Taking Leo to the lake09-09-2001
Like so many other families, ours has acquired an adored canine component. Leo is a wonderfully natured chocolate Labrador who, at 18 months, has matured beyond the rash tricks of puppyhood but still has plenty of energy. Although he requires long walks and considerable other daily attentions, he consistently rewards us with open adoration and impeccable manners. More than that, he's also the only family member who always pays attention when I talk.
So when it came to planning our annual end of summer family getaway, Leo presented something of a challenge. On previous trips, we've had a grandma stay with him in our house. But at nearly 100 pounds, he's grown too large for them to manage.
Plus, as a bona-fide family member, wasn't Leo entitled to a getaway? More than that, the three human family members who still live at home unanimously love having him around.
The obvious solution: take Leo with us.
As a travel editor, I'm aware that millions of Americans take trips with their pets each year. I've received numerous press releases from hotels announcing their pet friendly policies. Several books provide information on the subject. The second edition of "On the Road Again with Man's Best Friend" by Dawn and Robert Habgood (Dawbert Press $19.95) lists 18,000 animal amicable accommodations across the country. There's a bimonthly newsletter (DogGone 888-dogtravel or www.doggonefun.com) and a host of helpful Web sites, such as www.petswelcome.com.
Each summer, travel advice columns provide directions and caveats about taking dogs and cats on airplanes. Of course, it's one thing to take on board animals small enough to fit into carriers and quite another to take those that must be shipped as baggage. The thought of locking Leo the Large in a crate seemed an act of cruelty rather than compassion. Better to leave him in a kennel.
Fortunately, our plans didn't include flying anywhere.
Several seasons ago, we'd enjoyed a late August visit to the Shaw Festival in the Ontario village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a simple 41/2 hour drive from Pittsburgh. In addition to the theatrical pleasures of a schedule that offered a choice of three well-produced and affordable plays a day, we knew there were other attractions, such as bike paths, boat rides, botanical displays, butterfly conservatories and historical recreations. Not to mention the glitz and grandeur of Niagara Falls itself.
It seemed a desirable destination, even though it meant taking Leo out of the country. How difficult could that be?
I'm pleased to report, not difficult at all.
First, the accommodations. I quickly discovered all the resources listed above provide information about pet friendly hotels, motels and campgrounds in the United States, but they weren't much help when it came to Canada. Furthermore, I suspected that although the Niagara on the Lake has plenty of charming hotels, quaint inns and B&B type accommodations, they'd probably not be too thrilled with large brown dogs as guests.
Fortunately, the Shaw Festival Web site (www.shawfest.com) includes a list of small cottages for rent by the day or week. A little research put me in touch with Ellen Lloyd, a dog lover who along with her husband owns three self-catering cottages in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Ellen was able to tell us what documentation we needed to cross the border with a dog. It essentially amounted to making sure we had copies of the vet certificate proving he'd had his shots.
Even better, Ancient Mariner, their small, three bedroom cottage on Mary Street several blocks from the center of town, was both suitable for dogs and available for our stay. We settled on a rental rate of $120 U.S. per night.
That was about as complicated as the trip got. Other than his food, bowl, leash and a selection of toys, Leo didn't take up any extra luggage space in the car. He's a good traveler and, joining us during our R&R stops along the way, he was no trouble at all during the drive up. Crossing the border into Canada, his presence was a nonissue.
His presence during our trip, however, was definitely a value-added experience. The regularity of his habits got us up each morning and provided a nice sense of normalcy to our stay. We found leash- free places where he could run and beaches where he could practice his retrieval skills in Lake Ontario. In fact, Frick Park dissidents take note, a huge area on the city commons has been designated a doggy zone. We enjoyed meeting many locals during our afternoon walks there.
The cottage also proved to be ideal to our needs, with a fenced-in back yard, where Leo quickly felt at home. He was a perfect gentledog during those hours we left him each evening to attend the theater. (We saw entirely enjoyable productions of Shaw's "Millionairess," J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" and the Moss Hart/George Kaufman comedy "The Man Who Came to Dinner" in the Festival Theater. And one afternoon while I took a long bike ride along the Niagara Parkway, Sari and Ben saw Frank Vosper's mystery "Love from a Stranger" based on an Agatha Christie book.) Leo accompanied us on our excursion west along the shore of Lake Ontario to check out the Welland Canal and Port Dalouise. He even seemed to enjoy the ambiance of the several wineries we visited on the way back.
Although I remained a bit nervous about a possible last minute hitch while re-entering the United States, the border agent asked only whether we had his papers, as he patted a licking Leo through the window and waved us on.
All in all, we agreed that our doggy adventure was an entirely successful, family positive experiment.
Leo's already looking forward to his next trip.