Monday, December 28, 2015

Trooper takes a train trip

Trooper and Debby in Chicago Union Station's sleeper lounge.
Yesterday Trooper and his crew returned from a Christmas jaunt on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited to Washington and back to Chicago.

He was perfect. The humans less so. Including Debby and me.

Like first-time parents with a new baby, we worried overmuch (way overmuch) about my new service dog’s retention tank. Would he be able to last from “fresh air stop” to “fresh air stop,” or would he have an accident in the sleeper, grounds for immediate banishment from the train? Would we be able to get off at South Bend or Toledo or Pittsburgh or Cumberland for quick whizzes?

Trooper on his blankie in our roomette, made up for the night.
So much fretting over nothing. Thanks in part to a dog and a sleeping car attendant who both knew their jobs, there were no incidents. Troop performed on cue at South Bend at 9:09 p.m., Pittsburgh at 5:05 a.m. and Cumberland at 9:20 a.m. The attendant, who looks like an African-American but is an Irishman named Jameel Kinney, even knew the best spots at every station for Trooper to transact his business and had the car door open as soon as the train stopped rolling. Jameel seemed as delighted as we were every time Troop succeeded.

During the ride itself, Trooper slept blissfully on his blankie, spread on one roomette seat and shared with his client. I did have to pick him up and carry him between the sleeper and the dining car because the slice-and-dice steel footplates in the vestibules are dangerous to dogs' tender paws.

At breakfast he lay quietly under the dining car table, invisible to passersby, like the professional hearing assistance dog he is.

Trooper at work during breakfast in our hotel.
Same thing at breakfast at our hotel in Arlington. A good service dog does not call attention to itself, but Trooper can’t help being fuzzy and cute, eliciting squeals of “How adorable!” We insisted, however, that he was working, and was not to be petted because that was a distraction. Most people were sensible about it.

Not so in the sleeper lounge at Chicago Union Station before our trip. There an older blind man with a huge Labrador guide dog sat down next to us and said “Working, working!” as he sensed the approach of a chattering family with two obstreperous toddlers.

The man asked them to keep their distance. “He’s not used to children,” he said. “They upset the dog.”

The father ignored the man and brought his little girl right up to the dog for a pet, but the Lab lay unmoving. Finally the family moved off, but not before the self-absorbed little boy stepped back and right upon the dog’s paw. I was amazed when the dog did not react. The dog did not even look at Trooper lying five feet away.

Nor did the family notice the diminutive Trooper either, and I felt fortunate that I did not have to sharply educate the bonehead.

The grands in Arlington: Ellie, Jordan, Henry, Walter, Trooper and Will.
Trooper did get some time off work in Arlington. He loved the joyous doggy chaos of my elder son’s living room, wrestling and dashing about with his cousins, a little Pomeranian named Jordan and an enormous Lab/mastiff called Walter.

Let the wild rumpus start.
Resting between rounds.
Before departure on the way home, I checked the Amtrak website to see if I could upgrade our accommodations. A roomette (booked in August before we knew Trooper was coming in December) is a tight squeeze at best for two geezers, more so with even a small dog. The full bedrooms were all booked, but the handicap room was still open, and we grabbed it for a mere $64 upgrade charge. (A week before departure, ”H” rooms are opened to all passengers if not taken by people with mobility disabilities.)

Half the spacious H room on the way home.
The “H” room has plenty of square footage for dressing (as well as a toilet and sink) and so getting up at 4:30 a.m. so Trooper could take the air at Toledo was not such a tight squeeze for Debby and me. We vowed that from then on we always would book at least a full bedroom while taking an overnight train. Old folks need their space.

At Chicago the cabbie, informed on Debby's cell phone booking that we had a service dog, took one look at Trooper and said, “That's not a service dog.”

“Yes it is,” Debby said.

“That’s no service dog,” the cabbie insisted. “Service dogs are big.”

“No, they’re not,” Debby said. “Hearing dogs don’t need to be big.”

“I’ll have to wash out the back of my cab,” the cabbie said.

In cabs, Trooper always rides in the lap of his client.
“No, you will not,” Debby said, standing her ground. “My husband will hold the dog in his lap. The dog will not touch any part of your cab.”

I did, Trooper didn’t, and he slept quietly all the way home.

What a pro.

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