Yesterday I picked up Holmes from his breeder’s acreage in rural Virginia. Holmes is a 5-month-old Jack Russell terrier who was bred to be a family pet with a jolly temperament. After talking to the breeder, he sounded like a very nice dog. However, I was worried about flying with him to Sioux Falls. Would he bark? Or have a bathroom accident? I decided to take the journey in stride, come what may. One way or another, we would make it to Sioux Falls. Worrying wasn’t going to help anything.
I met Holmes for the first time the day before. He was far bigger than I expected. The breeder told me he would be 15 lbs when full grown. He’s now 5 months old and at least 12 lbs already. Luckily, for now, he fit into the airline-approved carrier that would slide beneath the seat in front of me. He was a mellow guy, as promised.
When picking him up on the day of our trip, the breeder asked if I had a towel or two with me in case Holmes had an accident or threw up. I didn’t. He gave me a couple. I didn’t realize how soon I’d need them.
Now that Holmes was “mine,” the first step was to put a jaunty red collar on him. He squirmed and didn’t like it, but I snapped it on him. Then I attached a bright blue leash to his collar. One of his fellow puppies had jumped over the fence and had come to see us off. I tried to bring her back to the breeder’s front door, with Holmes on the leash. He had never been on a leash before and would have none of it! He was a dog version of a bucking bronco. We’ll figure out the leash another day. I picked him up and carried him back to the house. The well-wishing dog followed us too.
When back at the car, I shoved him into his petite carrier that was strapped in the front seat. He squirmed like a cat in a pillowcase on its way to the vet. I reassured Holmes that it would be okay, using my calmest voice. Neither one of us was sure about that.
After driving 10 minutes past horse farms and Bed and Breakfast Inns, Holmes continued to thrash and pant in his carrier. I remembered that I had an ancient Benadryl tablet in my purse. I could give him a small piece of it and that might calm him down. But how would I get him to eat it? I had a Lara peanut butter bar with me. I stopped the car and tore off a small piece of the bar and embedded a sliver of the Benadryl in it. Holmes was not interested. The food and speck of a pink pill fell to the floor of his carrier.
I can do this.
We continued driving to the airport on a busy, construction-plagued freeway. His thrashing decreased and he started snoozing intermittently. My right car tires began to sound as if they were out of alignment. Fortunately (and unfortunately), it wasn’t the car. Holmes was heaving. He threw up a baseball size amount of who-knows-what. It looked like the skin of a frog might be mixed in with it. I had no way to pull off the road and clean it up. There were no exits and stopping on the shoulder could be fatal. I kept driving. Holmes crouched to the side in his little box, avoiding his mess. Eventually, he realized there was nowhere to go. He laid down in it.
Oh well. It’s just vomit. Puppies vomit all the time.
Before arriving at the car rental return, I stopped at a gas station. Now in an about-face, he didn’t want to get out of the carrier. I coaxed him out and held his shaking body. I dug my Food Co-op pajama t-shirt out of my carry-on suitcase, grabbed some water and got everything fairly cleaned up.
After returning the car, we boarded the shuttle bus that would take us to the airport. I was strangely calm. The unexpected had happened and we were fine. A middle-aged businessman on the bus told me that Holmes looked like trouble. One family visiting from Asia told me he was “beautiful.” And as he sat on the shelf that holds the suitcases, Holmes threw up in front of his new fan club. I grabbed the t-shirt from my carry-on and put it on the bottom of his carrier, covering up the mess. The businessman asked me if he was medicated. No, he wasn’t. I wished I was.
After getting off the bus, I cleaned up Holmes and his carrier again. We made it through security and several generous folks offered to help me. We took the train to our terminal and found our gate. I took Holmes out of his carrier to comfort him in my lap. He began to heave. I grabbed a towel and he threw up, the third time that morning, into the towel. We headed to the bathroom where a flight attendant held him while I rinsed out the towel. I also tried to wash off my no-longer-white jeans. The flight attendant said he smelled like puppy, which was probably putting it nicely. I noticed that she scrubbed herself like a surgeon after she gave him back to me.
This was not a crisis. It was only a puppy vomiting, but it’s stressful when it’s a puppy you don’t know and for whom you’re responsible. I reminded myself that a lot had gone right that morning. We made it to the airport without a car accident. Our flight was on time. Holmes was not thrashing about in his carrier anymore. He was not barking. Several passer-byers remarked about how mellow he was. I felt a certain kinship with parents traveling with a screaming infant. You do all you can, but sometimes it’s just not enough.
Once we got on the plane, everything was better. Holmes slept the rest of the way or looked out quietly from his carrier. He was no longer sick. If he can adjust to his tiny carrier this quickly, he will be able to walk on a leash soon too.
It was a hard day! But we made it. And as hard as those first few hours with him were, the next 36 hours have been smooth. He’s remarkably even-tempered and is learning quickly. The start of our life with Holmes is off and running.