I recently discovered driving with a dog is nothing like driving with a cat. It's not that I didn't think they were different beasts; it's that the situation had never arisen.
I've hauled cats back and forth to the cottage for years. We jam them into their cages, wipe the blood from our arms, and endure the blistering silence that alternates with the mournful wails of our furry prisoners.
When a friend called recently, she asked if I'd help her pick up a dog. I said yes, because if you're a good friend you say yes before you think about it. Maybe not always a smart friend, but a good one.
Danielle had been in contact with several rescue groups, waiting to be matched with the pup she had been wanting for years. It had been an arduous process, and I could hear the nervous excitement in her voice. I asked her what kind of dog it was. She said it was a Pyrenees.
I know nothing about dogs. Danielle knows a great deal about dogs. All I knew was that my role was simply chauffeur, and it mattered little to me whether she had said Pyrenees or Pekinese. Though I would soon learn the difference, I shrugged, and we made the arrangements for the 90-minute drive.
I suggested we take my larger car, but Danielle decided Bernie should get used to "his" car right from the start. I glanced at her four-door Toyota Echo, noted the new blanket she'd placed lovingly on the back seat, and decided leg room probably wasn't an issue with dogs as it is with people.
As we pulled up to Bernie's foster home, a man emerged leading a Shetland pony on a leash. Danielle gave a small squeal. I am fairly certain I said nothing. Nothing at all.
I had envisioned a dog lying on the backseat as I drove. This is not unlike picturing a road trip with children who play the licence plate game, happily sing rounds of 99 Bottles of Beer before falling into gentle naps. My vision of dogs was equally delusional.
Bernie did lie down on the backseat: 40 minutes into our ride home, for five minutes. The rest of the time, he sat on or beside Danielle, his 44-kilogram shaggy body filling most of the car and threatening to crush her tiny frame. Like a new mama, she cooed and cuddled him, enduring misplaced paws and his wandering bum. That new blanket looked as big as a washcloth beneath him.
We drove about slowly until we knew how he'd react before we set off on the long drive home. Turns out that as long as he could see where he was going, Bernie was content. With mirrors adjusted and seats repositioned, we were off.
It took Bernie a while to finally settle on his position. He put his rump on the back seat, his front legs on the back floor and his giant head beside mine. I was driving a dog that required legroom. The rear-view mirror perfectly framed his sad-eyed curiosity, as he stared out the windshield, no doubt wondering where this journey was taking him.
Looking back, I'm actually in awe of how we managed that drive. Not me, not Danielle, but Bernie.
In his short life, he'd endured enough to make any animal scared or angry. But he was truly a gentle giant, and I realized Danielle had made the right call on the vehicle. If he'd had room to stand up, I don't know that we would have done it. Instead, he settled in, watching yet another home disappear behind him.
I've had friends with smaller dogs, and I've watched them pop up into the car like seasoned pros. I wince when I see people who drive with dogs on their laps; it doesn't take much to set off an airbag, and I doubt anyone wants their pup to die in their arms. I've seen seatbelts for dogs, cages and compartments. Until Bernie, I'd never appreciated all that dog lovers have to go through to transport their pets. Cats are pretty much one-size-fits-all.
Once in a while, we all make what I call a Wedding Cake Drive. You are ferrying an odd precious cargo, and you choose calm routes, ease around corners and pray for no potholes. Bernie was my wedding cake that day – if a wedding cake drooled on your shoulder.