When Pippa came into my life as a tiny puppy a year ago, I was a pedestrian and rarely ventured more than a kilometre or two from home. We were expert walkers. The van only came into our lives two months ago, and sleeping in it just became a thing last week, so we are both completely new to van-venturing.
I hope at least a couple of you might relate to how freakishly anxious I was, waiting to find out how Pippa would either delight in, or despise, this new adventure. What if she didn’t think tripping around in a van was as fascinating as I did? What if she couldn’t sleep at night? What if she got bored, carsick or started chewing up the seats? What if camping freaked her out? What if she didn’t feel safe in the woods and barked all night? What if she attracted bears? Many of you may be thinking these worries are ridiculous and excessive. Don’t all dogs love camping and car trips? Don’t they naturally go together? I respectfully guess you probably have a Lab.
Italian Greyhounds are ridiculously entertaining and sensitive little creatures not often associated with outdoor living. They have zero body fat, no hair and bird legs. Wind makes them loopy and swimming invites hypothermia. Most refuse to exit the house in fog, let alone moderate rain. They sunburn, are easily frostbitten and most have a Diva’s wardrobe. They are derpy, dignified and dentally challenged and often appear nervous even when totally chill. This is due to statue-like poses making them appear to be second-guessing every move (Do I place my foot here? Or here? Perhaps I will hold it up here?)
Their ears rotate unnaturally. They have an anteater tongue and will hoover your nose, anyone’s nose, if not repeatedly redirected and retrained. They sleep under covers (only) preferably between two specially chosen pillows they will insist you place perfectly and precisely.
Their bladders are the size of peanuts and they must pee every hour, on the hour. In this last characteristic, we are of the Sisterhood.
In an effort to increase the odds this infinitely interesting Little Being would buy into this crazy little van-venture of mine, I engaged in the requisite over-attentive activities many fur-parents do.
I bought things.
I purchased a booster seat so she can see out the window. I bought a collapsible water bowl so I can water her thoroughly at each rest-stop. I compiled a box of hide chews and duck strips to keep things tasty in case she was under-stimulated while driving.
I bought her a nifty doggie life-preserver (not that the shock of the cold water itself wouldn’t be enough to make the effort moot but I had to do something) and a natural doggie bug spray that makes her smell like lemons and lavender.
I packed like she was on a one-way trip to Mars. I used her kennel to store her bed, blanket, rabbit, jackets, long tether, poop bags and food. With a bit of reorganizing, this gives me the option to tuck her into a familiar happy/sleepy space if I am out of the vehicle for a little bit (in cool weather, with windows open and my 12 volt fan running) or if she wants familiar shelter from the rain/sun while I’m setting up camp, chasing away bears or installing bug netting. Most dogs feel some responsibility for guarding their territory, if only to alert their humans of visitors, and I find occasionally giving her a break from her duties while resting in her kennel increases her appropriate territorial productivity. Dog Union Rules.
We just came back from our first week camping in the van and I’m pleased to report that Lady Pippa is properly pleased. This means I am pleased. Because as quirky as this little creature is, nothing makes me happier than seeing her happy and I will, admittedly, go to questionable lengths to achieve this.
We learned a lot about each other. She trained me to feed her inside the van, on the floor, without her leash attached. She accomplished this by refusing to eat in any other configuration. She communicated that resting comfortably in the campsite requires the back hatch to be open with a long lead attached so she jumps in and out as she likes and can reach where I am. I learned the Lady prefers bug spray be rubbed on her belly rather than misted over her. She accepted the necessity of a bug suit in Algonquin and can run like hell from swarms of Canadian mosquitos and black flies as required.
She happily canoed given time to decide for herself she wanted to. We both still need an afternoon nap to feel our best and it remained one of the best parts of our day. I discovered ball diamonds are excellent free-range running spaces in rural areas, as are fair grounds and Crown Land.
Now that we are back home, she will go to her leash and halter, and ask to go out, staring at me unnervingly until I pick up the keys which now results in great dancing and leaping about. I take this as an overall measure of her contentment and interest in our trekking.
Some of you may be familiar with a popular hashtag on social media used by people enjoying “life on the road” called “Home is Where you Park It” (#Homeiswhereyouparkit).
I am hopeful, and pretty confident now, that my special little friend learned something important about her Human on this trip too.
No matter where we are, or how far from home, her happiness will always matter to me, and I will do what it takes to help her feel at home in the van.
No matter where we bark it.