Traveling Companions

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Tawny (left) and Daphne at our campsite on the bank of the Ohio River

“Oh, you have dogs!” the woman exclaimed with a combined tone of relief and comprehension. She’d been walking purposefully toward my campsite in a crowded RV park when she spotted my dogs, Daphne, the aging black lab mix, and Tawny, the adolescent every-breed mix.

About my age, Joan from Pennsylvania had spotted me an hour earlier as I was checking into the park. She and her sister were traveling cross-country in a camper van the same size as mine but much newer. She immediately wanted to know how an older woman dared to be on the road by herself. When she saw the dogs, she quickly understood.

It’s true that the dogs provide a sense of security, both at home and on the road. They’re friendly, yet they have loud barks that might ward off danger. Their companionship is far more valuable than just the warning bark. A person who lives alone, and especially a person who travels alone, is in danger of becoming totally self-absorbed. Tending to dogs doesn’t allow that. Their needs have to be addressed first thing when I get up in the morning, last thing before I go to bed and throughout the day. On the road, when I’m tempted to pass up rest stops so I can clock more miles, I know they need the break, so I stop. In truth, I probably need the break more than they.

Today as I drove, I managed to find a public radio station amidst the FM static and heard a report about a new study that determined dog owners in their 60s and older walk more than non-dog owners. Another study by the American Heart Association concludes dog ownership probably leads to a lower risk of Cardio Vascular Disease.

Most of all, dogs are bridge builders. They inevitably spark conversations with strangers who want to pet them and know more about them, who want to tell you about their dogs. The other morning, in a crowded campground, a toddler had his first opportunity in his short life to pet a dog. He fondled Tawny’s silken ear, to the delight of them both.

Driving, living, eating, and sleeping in an 18-by-8 foot space with two large dogs does not make for a pristine environment. Both dogs shed. I could sweep and vacuum on a daily basis, but I’ve given up. I’ve adjusted to the fact that I’m privileged to be traveling in a four-wheeled dog kennel with air conditioning, running water and canine companions.

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