Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Oregon odyssey

Four years ago today, Michele and I flew out of the Eastern Iowa Airport to meet baby Phoenix and his breeder, Catherine Shields, Carousel Malinois, in Woodburn, Ore. Michele agreed to go with me because apparently she didn’t have anything better to do. We planned to stay in Oregon for a couple of days, meet some other mal folks and maybe do a little sight-seeing, a comfortable 3-4 day trip.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Our flight to Oregon was uneventful, a good thing since I hadn't been on an airplane since 1984. Seriously. We arrived at Catherine’s house just as she was getting ready to take the Wild litter for their CERF checks. She handed me Phoenix and away we went, Michele and I in our rental car, following Catherine and Laurie with the rest of the litter.

Phoenix was a wiggly, squirmy, chewy, bite-y handful. He kept trying to eat the gear shift in the rental car. I finally pried his mouth off it and holding him up, laughing, said, “You can’t do that!”

He looked me straight in the eye with a “Yeah, right, lady” look. That’s when I fell totally in love with him. It took about five minutes. And I've become very familiar with that look over the years.

That night we went out to supper with Catherine, Laurie and CJ. Then back to Catherine’s to play with puppies and make plans for the coming days. Michele and I both tried some clickering to get Phoenix comfortable with going in his Sherpa bag. I can’t remember if Michele actually had a clicker with her (wouldn’t surprise me, she’s the “go to” woman on all our trips because she always has everything anyone might need) or if we borrowed it from Catherine. Either way, it didn’t do much good. The contrary little beast was not interested in going in the bag without all his littermates. Actually, the contrary little beast was most interested in biting things and eating. (Four years later, not much has changed.)

Here's the Wild litter all snug in the Sherpa bag
I'd sent out to Catherine earlier.
Dunno exactly who the puppy in the front is,
but apparently the whole litter made it a point to go in the bag.

The next morning, friend and fellow weather watcher Rilda called from home with the weather report. An approaching storm was forecast to bring 1” ice accumulations and 40-50 mph winds. The storm was predicted to hit the same day we planned to arrive home.

Michele, who did a lovely job as travel agent, immediately called the airlines to see if we could change our tickets and get an earlier return flight. We were afraid if we didn’t beat the storm home and things got as bad as predicted, airport closings and flight delays might leave us stranded in Oregon much longer than we’d planned. Not that that would have been a bad thing - I had taken the following week off work - but Michele needed to get back to her job.

Now, the irony was neither Michele’s husband nor mine (collectively known as The Jeffs) had bothered to call and let us know about the weather. Apparently they did not care if we got home or not. We still hold that over their heads from time to time.

The airline cooperated and we were able to change our tickets to fly out later that morning, pretty much two whole days earlier than we had planned. But we had to leave NOW! I was disappointed we didn't get to spent much time with Catherine and the other Carousel folks.

First Phoenix had to go to the vet to get his health certificate. That little document cost me $50 and nobody at the airport even looked at it even though I had it clenched in my teeth through most of the security check-in process. If you thought checking through security with having to take off your shoes, show your ID and put all your belongings in those little trays was a pain in the butt, try doing it while carrying a wiggly, squirmy, chewy, bite-y puppy.

Our flight from Portland back to Minneapolis, about 4 hours, was uneventful. Phoenix slept snug in his Sherpa bag. He was more relaxed than I was. So far, we were beating the storm. We landed and spent the next hour in the ladies room trying to get Phoenix to pee on the newspaper I had carefully brought along for the occasion. He didn’t want to pee. He wanted to visit total strangers and chase luggage wheels. Who has time to pee when all those people want to pet you? After living with Jamie’s “stranger danger” outlook on life for 7 years, this was a delightful change.

Then the trouble started. Our 9 p.m. flight was delayed until 10 p.m., then 11 p.m., then 11:30 p.m. I wondered what it would be like to spend the night in an airport with a wiggly, squirmy, chewy, bite-y puppy. (He was actually a doll for the entire trip home.) We finally boarded at midnight. It took about 45 minutes to de-ice the plane. It took 40 minutes to fly to Cedar Rapids and there was so much turbulence the “unfasten seatbelts” light never came on.

Several of the same people who had been on our flight from Portland were on our "puddle jumper" flight from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids. One gal in particular asked often how Phoenix was doing, was he okay, how did he feel, etc. How nice of her. The crazy puppy was sound asleep and oblivious. I was the one who was having little freak-outs and thinking it might be another 20 years before I flew again.

Michele’s husband met us at the airport to pick her up and give me a road report. Freezing drizzle was already coating the secondary roads. My relatively short hop, skip and a jump “back roads” route to our house from the airport was out of the question. The “long way” home was the safest.

Ice accumulation on my van's windshield was starting to out-pace my defroster as I pulled into our garage shortly before 2 a.m., wired from adrenaline and the white knuckle drive home. Our total trip time from start to finish was 26 hours.

Phoenix and I went into the house and found out the Farmer did not share my agitated state of mind and was snoring peacefully. Connor and Jamie were staying with a friend, in anticipation of our extended stay in Oregon. The house was dark and quiet. It didn’t stay that way long, since Phoenix took a dim view of being put in a crate, no matter how warm and soft it was nor how many toys-that-weren’t-littermates were tucked in with him. I slept on the floor in front of his crate, fingers stuck through the wires for comfort. Or mauling.

About six hours later, ice-laden tree limbs and electric lines started snapping and our power went out. It stayed out for six days. With no electricity to run the well pump (this was in our pre-rural water days), we didn't have running water, either. Even with our generator, which we didn’t run all the time, the temp in our house stayed around 40 degrees. Phoenix probably wondered what kind of backward place he was living in: no heat, no running water, only candles and camping lanterns at night. He slept in bed with us at night, under the blankets. He must have heard the Farmer’s ominous warning, “He’ll pee the bed,” because he never did. Connor and Jamie had come home by then and we got up once each night and went outdoors for a group pee (the dogs, not me).

It was a very stressful week and certainly not the conditions I'd envisioned bringing a new puppy home to. I spent the week in my insulated bib coveralls and stocking cap, sitting on the kitchen floor and playing with Phoenix. If we got too cold, I put all the dogs in the van and we drove to pick up some fast food at a nearby restaurant that had power. I cooked a pizza on our gas grill and heated water for minimal washing in an antique coffee boiler atop the grill as well. In the evenings, we listened to the radio and I read by lantern light. It was an adventure, like camping but not quite as much fun. By day #4, I loaded up the dogs and we drove down to my folks so I could shower and do laundry.

Eventually, the power company got things put back together and the lights came back on. Phoenix learned to be quiet in a crate. Sort of. Jamie adored his new baby brother. Connor wondered WTF I'd brought home. I think the Farmer did, too, although today the sun rises and sets on Phoenix, according to him.

Where have four years gone?


  1. Wow, you are hard core. A week with no heat, Id have to go some where like hotel or just south in general. LOL

  2. I'm still waiting for you to grill us a pizza at Christmas sometime!! So glad at least Rilda had the smarts to call you!!

  3. Yikes what a trip and no electicity for a wk you probably wished you had stayed in oregon! That Sherpa bag full of puppies is an adorable photo. So glad you made it home so all of us can enjoy your funny stories about you and your dogs. Phoenix sure has given you alot of material :))

  4. What a great story! That picture of the puppies is so sweet :)

  5. Your column in Front & Finish about that trip and the first week with Phoenix appeared in the first issue of that magazine we received. We've been hooked on Phoenix stories ever since!