Travels with Effie

When Fred and I decided two years ago that we wanted to tour the western National Parks there was no question that Effie would be along for the ride.  As John Steinbeck describes in “Travels with Charlie” having a dog as a traveling companion assures you will meet many interesting folks.

We were away for three months and traveled 18,000 miles.  Effie was a great traveler.  I’d like to describe some of her adventures.

Effie took all of her responsibilities very seriously.  The first one was to sleep while we were driving.  Effie takes her  sleep time very seriously.   The second was to jump to the driver’s seat as soon as we left the van.  It was funny to see the double-takes when folks noticed her.  Fred would always reassure startled passersby that he had the keys.  Finally, as soon as we arrived at our campsite Effie had to take Fred on a perimeter patrol to be sure this was a safe place to spend the night and of course meet all the neighbors, especially the little kids.  Then she would come back to the campsite and dig herself a nest under the picnic table!

Everyone who knows Effie is surprised to hear that despite all the lakes and rivers we visited, she didn’t swim once.  The first thing Effie does when she enters the water is have a drink.  We checked with our vet before we left to make sure all her health records were in order and to make sure there weren’t any vaccinations she needed to travel in the west and through Canada.  He assured us she was all set but warned us about giardia, an intestinal parasite,  so we just didn’t let her swim.

Another precaution we took was not to leave her in the parked van during middle of the day.  We started our  trip touring in New Mexico in early May and it was cool.  Many of the National Parks do not allow dogs on hiking trails.  If you go check with that  park.  If we wanted to attend a ranger program or take a hike together we would plan to do that early in the day checking the parking lot for shaded spots.  Some roads in the parks are restricted to shuttle buses, dogs not allowed.  At the Grand Canyon we took the earliest morning bus, at Denali we each went a different day.  The van is insulated and has an exhaust fan but once we were back in the lower 48 in July we were even more cautious about leaving her.  And of course we always made sure she had plenty of fresh water.  We usually drank tap water but while traveling through northern British Columbia we camped in an area of hot springs.  Effie had a little G-I trouble and we thought it was the sulfur in the water so we started using bottled water until we left that area.  Same thing happened in Yellowstone but we caught that early. 

Effie’s a seacoast girl.  She spent the first five years of her life at sea level.  We were at altitude for many days, once as high as 12,000 feet in Colorado.  We certainly noticed how it affected our endurance.  We can’t say if Effie felt it too.  We would flag before she showed sign.  She’s probably just in better shape than we are!

Effie likes boat rides.  She had a good ride from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, BC and even met a couple from Newfoundland.  And while we had our passports out to enter Canada at the end of the ride she only needed her rabies certificate.  The 15 hour ferry ride from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, BC was a different story.  We knew she would be restricted to the car deck but that we would be able to let her out and walk her during the trip.  We had joked about bringing some leafy branches with us to give her a “place” .  Maybe we should have.  She is fine by herself in the van, it’s “home”.  She just sleeps or watches out the window.  The first couple of times we went down to walk her she made friends with all the crew and checked out all the things to sniff.  After six hours, we were visiting spots where other dogs “wet” and the deck drains but she wasn’t interested.  After ten hours we were wishing we did bring some branches with us and telling the crew they should have some Astroturf and a hydrant.  The campground was just outside the ferry terminal gates and as soon as we got there she “did her business”   We watched her for a couple of days after that trip but that long wait seems to have had no effect.  As Fred says, “Newfs have big tanks.”

All through the Southwest we saw other campers with dogs but never a Newf.  In fact, the first Newf we saw was Burma in San Jose, CA.  Burma lives with Fred’s daughter and family.  Effie and Burma “knew” each other through long-distance luggage sniffing but this is the first time they met.  Burma showed Effie the dog door and they hung out in the yard and the air conditioned house and rode a train in the park.

The next Newf we saw was Fudge in Ucluelet, BC.  He was a big boy!  Hard to imagine how a family of four and a 170 pound Newf could fit in their camper.

When we arrived in Seward, AK and Effie was very interested in all the fishing and sailing boats.  We checked out the docks and walked along the Main Street with Effie.  Suddenly we heard a loud WOOF, just one.  No mistaking it was a Newf!  We looked toward the sound and saw a huge black head sticking out of a passing truck window.  Just saying Hi! to Effie.  It’s amazing how our Newfs know their breed.  We never saw the truck again, and that was the only WOOF we heard that day.

There are AKC sled dog breeds but most mushers breed their dogs the old-fashioned way.  Breeding for the traits that sled dogs need without regard for pedigree.  Tight feet, good coats and endurance are important .  As a result, you see many interesting dogs in Alaska.  The pups that don’t pass sled-dog muster become pets.   We saw one at the Russian River Ferry landing that looked like he had some Newf heritage.

Dawson was the next big boy we met.  We drove into a campground on Lake Kenai, AK and there he was.  He was very glad to meet Effie.  Maybe he thought he had a swimming buddy.  The owners told us a funny story.  Dawson arrived at Lake Kenai in the fall a couple of years ago.  There was already a very fluffy black middle-aged Pomeranian living there.  They looked like twins when Dawson joined the family but by spring Dawson was much bigger.  One warm day after the ice was out of the lake the Pom went for a swim to cool off as he always had.  Dawson saw his buddy drifting out in the water and sprang into action.  It must have been a very funny sight to see the Newf dragging the very indignant Pom out of the lake!  Now the family makes sure Dawson is inside when the Pom wants to swim.  The glacial silt in the lake makes a mess of their coats so they discourage the swimming until later in the summer.

This last dog story isn’t about a Newf but it’s funny.  On the Alaska Highway in the Yukon as we arrived at a roadhouse we noticed a large sled dog lying near his house.  He noticed us too and stretched as he got up.  We decided to leave Effie in the van and headed inside.  Of course Effie jumped right up in the driver’s seat and she watched him as he walked to the van and circled.  They looked at each other with respect and he walked back toward his house.  Just then another car arrived and pulled up to the gas pumps.  There was a yippy  dog who caught sight of the sled dog and went ballistic, jumping up and down and yapping away.  The sled dog walked over to the car, looked at the dog inside, lifted his leg on the front tire and walked away.  Fred and I both had a good laugh!

Effie turned 6 years old when we were at Yellowstone Park. She saw elk and buffalo and a grizzly bear. She watched geysers and had pot roast for lunch.  And she got a loon with an electronic loon call from the gift shop.  We may have regretted that purchase when she was squeezing  the loon at 2 am.  It’s very spooky waking to the cry of the loon.

From Colorado we drove straight home in four days.  We guessed what Effie would do when we got home.  She definitely recognized the last mile or so and she was on her feet when we got to the driveway.  As Fred guessed, after a quick trip around the yard she went right in the house and to her cave in the corner under the computer table.  Spun around a couple of times and sunk into her bed with a sigh, Effie was home!