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The adventures of Loren and Michelle on the road

Posted: May 23, 2009 9:32 p.m.
Updated: May 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Editor's note: Signal Feature writer Michelle Sathe will be taking a seven-week sabbatical to promote homeless dog adoptions. She is taking a rescued pit bull, Loren, along with her as a companion and mascot during their cross-country trip. The Signal will be following Sathe's and Loren's trip every Sunday with a column on their latest adventures. This is the duo's first column from the road.

On our first full travel day we made it to the Grand Canyon. We arrived around 7 p.m. and met Stefanie, a former Brittany Foundation volunteer who lives in Utah, and her boyfriend Dave. They were there to greet us, set up our tent and make us dinner - grilled chicken and salmon and steamed squash. Yum! Stefanie and Loren had a tearful reunion - at least on Stefanie's side. Loren has just been wagging her tail nonstop since we left the Brittany Foundation, when she's not sleeping.

Loren is the perfect travel companion. For the first hour, she was very excited and sat in the front with me. Then she discovered the back cab, where my dog Jake (RIP) used to sleep and that was that. She napped for almost the entire rest of the trip, except when we would stop for restroom and iced tea breaks.

One such stop was in Goffs, where there was a really surreal old school gas station and convenience market overrun with German bikers. They charged me $6.50 for a small iced tea, bag of Cheetos and a banana. Can you say extortion? Loren likes Cheetos, by the way. (Don't worry Nancy, I only gave her a few).

The scenery was pretty boring - lots of flat, desolate desert - until the last 50 miles before the Grand Canyon. From there, lots of red rocks and fluffy trees, gorgeous high desert country and fresh, pine-scented air.

Our camping spot is awesome, right on the corner and across the street from the bathroom. We slept pretty well, except that our air mattress sprung a leak and was flat by midnight. Not good for my 40-year-old hips. I just threw down some extra blankets and tried to make it as comfortable as possible. Loren is a trooper. She slept the whole time, snuggled up to me, snoring contentedly.

The weird thing about this trip is how natural it feels to be with Loren. I knew she was a special dog, but she really is the perfect travel companion. She doesn't bark or get crazy, even with all the campground commotion - cars, dogs, people, ravens with wings so big you can hear them flapping against the wind and the loud cicadas chirping in the trees.

When we came out of the bathroom this morning, there was a lady holding a tiny Chihuahua and a "min pin" that barked at Loren.

She just looked at them, startled, and kept going. "It's always the ones with a ‘good' reputation, huh?" said a young man who observed the scene.

True story: Loren has been nothing but sweet to people since we've arrived. When we checked in, she walked up to everyone in line, like, "Hello, I'm here, please pet me." A teenage boy named Oscar did just that and when I told him she was a rescue dog and we were promoting animal adoption on this trip, he said, "That is so cool." It is.

The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is gorgeous, everything you'd think and more - immense, colorful and awe-inspiring. Stefanie and I are on the same page - we'd hate to have been explorers back in the day and come across that. How the heck did they surmount it? (I'm sure there's an answer, but I'm not a history buff). We're both very grateful for the modern conveniences we enjoyed while camping - hot showers, cold drinks and a lantern to light our way at night, when we weren't gazing at the stars.

Along the Grand Canyon rim, Loren met many friends. The first were some kids who asked if they could pet her - their parents praised them for asking first, which everyone should do before meeting a new dog. Loren, as always, loved the attention.

She wasn't the only dog on the trail. There was a schnauzer and a big, black Afghan, who must have been suffering under all that fur. It was pretty hot. Loren ignored them both, intent on the trail smells. She's really more into humans than canines. It's nice that she's not aggressive towards other dogs, though, as that can be fairly common with pits.

As Loren insisted on one of her many breaks (which usually happens every few minutes under shade), we were approached by two young men from Phoenix. Soon enough, Loren was kissing all over one of them, which he insisted he didn‘t mind. He said he wanted to adopt a dog like Loren, had he not lived in an apartment. I suggested a cat.

Next up came a senior couple from Little Rock, Ark., whose 12-year-old pit bull was lounging in the car. They told us their city has an ordinance banning pit bulls and that a police officer had threatened to confiscate their dog while they were shopping one day.

"Over my dead body," the lady told the officer, who, thankfully, let her take the dog home, with the admonition that she keep the pit under cover. They don't even take the chance of walking their beloved dog around the block for fear of being turned in.

This blows my mind. The thought that Loren could be taken away from me while we travel and put to sleep because of some short-sighted, ignorant breed ban makes me sick. I've made it a point to avoid Denver as such, and someone told me that Kansas has a similar ban. What is wrong with people? Sigh.

After an hour or so, our group tired and headed back to the campsite. I took Loren's dog bed and a few blankets and pillows to set up a makeshift outdoor bed, where we laid for an hour of so in the shade. Mather Campground is pretty cool, should any of you be looking for a place to stay while at the Grand Canyon. Sites are big, fairly private, there's nice facilities and people are really friendly.

We cleaned up for dinner and made it back to the canyon just in time to get some cool sunset shots, then back to camp for our final night together. A campsite neighbor, Dan, joined us briefly. Though Loren had been kissy poo with him just that morning, as he approached in the dark, she got very assertive, growling and pulling against her lead. This is the first such behavior I've seen from her, which made me feel kind of good, since she's my only companion on much of this trip. Once she figured out what was going on, Dan was back in her good graces, receiving many more kisses.

We slept better tonight, thanks again to the dog bed and blanket combo. Late in the evening, some coyotes were getting crazy with their howling, yet Loren remained calm - not a bark. She just snuggled in closer to me. If you like sleeping with dogs like I do, Loren is a dream come true.

After a communal meal of Grape Nuts and fruit at 8 a.m., where we were briefly joined by a deer foraging in the camp, Loren and I bid adieu to Stef and Dave and headed for Albuquerque, N.M. As usual, Loren slept much of the way in the back cab. If I looked back or made a sound, she would pop open one amber eye and stare at me lazily. Sometimes she'd come up front and hang out with me before falling asleep, using the stick shift as a sort of pillow, which could not have been very comfortable, but I appreciated the company.

Loren might not be the perfect travel companion - because she can't drive - those miles can get might tiring. Especially on long desert highways - some of these road stand signs are so old that they still advertise Kodak film. There are pretty parts, where the mountains are a rainbow of reds, copper and green - and the sky is wide and dotted with puffy clouds.

Albuquerque
We are staying in a motel for two nights with a kitchen, desk and other creature comforts. I took a nice, long shower and tried to scrub some of this red dirt off me, though poor Loren still looks a little like Pig Pen.

As we headed out this morning, we met the motel's maintenance manager, who came over to pet Loren. "What a pretty girl," he said. Turns out he has two pits and used to work at an Albuquerque shelter, which he couldn't do for long when dogs he cared for would be put to sleep. I told him that I volunteer at the Brittany Foundation, where Loren is from, because they are no-kill. While I greatly admire shelter volunteers and workers, I know it would be too heartbreaking for me.

Yesterday, when we checked in, we saw a family with a small Chihuahua, who looked at Loren in fear. "I think she's a pit bull," they whispered to one another and quickly closed their motel room door. I wanted to run over with a postcard and introduce Loren, but I tend to wait until people approach us, rather than beat them over the head with our message. Our friendly maintenance man told me he has only been bit once at the motel, by a small dog that attached himself to his calf and wouldn't let go - classic.

After an iced tea and lemonade, I was feeling way more frisky, so we cruised around a bit. Downtown Albuquerque is really cool, kind of like a desert Portland, with funky shops and cute little adobe houses mixed in among more traditional architecture. Even the freeway overpasses are painted peach and blue.

It can be hard traveling with a dog at times. Besides her inability to drive, Loren has had some pretty brutal gas (her new nickname is Stinkerpot) and doesn't hesitate to share it with me. Also, we really need to do things either in the morning or at night, as it gets too hot here for Loren to be in truck without air conditioning.

Case in point - our brief hike at the Petroglyph National Monument, where we arrived around noon. We hiked only about a 1/2-mile of the 1-1/2-mile trail, since a lady with three dogs had warned us at the start that the sand got really hot the higher you travel.

Loren, of course, was panting after just a short time and seeking shade wherever she could find it, which was sparse in that terrain.

Funny, people think pits are such big, tough dogs, but they're really rather delicate creatures. Loren's very fair on her nose and has light pink skin under her sparse fur, especially around her belly. She much prefers the coolness of our air-conditioned room to roughing it outside, so we cut our hike short.

Even with the limits, I still love having a dog with me while traveling. A few years ago, I drove to Portland and stayed a week without any canine company and wanted to go home within two days. I don't feel that way at all right now and we're on day four.

It's like Loren is my dog, though I know she's not and I tell everyone we encounter that she's available for adoption. My sincerest hope is that she will have 10 worthy people lined up to take her home when we return, especially since we have a weekly column running in The Signal.

We still have 45 days of exploring to do, so for now, I'm not going to worry about it. For now, Loren has a home with me.

For more information on Michelle Sathe and Loren's road trip, visit www.dogdaysbook.com. Loren is available for adoption once she returns. For more information on adopting Loren, as well volunteer and donation opportunities, visit www.brittanyfoundation.com or call (661) 713-5240.

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