One of the hardest regions in South Africa to take your dog for a walk has to be in the Garden Route. Blessed with forests, nature reserves and empty beaches, all seem to have a ‘No Dogs allowed’ policy, a frustrating limitation for dog owners.
Being dog lovers and wanting to share our outings with our trio of four legged friends, we have had to adapt our activities and overnight plans.
Scarlett, our staffie, has a bipolar approach to travelling in a vehicle. On a gravel road she wants to navigate, raised on the central arm rest of our SUV or ute, seemingly indicating which turn she prefers by pointing her nose and ‘chatting ‘ excitedly all the time. But as soon as the tyres touch the tarmac she transforms into a demented mutt that is being persecuted. Lesson #1 – always pack some rescue remedy. Dubbed ‘Happy Drops’, five drops rubbed onto her gums and she curls up on her blanket and remains tucked away to our destination irrespective of the trips duration.
Living a semi-nomadic lifestyle, an anchor in the dogs life is definitely their bed, each of which has their
own continental cushion and fleece blanket. On arrival at a new venue we first place their beds so they know this is home for a night or two. After dinner at sunset they scuttle to bed with gravity securing them till dawn.
The reward of travelling with our dogs are insurmountable. On our bird monitoring on wind farms they add an extra dimension of exploration as, nose to the ground, they discover new realms through their olfactory senses. A mere fence post to us through their noses transforms into a communication hub, a canine cyber portal.
Whether it was a farm dog, meerkat or genet that marked the post, the sequence of events when they pick up the scent is the same. Maya, the alarmist Fox Terrier, yelps uncontrollably as adrenaline courses through her veins and she bolts off, nose gliding over the ground. Scarlett, at the first yelp, rushes to the source of scent, sniffs deeply, casts her scent and tears off after Maya, blur of pounding legs and nashing jaws. Bandit, switches into sleuth mode and describes a series of increasing circles as he investigates the scent before fluffing out his mane and tearing off after the terriers, his tail trailing behind him like fetches of an arrow. It is during moments like this that we realise the scope of life that we as humans miss out on with our diminished sense of smell.
Undoubtedly the most difficult aspect of travelling with dogs has to be locating pet friendly accommodation, especially when we mention that we have three medium sized dogs. Non the less, fortunately most towns have an establishment or two that accommodate pets.
Recently in Grahamstown we spent a week in a venue that had two rescue Collie’s. Our daily laugh centered around Bandit and the older Collie. Bandit has one obsession, the perpetual pursuit of a ball or a stone in the absence of the former. As his luck should play out, he discovered a tennis ball in the yard. In addictive bliss, he brought it to us to throw.
The fun began on his focused run to catch it. The Collie thought that Bandit was a sheep, an understandable mistake considering his white shaggy coat. Obeying his breeds instincts the Collie would attempt to herd Bandit as he chased balls.
Without a doubt, the merits of travelling with our dogs far out weighs the logistical hurdles required to take them with us. Though in summer it is the perils of African nature that is our core concern as exemplified by a recent incident of me standing on a Cape Cobra while on a walked transect near Swellendam. But that is a story for another time.