Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Trooper on his space-age floor mat, made for finicky cats.
We have just returned from another train trip to the East Coast, during which Trooper made great strides in his service-dog training.

First, he now holds his “down-stay” almost perfectly, without getting up after a few seconds to investigate interesting things. He seems to realize that it’s his job to remain in one place, not a trick to perform whenever he feels like it. Whenever we go into a restaurant or a hotel lobby, on command he’ll immediately lie down—and stay down.

Part of his success, we think, is the little $20 “cat mat” we bought on the Internet for his use on hard and cold floors, which often caused him to be restless. The lightweight, 20-inch-by-27-inch zippered mat is faced on top with fleece and on the bottom with nonskid rubber, and contains an insert of space-age metal foil that reflects his body heat. When we unroll the mat and spread it on the floor, he immediately parks himself atop it.

The second advance: He now seems to understand that whenever we get off the train at a “fresh air stop,” as Amtrak calls its brief smoking pauses, he is expected to have a pee, and right away. The trick is to present him with a tree or scraggly bush, and to do so six to nine hours after the last whiz. If he doesn’t feel the urge, he won’t go. It’s as simple as that, but it took us a while to learn the lesson.

We now know the particulars of the best rest stops all along the route of the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington, D.C. At the very top are Toledo, Ohio (11:39 p.m. eastbound, 5:08 a.m. westbound), and Cumberland, Maryland (9:20 a.m. eastbound, 7:17 p.m. westbound). The former features a line of trees on the east end of the station, and the latter a collection of weeds and bushes.

With a dog such matters are never piddling.

ADDENDUM April 13:  I should add that our habit of informing Amtrak that we are traveling with a service dog—giving train crews a heads-up on the manifest is always a good idea— paid a small but unexpected bonus on that trip.

When we boarded Train 80, the Carolinian, at Richmond (Va.) Staples Mill station for the two-hour trip to Alexandria, the two business class attendants were waiting at trainside. "Are you the Kisors?" one said. "We have two seats together reserved for you at the end of the car."

And so they were. That was a nice touch.

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