Our Dogs Without Us

What our dogs need and what we think they need are sometimes very different.


Last month, my sister-in-law, Leslie, took a 10-day vacation, leaving her little Rat Terrier, Alice, with my sister Pam for the duration. Leslie asked Pam rather than me, because, even though Alice has stayed with me before, this is a long visit, and Pam’s house is better set up for small dogs than my house, with a small-dog dog door to the tightly fenced yard, and dog stairs for the sofa and for the kind-sized bed that Pam shares with all the dogs. No dogs sleep with me, and my fences are adequate for big dogs, but 8-pound dogs could definitely find places to slip out, if they were inclined to do so. Alice would definitely be happier at Pam’s house than mine for 10 days.

Pam called me several times to relate how funny it was that Leslie was so anxious about whether Alice would be OK and how much stuff Leslie brought (food, treats, CBD treats in case she’s anxious, crate, bed, blankie, toys, chews). Leslie also called every few days to make sure all was well and that Alice wasn’t depressed or unhappy.

Pam’s reports, making fun of Leslie’s concern, were hilarious to me, because Pam hasn’t taken a single vacation without bringing along ALL of her dogs, for decades! I think the last time she went somewhere for even a single night without her dogs was my wedding in 1999. (I banned her dogs from my country wedding weekend, because one of the dogs she had at the time was a bitey, barky, ill-mannered jerk, and I knew she would be nonstop worried about his whereabouts and safety on the unfenced ranch property – with good reason! He was always up to something.)

Pam has somehow convinced herself that her dogs can’t possibly be safe or happy without her – but of course, I am aware that it’s Pam who feels anxious without her constant canine companions. And if Pam’s dogs were easy to travel with, I guess I wouldn’t have any opinions about the fact that she wants them with her – but two of her three dogs are not easy to travel with. Daisy, a 12-year-old Jack Russell-mix, gets really carsick and is also fairly barky. Dinah, a 10-year-old presumed Chihuahua/Dachshund-mix, is anxious 24/7, doesn’t like the car, hides from people she doesn’t know, and barks nonstop anytime Pam gets out of the car without her. (Her third dog, Lucky, a little terrier-mix I picked up as a stray and Pam later adopted from our local shelter, is actually a great little traveling companion.)

When Pam goes anywhere, she stays in hotels that accept dogs, pays the $15 or $20 or $30 PER DOG PER NIGHT fees they all seem to charge now, and eats meals in her room, because she can’t leave the dogs in the hotel room or the car, because they will bark and bark and bark. The whole thing – one carsick dog, one super-anxious dog, three barky dogs, a much higher hotel cost, and no meals in restaurants – just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I’d likely stay home!

So this was high-humor, indeed, that Pam thought Leslie was being anxious and worried about leaving Alice for 10 days. Every time Leslie called to see if Alice was still OK, Pam would call me afterward to make fun of Leslie’s worries, which were largely unfounded. (It was true that Alice is kind of high-strung and that she was a little sad and daunted by being one of four dogs instead of an only dog, and she competed strongly for solo lap-time at Pam’s house, starting a few bitch-squabbles with the other two girl dogs. However, overall she coped just fine.)

But we had a breakthrough: After Leslie got home and reclaimed an overjoyed Alice, Pam called me to say, “I know I was making fun of Leslie, but I also saw that Alice was OK without Leslie. I am thinking maybe I might take a weekend trip without Daisy and Dinah… if you’ll take care of them, and can promise me that nothing will happen to them!”

Yay! I was so glad for this news! I happily promised her the moon. I think I said I would even let her dogs sleep with me if they needed to.

Pam just took a trip to the coast with a friend, and brought just her one good traveler, Lucky. She spent two nights in a hotel and ate in restaurants (with Lucky in the car) and got to walk on the beach and go into art galleries and just generally enjoy herself without three crazy little dogs in tow.

A dog relaxes with a dog sitter during a stay over at her home.
My dog Woody at my sister-in-law’s house. He’s pretty comfy anywhere.

Her dogs were fine at my house. They ate their food (no hunger strikes), slept in their dog beds (didn’t whine to sleep with me), didn’t try to escape, and weren’t mopey. We took walks around my two-acre property and they ate chicken poop from my free-range hens and generally had a good time. I’m sure they’d rather be with Pam than me, but they weren’t depressed or whiny or whatever Pam imagined might happen. And Pam had a nice time, too! She had to admit it was so much easier traveling with just Lucky.

Pam and Leslie aren’t the only people I know who worry a lot about their dogs when they travel. But in my opinion, I don’t think it does dogs any favors to not help them learn to be comfortable in a variety of situations and in different people’s care. If something happened to me, and my dogs had to go live with other people, I don’t want them to be traumatized by my loss and by living with someone else. I know they would be just as happy living with Pam or Leslie, or my friend Leonora or my son… I know they love me and are happy with me, but I’ve also left them in all of those other homes for days and they adjust just fine! And that makes me feel good every time I do have to leave.

What about you? Are you OK with leaving your dogs with other people, and are your dogs OK, too? Or do you worry excessively?