Interstate Maggie

by John Delach

Since 1984, we have owned several light trucks referred to today as Sports Utility Vehicles or SUVs. We bought our first light truck, a GMC Blazer, shortly after we purchased our vacation home in rural southern New Hampshire. At the time, we had two Golden Retrievers, Harry and Fred, and we believed a SUV was a sensible way to transport them to and from our home. The four-wheel drive also helped during the winter months. We even equipped the Blazer with an engine block heater so it would start in Arctic conditions.

Harry and Fred took to traveling, but their idea of a good trip was to get as close to us as possible with their goal, to reach our laps. Light trucks were not popular in 1984 and barriers did not yet exist to seal off the cargo area from the seats. Mary Ann took to creating self-made barriers and through trial and error, assembled useable obstructions consisting of tension rods, bungy cords and accordion gates.

Crude, but effective, they worked most of the time until Mary Ann met her match. When Fred died prematurely, we adopted Bubba. Bubba had the determination, strength and intelligence to break through these barriers. His greatest moment came one summer day when Mary Ann set off for New Hampshire with a friend. Later that evening she related her tale to me. “John, I built a strong, and thorough barricade using four heavy duty bathroom curtain rods that fit snuggly into place. Then I weaved bungee cords diagonally across the rods forming a complete barrier.”

“What happened,” I asked?

“Mary and I stopped at the Bagel Store in Port Washington to pick up our breakfast and, when we came out, there was Bubba sitting in the drivers seat. After all my hard work, he had destroyed my barricade in less than five minutes. I actually cried; I was so frustrated”

“What did you do for the rest of the trip,” I asked?

“Gave up,” Mary Ann replied. “But we have to do something as I have had it with that stubborn dog.”

It was about this time that we purchased a new Blazer and Mary Ann told the salesman, “The deal will not be finalized unless you find us a steel barrier designed for these trucks.” He did and Bubba’s adventures ended. When Jumbo arrived, all three dogs rode in the cargo area and never caused trouble.

Then came Maggie. This dog could not ride in a vehicle without becoming totally upset. Her body became rigid, and she started to sweat. Dogs sweat from their mouths and paws and Maggie quickly demonstrated just how much a dog can sweat. Vomiting often exacerbated the experience.

Mary Ann took to nurturing Maggie to get her to relax. First, she sat in the cargo area with Maggie with the back gate open and the engine turned off. She talked to Maggie, petted her and gave her treats. After doing this several times, she stepped out and petted her from the outside. Immediately, Maggie became stiff, and every time Mary Ann started the engine, the results were the same, awful.

In desperation, I purchased a large dog crate, the kind used for transporting dogs on airplanes. We calculated that part of Maggie’s problem was passing trucks that frightened her and the crate limited her view of traffic to the opening at the rear of the crate. Even if it did not work, it would limit the problem to the inside of the crate.

At times she showed improvement, but, if traffic delayed us, or there was heavy truck traffic, Maggie would lose it. She was so bad that we decided not to take her on our first long vacation after we both retired. After returning, we took delivery of our next SUV, a GMC Yukon XL. We drove it with Maggie in her crate up to New Hampshire. On arrival, I happily opened a dry crate. I proceeded to unload our belongings when I realized that, on her own, Maggie had jumped back into the truck and was lying on the back seat watching me. This was unheard of and I decided to test her by driving around the driveway. She was fine so I took her for a short ride. Again, she was fine and, when I opened a backseat window, she put her head out to enjoy the breeze.

We will never know for sure, why this happened. Was it the new truck? Did she get old enough to overcome her fears? Did she want out of the crate, or was she finally car broken? Whatever the reason, we were happy and never considered confining her to the cargo area. Instead, we purchased a cushioned seat cover to protect the back seat and that became her place.

 How far did she come? In January of 2001, we drove to Sanibel Island, Florida. She was great the whole way down, took advantage of rest stops and behaved in the motels. A crowning moment came on the ride home. Because of special circumstances, we had to make the drive with only one stop forcing us to travel 14 hours the first day. She behaved perfectly and became our interstate dog.

We did learn one lesson. Sometimes Maggie put her front paws on the armrest to lean out a bit further. The Yukon had those old toggle switches and, suddenly, we heard her cry out as the window caught her head. She had stepped onto the electric button that raised the window. We adjusted the window and engaged the child-window lock ending that problem for the rest of her traveling days that were all without drama.