain-bikers and a party of tourists intent on taking selfies. The next day she hiked the trail around Convict Lake with its shimmering water, towering granite cliffs and fluttering aspen groves.
As always, she wanted to please her owner, but the truth was Winifred was a tenderfoot and these rocky trails were becoming hard on her paws. Those shady spots where she could lie down were looking more and more appealing. She kept thinking the doggy equivalent of "Are we there yet?"
By then end of day three, she'd had it. All she wanted to do was lie on her doggy bed in the room. But when she heard the word "home," her energy returned. Soon she was back in her familiar spot in the backseat watching the Sierras go by outside the window.
"That was tough," she thought. "But I made it. I survived. Maybe I'll try it again next year."
WHEN YOU GO
If you plan to take your dog on vacation, here are some ways to make the trip comfortable and pleasant for all of you.
Consider the season in which you are traveling. Outdoor seating at dog-friendly restaurants won't be available during colder months.
Bring an adequate amount of the food to which your pet is accustomed.
A collapsible water bowl that clips onto the dog's pack makes it easy to keep your pet hydrated.
Seek out accommodations that allow pets and ask what amenities they offer. Ask them for dining suggestions if pets aren't allowed in their dining rooms.
Research a local veterinarian in case of emergencies and program the clinic's number into your phone.
If hiking is on your agenda, consider whether your dog is in good enough condition to come along. If so, get him or her into shape by taking increasingly strenuous walks on paths close to home.
Your dog will become accustomed to wearing a pack if you introduce that at home, too. Have your pet wear the empty pack for a few days and then gradually add the necessary contents.
If you plan to ride any public transportation — from a mountain gondola to a city bus — find out if the dog needs to be muzzled. That's one area we hadn't thought about and weren't prepared for.
Jim Farber is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.