Travelling with an Elderly or Infirm Dog
As this post goes up, I am getting ready to pack up and join the bipeds on our trip home after a wonderful, fabulous, amazing, s p e c t a c u l a r vacation in a new (to us) part of the world. We love visiting new places and while we’re sad to be leaving Croatia, we also love home and are looking forward to returning to our own ‘hood and checking out the fall colours.
Returning to Canada and familiar haunts made me think about my brother-by-another-mother, Jack. See, Jack has a bit of a disability—not a life-threatening one, but one that makes it difficult for him to go on extended trips. But that doesn’t stop Jack. He and his parents have found a way to keep travel in their lives by making “home travel” their thing.
And that got me thinking that there are many ways to travel and many ways to make it happen. So this post is about how to make it happen when you’ve got a dog who’s not physically able to go on big trips.
Jack had to have surgery on his arm when he was younger. It was complicated surgery but it should have resolved a problem with a funny bone—that was his “funny bone,” now that I think about it! I must tell Jack that joke! *tail wag* Anyway, things didn’t go as planned. The fixer thing Jack had in place while the bone healed ended up damaging Jack’s wrist. As a result, Jack’s wrist is weak. He now has “carpal laxity syndrome.”
For a dog, wrists are pretty important because we walk on them. Our wrists hold our paws in the correct pawsition, so when our wrists don’t work, we can walk, but it’s painful and makes us limp—and that makes the rest of our bodies hurt and makes us pretty tired and cranky.
Jack was a pretty miserable dog for a long time because no one figured out the problem. For a while, I was able to visit Jack regularly. Jack wasn’t much into playing but we’d just hang out together. So sad. I remember when Jack was younger and he’d chase me in and out of my playpen house! Anyway, we’d hang out together and I’d keep him company in a way that only dogs who know each other can.
Then a very smart physiotherapist for dogs figured out Jack’s problem. She got things sorted out and arranged for an occupational therapist for dogs to make Jack a wrist brace. (Did you know there are these specialists for dogs? Cool!) Jack still can’t walk for too long but at least he doesn’t get sore and tired now when he does walk. And he’s in a much better mood. Thank goodness. Not that Jack was ever nasty or anything, but it is hard to see a friend so miserable.
Anyway, now that Jack is feeling better, his parents want to take Jack out more.
Get a Ride
You might remember when Mom and I asked people on Facebook for suggestions about dog strollers. Well, that was information for Jack! Thanks to your feedback and suggestions, Jack’s parents bought a PetGear stroller for Jack. It’s a pretty cool ride, I have to say! Not quite as convenient as my carry bags, but pretty darned slick. Jack’s parents spent the extra money to buy a good stroller that would stand up to trails and snow as well as regular sidewalk stuff.
It’s not comfortable for your dog or for you if you have to carry your dog a lot, and you’ll all be miserable if you can’t go out or can only go for teeny tiny walks. So, that’s my first tip: If you’ve got a dog who’s physically limited, get a ride for your dog! Do your research because poorly made strollers won’t last long. You’ll spend less buying one good stroller than you’ll spend replacing less expensive ones that break down.
Oh, and it may go without saying, but just to be sure: look for a good stroller that’s easy to collapse and pop in the trunk of your car. Then you can take your ride on a ride to another place!
Jack’s parents took Jack out in his stroller around town a lot. They started walking neighbourhood sidewalks and stuff. But they wanted to explore more places. Jack’s mom (who’s also my sister-mom!) is a photographer and really wanted to work with my mom on a local travel project, so Mom decided to give Jack and his mom a little push.
We showed Jack’s mom pictures of a local place to visit, knowing Jack’s mom would not be able to resist a visit. (We’re sneaky sometimes, but good sneaky!)
Then I put my paw down and insisted that Jack come too.
And then Mom insisted that Jack bring his ride. She promised that we wouldn’t be upset if it didn’t work out on the trail, but that we had to try.
The whole trip was a huge success! (Well, except for a parking ticket problem, but I digress.) Because Jack’s stroller is a good one and because the trail is well maintained, it was easy-peazy to take Jack’s ride with us. When we got to where we were going and it was too rough to take the stroller further, we used a bicycle cable and locked Jack’s ride to a tree.
I ran with Jack to encourage him when he was walking, and when he got too tired or sore, he’d hop in his ride for a little bit to rest. Then he’d get back down and run with me some more. In the end, Jack’s mom said that Jack had gone further on his own than he had ever gone since he had his surgery three years ago. And Jack had fun! He didn’t have to tell me because I could feel it. It was nice to have Jack’s fun company again.
As Mom and I had hoped, Jack’s mom discovered that she really can go to all kinds of places with Jack. When they plan to visit places now, they check the details to see if the trail or site is marked as “accessible,” meaning the place is suitable for people with physical limitations. If the path or place is accessible to people with a cane, walker, or wheelchair, it’s perfect for Jack’s ride!
So that’s my second tip: Do your research and give it a try! The worst that happens is your adventure is a little shorter than you planned. The best that happens is you surprise yourself and discover new places. Oh, and that reminds me: do your research backwards too. What I mean is, as well as checking to see if a certain place is accessible, also do research to find accessible places. You might not have thought about visiting a certain attraction, but if it pops up when you’re checking out what might be accessible, you’ve hit a double jackpot: a new place and one that you can visit with a physically limited dog!
Sometimes people can be silly or mean. They don’t mean it. I’m sure they don’t. Right? But blah, out of their mouths roll thoughtless words. Humans and their short tongues. Really, eyes and tails can say so much, better, and with less trouble.
Anyway, even though Jack has a handicapped sign on his stroller, some people still make silly comments about Jack being treated as a baby or being spoiled. Or worse, people suggest that Jack is a replacement for a human baby. Yup. I’m sure people mean to be funny, but it’s hurtful.
Jack told me that he hates it when people think of him that way. He is a very smart, zen dog who has worked his way through a lot of painful stuff. He says that he is not a handicapped dog; he is a “handicapable dog” or “handi-dog” for short.
Jack doesn’t like that he sometimes has to ride instead of be on the ground, running and sniffing, but he is not ashamed of his ride and he loves that he can be out without pain. His parents just keep correcting people: “No, he’s not a baby/spoiled/replacement. He has a physical limitation.” Jack puts his chin on his ride’s sign so people notice that.
And that’s my third tip: Spread the word, educate others, and let silly comments roll off your back. Sadly, that also means educating others about how to approach a handi-dog, especially when the dog is in his ride.
Dogs with physical limitations know that they can’t protect themselves very well. They can’t run fast and they’re limited in fighting back if fighting back is necessary. That means they get anxious when someone they don’t know—person or dog—approaches. Some dogs, like Jack, have also experienced a lot of painful medical care delivered by a number of different people. So, when people get close, especially with their hands, the dog immediately thinks he is going to experience pain again. Even if the pain is for a good reason, it’s still pain. You’d duck too, right, if you thought something might hurt?
No one should ever directly approach an unfamiliar dog, especially around his face, and this is doubly—triply—true for a handi-dog. It’s frightening for the dog and it’s dangerous for the person because frightened dogs growl, and when growling doesn’t work, dogs will snap or, worse, bite.
And you know what’s even worse than all of that? Letting a young child approach a handi-dog in his ride. It’s so tempting because the dog is captive, right at chest level for a young child. The child just needs to reach out to touch soft fur. But for the dog, these are human hands behaving in unpredictable ways. That’s very scary for a handi-dog.
We know if you’re reading this post, you’re probably already educated about dogs and know this stuff, but maybe you can help us to pass the message. And be respectful if your dog encounters a handi-dog. The fact that your dog is friendly and harmless means absolutely nothing to a frightened, physically limited dog trapped in a ride.
You know that I’m an advocate of taking your pet with you when you travel. The bipeds try to take me everywhere they go—and we go to a lot of places! If you have a handi-dog, you can still travel with your dog, but, here’s my fourth tip: Think about travel in a different way.
First, think about what your dog can tolerate. If your dog is making his way through his day with a physical disability, he’s already spending a lot of extra mental and physical energy. Too many new things, too much change in his schedule, and too much physical activity may all be too much for your dog to handle. Learn to read your dog’s signals and start small. Discover your dog’s comfort zone and then gently but regularly, stretch that zone in tiny bits. Always stop short of ruining the experience for your dog, or instead of taking little trips, you’ll be taking no trips at all.
Second, think about what you can tolerate. Jack’s parents love Jack very much. I know they do. But even though they intended to have a dog in their lives, it is extra work to take Jack places. Sometimes, it’s good for Jack and for his parents if Jack doesn’t go. Jack has a dog sitter who understands Jack’s limitations. When his parents need or want to get away and it’s not good to take Jack along, they call Jack’s sitter. Jack’s parents have a good time because they’re confident Jack is being well cared for, and Jack has a good time getting one-on-one attention from a favourite friend.
Third, and final, instead of thinking about where you can’t go, embrace the opportunity to explore the places you can go. We live in our nation’s capital, which is full to the brim with places to visit and explore. But as with most people, it’s easy to forget about exploring the riches in our own backyard. Jack’s limitations have meant that travel for his parents means visiting places within a day’s or two days’ drive. Jack’s mom thinks that’s pretty cool because, as I already mentioned, she’s working on a project about local travel. In a way, Jack is forcing his mom to stay focussed on that project. And both of Jack’s parents want to explore parts of Canada they haven’t visited. They may not be able to take Jack to Paris or hiking in the Rockies but they can take Jack for a cottage vacation in Prince Edward Island!
Ask and Have Fun!
One last tip if you’re a travelling family with a handi-dog: Don’t be afraid to ask people for help! When we took Jack and his mom on their first trail adventure, we helped lift Jack’s stroller over a few bumpy bits in the path. Mom also helped to push Jack in his ride when we were heading up a big hill and Jack’s mom was getting tired. They were tiny things but even tiny little things like that can make a big difference. People often won’t think to offer assistance, mostly because they don’t know that assistance is needed or what assistance to give. But if you ask, many people will be glad to give a helping hand.
Do you have an older dog or a dog with physical limitations? If so, tell us how you have fun travelling with an Elderly or Infirm Dog. And even if you don’t have a handi-dog, share your ideas in the comments below!
See you soon, Jack! We have to find our next adventure once I get home!