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Dog in the driver's seat.


"I can't imagine what it will be like,' said Lois, removing my binoculars, a pair of shoes, three magazines and a sweat shirt from my suitcase to make room for the overflow from hers. "Our first vacation without the kids.'

I had no such problem--imagining what it would be like, that is. As for packing, I gave up trying to take much more than my shaving kit and a change of underwear years ago. As for vacationing now that our offspring had spring--I had no trouble imagining not having to leave the freeway at the first exit for an inventory of throat-parchers such as popcorn, peanuts, potato chips, pretzels or cheesarinos. No exiting at the next exit for Coke, Red Pop and Teem to unparch their throats. No more delay at Exit No. 4 to buy two extra gallons of gas so the kids could eliminate the Coke, Red Pop and Teem and restock the back seat with another round of throat-parchers. No more brake-smoking stops in a futile effort to get Shari out of the car before she eliminated her popcorn, peanuts, potato chips, pretzels or cheesarinos and Teem all over everything.

Shari, the last of our chicks to fly the coop, had left her free 1416 corner bedroom to roost with a roommate in a broom closet--monthly rate of $137.50 (her share). She'd left us with hearts full of memories, a sign still tacked to the attic door, "NO BOYS ALOUD,' and her dog, Brutus.

The sign we can dispose of, although we won't. Brutus, however, is a horse of a different color.

His ancestry was never in doubt from the time Shari lugged "the poor, starving little thing' home from the school grounds. The poor, starving little thing had feet the size of saucepans and enough surplus hide to re-cover our recliner chair. Surely his father had been crossed with a Saint Bernard and his mother double-crossed by a Russian wolfhound. Had doubt existed, it would have been dispelled with the inhalation of his first serving of bread and warm milk and his immediate, whimpering supplication for the entree.

Where was I? . . . Oh, yes. Mom and pop were off on their first vacation in 18 years alone . . . alone . . . alone. Except for quick stops at the kennel to drop Brutus and maybe along the way for a Big Mac or a Wendy's Frosty, I wouldn't be leaving the highway until mom's eyes began to water and she gurgled when she asked, "Aren't you ever going to stop for gas?'

We were just closing the door when Shari reached out and touched us-- calling collect, that is--to plead her case that millions of animal lovers take their pets along on vacation. I reached back and pointed out that the dogs who go along are no bigger than a bread box, whereas Brutus, with his new winter coat, could-easily pass for a Shetland pony. I nailed down my rebuttal by reminding her that size had precluded the dog's being car-broken. Or even slightly bent, for that matter. Thus the vote to drop Saucepan Paws at the kennel remained at two yeas and one nay when we began loading the car for our carefree fortnight under the sunny skies and on the sandy shores of Florida's Bradenton Beach and points south.

Not until time came to put Brutus into the car did we learn the vote actually stood at three for, one opposed. Brutus voted against even getting into the car. We begged, we pleaded, we cajoled, we bribed. We tugged and shoved and threatened. No way. As a next-to-last resort, I opened both rear doors, went around to one side with his orange tennis ball and prompted Lois: "When I throw the ball onto the back seat and he jumps in, slam your door behind him and I'll shut him off here.'

But the idea missed--Brutus came galumphing around behind the car and knocked me flat before I could deliver the ball. My new jacket-and-slacks combo was now looking as if I had raided a Salvation Army drop box. I had nothing to risk but a rupture by wrapping my arms around him and wrestling him onto the back seat. Lois kept him pinned down while I drove to the kennel.

"Has he had his shots?' inquired the animal innkeeper, pen poised above an invoice pad headlined: "Large dogs--$5 a day.'

"What shots are those?' I asked, trying to retain a semblance of dignity while being dragged across the reception-room floor to a French poodle, sporting a blue barrette, who was giving Brutus the old come-on.

"You can't leave your dog unless he's had his shots for rabies and distemper,' the man called over to me as he retracted the point of his ball-point pen. "And we don't do that here.'

Fortunately, a vet who did that kept shop in the very next block. I chose to lead Brutus. Brutus chose to lead me. Lois caught up with us two blocks away in the wrong direction, where we went through the loading procedure all over again.

"Our dog has to have his shots,' I panted, clutching the receptionist's desk for support.

"Has he been wormed?' the receptionist wanted to know.

I raised my shaggy eyebrows. "What worms are those?'

"I'm sorry, sir,' she said, reaching blindly into the top drawer and miraculously coming up with a six-dollar bottle of capsules. "We can't give your dog his shots until he's been wormed. Put two of these in his food tomorrow morning, then bring him back the next day and . . .'

"We are taking him with us,' I announced. Brutus showed his appreciation by slurruping my right eye shut. "And he'll ride in the back seat-- alone,' I added firmly.

"He'll get sick riding back there,' said Mrs. Wisenheimer, outfirming me, as usual. So, to recoin a phrase, at last we were off for Florida. Brutus sat under duress between us.

And it worked out surprisingly well, for at least 40 feet--at which point Brutus decided that the safest place in the car was on my lap. After running over the curb once and crossing the center line twice, we maneuvered him into a straddling position with his nose out the window on the passenger side. To catch a glimpse of the roadway, I had only to part the copse of his tail hair and peek through.

Now an Einstein I'm not. But an Einstein it didn't take to figure that at 30 miles an hour we'd get to Bradenton Beach just in time to turn around and come back. So we stopped and wrestled Brutus into the back seat. Five minutes later, he threw up.

The nearest exit was 12 miles ahead. So I stopped again, turned the petcock on the radiator for water to mop up--and succeeded in removing the fingerprints from my thumb and my index finger. On the road again, the radiator overheated, so I walked 2 miles to a creek where I could fill my brand-new sun hat with water. It took us an hour to arrive at an exit with a service station that provided water without polliwogs and a bottle of jasmine air freshener so we again could ride with the windows closed.

Our stop at the next exit was for a hot-and-juicy Wendy's Triple. (If there's anything more distracting than a dog's piteous moaning and groaning, it's listening to his stomach imitating water gurgling down a bathtub drain.) At the exit after that we refilled his water dish. The following three exits were devoted to plunging along ditches, through brush, over stumps, up hill and down dale in search of previous canine comfort stations. Two minutes after our last abortive outing, nature, no respecter of car cushions, took its course.

We left Brutus at a kennel in Nashville.

The kennel keeper, a retired veterinarian, promptly came out of retirement upon learning that his prospective tenant hadn't been wormed or had his shots. The worming would be $7, the two shots $8 each. Because we were such good customers (to say nothing of having us over a barrel), he would let Brutus occupy a corner suite for only $35 a week, in advance. This precluded, of course, the possibility of our coming home by a different route.

Our mad money was by now pretty well shot. About the only souvenirs we brought back from Florida were overnight tans (you may have to give that a little thought) and a grotesquely carved coconut to brighten up our attic. As for Brutus, he came home with a dose of mange he picked up in his corner suite. So far we have spent $25 for a cure and he still hasn't got enough hair to make a whisk broom.

Next time, he isn't going. Next time, I'll take the grandkids. The whole rabble.

Photo: A dog the size of a Shetland pony in the car is one thing, but when he takes over the driver's lap, it's another.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1985
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