Monday, March 21, 2016

To Arizona and back with Trooper

Service dog team at Albuquerque, N.M.
We’re just back from a week’s jaunt to Winslow, Arizona, and the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Parks. Trooper, for the most part, was a trouper.

He, Debby and I took Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, where “fresh air” stops are few and far between, but the conductors on this westbound run were willing to hold the train at some stations—La Plata, Missouri, in particular—while Trooper found a good place to transact his business. He can be picky, for he is a California-born, Oregon-raised dog, and prefers grass to Southwestern gravel and concrete.

At Albuquerque we saw a small patch of greenery off the bus station part of the depot and headed for it, only to be called back by station security guards.

"It's full of needles," one said. "Drug users shoot up there."

Albuquerque does have a terrible drug problem. From the train we saw one user cooking dope with matches at trackside and another nodding in the sun.

We did find a fairly clear patch of gravel with a few dry shrubs close to the station, and that was enough for Trooper.

We also discovered that in emergencies Trooper has a 12-hour capacity. Not that we’d often push him that far, but it’s good to know.

Troop on his blankie in the sleeping car.
He was uncharacteristically restless in the dining car, standing and trying to get into the aisle rather than lying quietly at my feet. That was probably because of the long hours he spent idle or asleep in our bedroom. He just had to work off pent-up terrier energy.

Otherwise he made the trip like a veteran.

The team in front of the rail platform gate at La Posada.
In Winslow, when we checked into La Posada, the grand old Fred Harvey railroad hotel, the clerk asked me to sign a pet policy agreement. Although the $50 pet deposit and $10 pet fee were waived—the ADA mandates no extra charge for service dogs—the clerk wanted me to initial the items about housetraining, leashing, never leaving the pet alone in the room, and so forth, and sign the document.

“This makes me uncomfortable,” I said. “He is a trained service dog, not a pet. I shouldn’t have to sign this.”

If we couldn’t get the room otherwise, I did plan to sign the agreement and take up the issue with the hotel manager the next day. It was after 10 p.m. when the train arrived, and we were weary.

“Okay,” said the clerk quickly. “We don’t want our guests to feel uncomfortable. You don’t need to sign this.”

Just like that we were in.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Room at La Posada.
The deaf part of a service dog team didn't need these.
Later on I deduced that the incident may have been La Posada’s way of distinguishing genuine service dog teams from fraudulent ones. No real service dog handler would sign such an agreement. People trying to pass off their pets as service animals very likely wouldn’t know the fine print of the ADA and would willingly sign. La Posada could then keep an eye on the pets' behavior.

In any case, Trooper was welcome in the Turquoise Room, the hotel’s famous gourmet restaurant, and the maitre d’ was more than willing to lead us to a table well out of the way.

Service dog team at the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park.
At the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert 60 miles east, Trooper nimbly trod the rocky trails, but began panting heavily under the hot sun overhead, for his long, nearly coal-black fur soaks up heat. We had to find shady spots for him to rest, and he vacuumed up an entire bowl of water when we returned to our rental car.

Later, in Winslow, I had to stop at the local emergency room to have a doctor look at an infected bump on my nose, and Trooper lay quietly and professionally at my feet during the examination.

Trooper and Debby in our sleeper compartment returning to Chicago.
On the return trip to Chicago, I decided to take my meals in the bedroom with Trooper rather than subject him to the dank caves under the diner tables. Also, picking up and carrying a 17-pound dog between the cars of a train bucketing and rocking at 79 miles an hour can be very wearying.

The conductors on the eastbound run weren’t as accommodating as those on the westbound, but we managed nicely all the same.

All in all, it was a good trip.

And I doubt that many service dogs for the deaf can claim to have watered a petrified tree.


  1. Great report. I was going into Trooper withdrawal but I knew you were on the train and news would be coming.

  2. Always glad to read of your train travels and travails, and now with a service dog!

  3. Always glad to read of your train travels and travails, and now with a service dog!

  4. Great piece on Trooper, your latest travel adventures, and altogether another perspective on life.

  5. Great piece on Trooper, your latest travel adventures, and altogether another perspective on life.