I've heard some of the most outlandish and uncalled-for commentary for simply traveling with an animal. Some, positive feedback, most, negative.
"Does it eat?"
"Is it for sale?"
"This money/food is for your dog. Not you."
Many people, especially those new to traveling, and those currently only considering about traveling, have a slew of questions for travelers with animals. Some travelers will tell you something about their financial flow improving since their dog became a part of their family. Others will tell you that they cannot live without their partner, for the companionship on the long and tough road works miracles for their mental health (anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts). These things are a very real thing for many of us on the road.
But few responses are honest enough to include the very real ignorance that you may face when traveling with an animal.
Call me cynical, call me a pessimist, but I have my own qualms about traveling with animals. It isn't as easy as one may think. I have always known myself to be a bit more cautious in my decisions than most people I know. Constantly weighing the pros and cons; being sensitive enough to have been very annoyed to the point of anger by strangers who are definitely not keeping you and your animal's safety and well-being a consideration, nor priority. It doesn't matter what you say. If there's someone who's absolutely convinced that 'homeless' people (read: 'home-free') with animals all abuse or starve them, and they will stop at nothing to flag down other pedestrians (and cops) to convince them you are a terrible human being.
In the history of the world, animals have only been domesticated by human beings for such a small period of time as pets and friends, rather than livestock, or working animals (horse and mule drawn tools). The truth is that they can very well coexist on this planet with other animals and utilize their environment to eat, find warmth and shelter and survive (without human influence or interference on their lives), just like their nomadic human counterparts.
In order to avoid conflict and ignorant questions, always have your cat or dog food visible. Whether you're sitting down for five minutes, or five hours, you are fully exposed to the public opinion -- set out a food and water dish. Even if it's not their dinner time, you will notice that not only will the incessant banter assuming your animal starves will finally slow down or stop, but also, I've personally gotten many more kick downs for showing that my animal is taken care of better than me.
It's worth mentioning that my other qualm about traveling with animals is that it makes anything indoors nearly impossible. I've known people who have been robbed of their dog while using the bathroom.
Train your dog to be minimally aggressive when you are not around (barking or growling when guarding your pack or when strangers approach you while you are sleeping) while still friendly to people who come up with blessings and love.
I have always loved my babies, but will not deny the frustration I face when being denied a bus, a ride, or a night on someone's couch or floor or hotel for the night, because of my furry friend... Which really sucks when you're having a rough day, and you're tired of walking, or when the weather is bad.
I recommend carry cases for small animals when trying to get around on bus, or in a building. Sometimes you can throw a jacket over the carrier, and hide the fact there is even a living thing in there.
"But what about when I need to go to the doctor or get hospitalized or jailed?"
This is probably the toughest obstacle you will face while road dawgin' with a dog or cat. If you can, try to link up with a local friend whom you may be able to trust with watching him or her in case of emergency. When travelers get arrested, their dog is put in a pound. Most pounds will give you a few days and a possible hundred dollar charge for holding them. It's safe to say though that you should probably do some research or asking around in new areas because there has been times where an animal has been put in a five day kill shelter when their human was jailed. Others have been lied to about where the animal was taken, or whether it was killed or not.
I personally don't particularly prefer to travel with animals, but here is my experience, which illustrates a few issues that may arise, in only the span of a few days.
Just recently, I have had a friend who had to be hospitalized while we were on a freight train. We were greeted by railroad cops first, but fortunately were not jailed. I was terrified about what would happen to my kitten, Cleopatra.
On a cold bayou night in a town I've never heard of, with the only forest areas mistaken for camping friendly spots were actually only swamps, I was offered a bed in the hospital room. My cat was in my carrier, and had only meowed when there was a nurse in the room. The nurses instantly told me I could not have the cat there. For two days straight, I had to hide her in the bathroom. Lucky for me, she is very good at pottying on cardboard (which she learned in a boxcar!) and in bath tubs and showers, where it's easier to clean. I was so tired and worn out and had to take advantage of the free bed and shower.
Eventually, I had denied the free Greyhound bus to New Orleans that was offered if I had stayed the entire time my friend was in the hospital (he's fine now!), but I had to leave since I had felt awful about Cleopatra cooped up in there, and hiding her from the nurses.
She was happy to be free and hit the road again, but the day we left, we were shown some southern hospitality by being given a ride, a home cooked steak and rice dinner, and a couch for the night in a beautiful home... In which Cleopatra had decided to defecate on a fancy carpet. So that kind of burned a bridge.
One last thing I hate is the sad looks and the whispers of "poor kitty" from strangers who cannot fathom that this animal is free to roam and travel the world, do fun things and see amazing sights, and try new foods instead of being confined to four walls for hours a day while the human is at work with no interaction besides an automated dry food dispenser. How is my cat poor? I have nothing distracting me from her when she's all I have. She's my one and only priority. Most animals you see on the road probably eat better than their human. Any traveler you meet will have a backpack full of dog food, but not human food. Even when we do get to eat, we still share our food with them. My cat ate steak our first day on the road together, after I had liberated her from a neglectful environment in which she had to steal food from dogs to survive.
Always prove that you love and take care of your animal at all times, whether anyone is watching or not. That's your baby, and you're all each other have. When you take care of your animal, your animal will take care of you. Because no matter what troubles and malice from others you may face, you will always have your companion to comfort and love you.
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