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Surviving Prague

First, let me apologise for the lag time between posts… not that I’ve ever been very good at posting routinely but this time, my legitimate reason was a lack of a working laptop.  We’re now back in business so here’s hoping to catch everyone up!  Bear with me as it will take a couple posts to cover the last month.

After we left our lake spot in Germany towards the end of September, we made our way to the eastern part of the country where we spent two lovely days in the countryside at Toril’s Rocky Mountain Horse breeding farm.  This was a much needed break for both us and the dogs, who were finally able to run around off lead together in the safety of the fields there without us having to worry about bothering anyone.  I got a brief horse fix, as we were allowed to say hello to the herd (45 horses strong, with lots of babies).  One of our awesome followers reached out and got us in touch with her friend, who owns the farm.  We were, and continue to be, incredibly grateful when our followers reach out and help us find safe spots to stay, offer advice on visiting their home towns or cities, or send us information about local resources (like vets).  It always warms our hearts that so many people follow our journey and stay involved as we wander our way through Europe!

We initially intended to spend a bit of time with Toril, enjoying the horses and helping around the farm, before making our way to Prague.  Unfortunately, Travis received a phone call on our second night that his grandfather had reentered the hospital.  Of course, he needed to return to the States as soon as possible, and was lucky to find a flight out of Prague less the 48 hours later.  He wanted me to stay on the farm with the dogs, as it would be easier for me to handle them all alone there.  However, the drive to and from Prague was daunting for me, along with the knowledge that we would be wasting a great deal of fuel going back and forth.  I opted to find a real campsite in the city where I could stay safely while he was away.  It would be our first time staying at a campsite, ever, and my first time dealing with nine dogs on my own in a city environment.  To say I was intimidated is an understatement, but despite Travis’s worries for me, I stuck to that plan.

The campsite couldn’t have proven to be more perfectly located.  It was on a little peninsula on the river right dead in the middle of the city.  There were free showers with my stay, and they accepted (and charged me for) all nine dogs.  Despite that, the cost was reasonable; I paid around $197 for five nights with our caravan, myself and the nine dogs.  

We parked towards the back of the site, as far away from the other campers as the little space allowed.  That did put us next to the dumping area for waste, which proved to be a bit of a nuisance.  Not because of the smell, surprisingly, there wasn’t any; but because every day three or four campers would pull up next to us to do their thing and that sent the dogs into a frenzy of barking, howling, and other loud and annoying behaviours.  No one seemed to mind though, and in fact, I had to come flying out of the caravan multiple times to save some oddly brave campers from attempting to pet the mastiffs who were tied outside.  As a dog person, I understand that my big fluffy dogs resemble teddy bears, but I’m continually fascinated by how many people seem to think that their snarling, leaping, obviously aggressive behaviour isnearly  actually them pleading for pets.  In case anyone is wondering, its not.  They truly do want to eat you and those massive snapping jaws are as mean and sharp as they look.  One couple stood just out of their reach for nearly 15 minutes, cooing and making what I suppose they thought were sweet faces while I clung desperately to their leads trying to avoid their teeth myself and tried to make this very lovely but completely non-english speaking couple understand that the dogs were NOT friendly.

It rained a lot while I was in Prague, and by that I mean every single day, all day, except one.  By the second evening, I had developed a routine that ensured all the dogs were happy and I was continuously exhausted.  Wake up was 0700, with puppies going for their walk first.  We walked a minimum of an hour, rain or shine, back and forth along the peninsula.  When we got back, I fed all the dogs, then took the Shepherds and Wasi for their own hour long walk.  Finally, I would get those seven settled down for the morning, sweep out the caravan, empty the litter box, wipe the counters down, tie up the trash bag and take the mastiffs off for their much shorter walk to the trash bins.  More then once I was stopped by other campers who waved their hands at Nibble’s soaking wet coat and asked why I didn’t let her inside with the others.  I had to explain that Nibble tolerates about five minutes at a time in the caravan before she starts tearing things apart in her attempts to get out.  If its raining, make that two minutes.  I spent half my time there trying to coax her inside out of the rain because I could feel the judgement of the other campers as she sat out in the rain, to no avail.  She’s never happier then when she’s dug herself a muddy hole to lounge in while the rain pours down.  I’ve long ago learned to just accept her quirks and let go of the guilt and eventually I shrugged off the questions and let her get on with it.

Friday of that week dawned bright and clear for a change, and I had worked up the nerve to enter the city and play tourist for a few hours.  It took me 30 minutes to finally sneak away from the caravan satisfied that the dogs were sleeping soundly.  For those looking for advice on how to travel with (many) dogs and be able to leave them safely and quietly for tourist stops, I highly recommend mandatory nap times.  Every day, from ten to three, our dogs sleep.  Even if we are somewhere they could be out playing, during those hours, its nap time.  The reason is because those are the hours during which we do our driving or sightseeing.  By creating a routine that requires sleeping during those hours, regardless of what we are doing that day, we have conditioned the dogs.  Thus, when we are on the road, they aren’t restless while we drive.  Or when we want to leave them for a couple hours to see the sights, we know they will sleep quietly and not disturb people with barking.  A set, unbreakable routine is the key to happy dogs even when you’re living a “normal” life, but its a critical part of how we keep them content, safe, and satisfied with life even when their surroundings are changing day to day.  Routine creates easily adjustable dogs!

Not seeing Prague was one of my biggest regrets last year, so this year I was determined to do it right.  The Astrological Clock was my main goal.  I managed to navigate the metro into the city without any issues, and Wasi and I took our time meandering through the cobblestone streets, taking photos and following brown signs for local sights.  I had entered the city around eleven, and it wasn’t overly busy when we started out.  But as I mentioned, this was the first sunny day that week, and it was obvious the tourists were planning to take full advantage.  Within an hour, the streets were packed and I was fighting off a panic attack.  I debated just abandoning my plans, but my pride kicked in and I convinced myself that at the very least, I would see that damn clock.  I made my way to the square and tried not to faint when I saw the crowds.  Purely by chance, I had stumbled onto the clock right as it was preparing to strike one, and people were everywhere with their phones raised, taking pictures and videos.  I managed to find some standing room and did the same, while Wasi made continuous circles around me, attempting to keep people from invading my space.  At 1301 precisely, I fled.  I had managed just over two hours, but I was at the end of my rope; it was time to get back to the caravan.  

It took me another hour and a half to navigate my way back to the campsite.  I got lost three times on the metro and spent an hour wandering blindly looking for the ferry I knew would take me back.  My phone died and I lost even the ability to search for routes, and at one point, I sat down on a wall and sobbed while Wasi tried everything in his power to comfort me.  Eventually I managed to stumbled onto a dock and ask a police officer about the ferry.  A few minutes later I was on board heading towards “home.”  I must have looked as stressed and drained as I felt, because when I tried to pay the captain, he waved his hand, patted my shoulder and told me to have a better night.  There’s nothing more calming then someone’s kindess, and by the time I walked back to the caravan, I was breathing again.  The overly happy greeting from the dogs helped push the worst of the panic back, and by the time I had them all walked, fed, pottied, and resettled, I could look back on the day glad I’d pushed through.

Saturday I spent mostly reading and recovering, but when Sunday dawned with blue skies, I considered the possibility of visiting the castle, which was very close and wouldn’t require entering the greater city or using the metro.  I was still debating when I ducked my head through my little door to climb on the bed, when Zima, who’d been sniffing around in front of me, raised her head at the exact moment I was ducking mine.  Her head slammed into my chin, and my front teeth sliced straight through my lip.  Blood started pouring out and I scrambled towards the window, holding my lip and cursing.  As I searched frantically in the cabinets overhead for baby wipes to stem the bleeding, Wasi and Dobbie jumped on the bed for a romp.  They were coming towards me full blast and I flung my right arm out to ward them off.  My timing, once again, was perfect.  I flung my wrist directly into Wasi’s mouth, seconds before he chomped down on Dobbie’s tail.  The pain was agonizing.  Wasi released me immediately and scrambled to the other side of the bed, clearly shocked and confused as to when and why Dobbie had turned into me.  

I was rolling in agony, my bleeding lip forgotten.  Wasi had closed his mouth with full force on my wrist and three major punctures were the result.  I’m not naturally queasy, but one look at the deep cuts and my stomach turned and my eyes glazed over.  I managed to find baby wipes and laid there gasping with the wounds covered.  After 15 minutes or so, I was able to sit up, clean the wounds out with wipes from the first aid kit, and wrap my wrist.  I was afraid to do anything else, and my hand was completely useless.  The next 56 hours were a nightmare.  Walking the dogs was no longer possible with the use of only one arm.  Advil wasn’t close to enough to numb the pain, and even lifting empty feed bowls had me whimpering and kneeling until the lightheadness passed.  The dogs were miserable and bored, I was in agony, and Travis wasn’t due back until the next morning.  Normally, I would never consider going to a doctor for a dog bite, but this time, I wondered if it was going to be necessary.

I managed to make it through that day and night through sheer determination.  I took the dogs to potty one by one right there at the campsite, fed one handed, filled waters using my knees to support the water jug, and popped Advil like candies.  I kept reminding myself that Travis would be back soon and then I could see a doctor and he could help with the dogs.  Monday took forever to come; I couldn’t sleep through the pain, the dogs were running around the caravan playing and I was stuck eating pretzels because I couldn’t make anything else.  Then I got a text from Travis that his flight from New Jersey had been delayed and made him miss his connection in Switzerland.  He wouldn’t be back until Tuesday.  I cried and cried and cursed the world, the dogs, myself and wondered how we’d all survive another day.  It was one of the hardest moments I’ve ever had travelling.  Sensing my distress, Zima climbed into my lap and snuggled close.  She was followed by Dobbie, then Wasi, Slade, then Nefsi, Syn, then Balkan, Lager, then Moscato.  They laid there with me, paws on my legs, heads on my shoulders, noses pressed to my face while I sobbed.  And despite my upset, I started to smile.  Its impossible to continue to feel hopeless when there’s all that fur around you preventing you from drawing a full breath, wanting to comfort you with sloppy kisses, and smacking you in the face with wagging tails.

We survived that day, the sleepless night that followed, and Tuesday morning until Travis finally made it back.  His travel experience over the last two days had been as rough as mine with missed flights, continual delays, and lost baggage.  He greeted me with mini crumb cakes and goldfish and took the dogs out for a proper walk.  We spent a final night there, letting Travis recover before setting out for Slovakia. 

Prague was beautiful, and seeing the clock was worth it, but I sincerely hope thats the last time I feel like I have actually survived a city!

A Rough Start: RIP Jäger

It’s been a very rough first week, definitely not going to go down as a highlight of our travels.  After crossing into France, we continued on to Belgium where we stopped for the night.  We were tired and sad and not really feeling particularly excited about anything.  The dogs were restless and confused and the cats just plain pissed off about not being allowed out of the caravan.  No one slept well and obviously the puppies adventures the next day didn’t really improve anyone’s spirits.

I spent a lot of the afternoon trying to decide where to go next, as while last year truck stops were a godsend, this year they will prove more challenging for more then one night at a time because we just have so many damn dogs.  We were already down to our last bit of funds, and we needed someplace we could park up and sit tight until the end of the month, when I will get paid and we can make our way to Hungary as planned.  

This time I used an app called iOverlander, where people can pinpoint all sorts of camping spots, from major sites to fields along the side of the road for wild camping.  We had some great luck with this app last year, and some not so great luck (one memorable night I used the app to direct us down a one lane dirt road, across a bridge, and into a gate that clearly went no where.  Turning around was a major issue, and it was past midnight and we were tired and grouchy, not to mention had two guests with us so there was a lot more grouchy to go around.  We had to open the gate for Travis to back up and manoeuvre our way out of there, and we forgot to close it again after all the drama…. To this day we feel guilty and often will bring it up as a prime example of why I am the world’s worst navigator).  After some searching along our general route south, I lucked out on a wild camping spot called “parking lot with a great view.”  The picture looked good and the write up encouraging so we decided to make for it the next day.

That night, I noticed that Jäger wasn’t his usual cheerful self.  He looked lethargic and a little ragged and just didn’t seem as interested in things as he normally would.  Travis took a look and we debated about whether or not a vet would be open nearby at that hour.  We decided to see if he was still eating (always hard to tell if one individual cat is when there are so many), so took him in to the car and offered him wet food, which he happily ate.  He had a snuggle and a purr with Travis, then curled up at the foot of the passenger seat and went to sleep.  Aside from the lethargy, there was no sign of anything being wrong, it was only that we know him so well that we noticed he wasn’t his normal self, and I almost wondered if he was just depressed a bit from being stuck inside the caravan.  We decided we’d take him to a vet in the morning if he still seemed off.  

Two hours later, Travis went to give him a pet, and found him cold to the touch… he was gone.  To say we were shocked is an understatement…. We’re still struggling to understand what signs we missed that indicated anything that would have taken his life so quickly.  He was only a little over a year old and had always been in perfect health.  He’d showed no signs of coughing, sneezing, nor was he running a temperature and his eyes and gums had all looked good (of course I checked those things when I first noticed he was so unusually quiet).  He was eating and drinking and we are at a loss to explain how he could have slipped away from us that way.  The suddenness of it all has left us reeling, and until today, I haven’t even been able to contemplate sharing the news. 

Jäger was, as Travis put it yesterday, the life of the party.  Not only was he a constant companion to us whatever we were doing, but he was Uncle Jäger to the puppies, he even won over Moomkin, and was Kamikaze’s best friend.  I honestly don’t know who is more lost without him, us or the animals, and it seems like we’ve all spent the last week moving through a fog, unable to understand such a sudden loss of our precious Jäger.  There aren’t any words that I can write to capture our profound grief, so I will just leave it at this: we miss him, every second of every day.  And we feel lucky that we got to have the time we did with him, even if it was far, far too brief.

We woke up the next morning in a daze and barely speaking, and set off for the camping site in Germany.  When we got there, it seemed a little bit like fate.  The day after we lost our bunny Sami last year, we ended up at a beautiful lake on the German-Austrian border, where we laid her to rest.  Jäger had been Sami’s favourite, and as I approached the lake for the first time, I knew this was where we would lay our baby to rest this year as well; a fitting place of beauty as perfect as he had been.

The rest of the week has gone by without us taking much notice.  We wake up in the mornings and walk the dogs before settling them down for the rest of the day while the park gets busy and people and other dogs come through.  In the late afternoon, we leash everyone up for our long walk and take them down the mountainside to the lake where, one by one, we let them have a swim or play along the water’s edge.  

The first day there were some ducks in the water fairly close, and Dobbie, having never seen a body of water in his life, lept after them without pausing and took one hell of a dunking… I’ve never seen anything as funny as his shocked face when he surfaced and paddled over to dry land.  None of the puppies seems overly excited about the prospect of swimming, though Balkan could spend hours splashing the shallows and trying to catch the splashes in his mouth.  Nibble, when we take her along with us (her old joints can’t take the strain of that walk every single day), submerges herself in the lake and floats along like a big fluffy otter.  Wasi, who I convinced to join me for a sort of swim on day two, hasn’t forgiven the water since and he only takes a drink after tip toeing to the edge, lowering his body all the way to the ground, and stick his tongue out as far as it will go for a lick before backing up hurriedly as if the water is going to leap up and swallow him whole.  He’s a bit of a drama queen for sure.  Syn and Nefsi both love a swim along the shallows, and Moomkin remains aloof from it all, though we have learned that he likes to watch Travis skip rocks across the lake and will even have a little chase to the edge before watching it disappear.  All in all, they are happy and content, even if having to stay on leashes all the time is hard for everyone.

Travis takes the five adults and I walk the four puppies, in theory because I can train them to walk properly.  To give them credit, they are not horrible for dogs that have had little to know leash training, and with the assistance of haltis on all but the mastiffs, everyone walks without dragging us all over the place.  Slade is definitely the best puppy, he accepts the halti without complaint and walks in a perfect heel though I have no idea where he learned that from.  Zima and Dobbie tolerate the haltis, having figured out that there’s no leaving the caravan without them so they mean walks and playtime even if they are annoying.  Balkan, however, seems to be taking lessons from Wasi, who despite working in a halti almost every day of his life still has to have a battle with it for forms sake when we set off.  Balkan can alternate between walking perfectly or throwing himself on the floor and fighting his face harness with gusto.  It’s hard not to laugh even if it does mean a tangled mess of leashes and dogs and prolongs an already somewhat long and difficult walk.

The cats have given us a run for our money a couple times as well. It’s warmer here then we’d hoped for this time of year and that means windows open in order to breathe at night. Except I’m horrible at remembering to close the damn thing before I take the dogs for their morning walk. On two occasions we’ve come back to cats having escaped and wandering around our parking lot. Once they did this at night, and I spent twenty minutes running around the gravelled lot in bare feet, whispering their names and hissing like a snake trying to get them to come to me without waking up the other campers nearby. I’m sure I looked ridiculous and though Mead came rushing up without hesitation, Moscato had made his way a little ways off and had to scream bloody murder the way he does until I put him safely back inside. If anyone was awake they must have thought I was torturing the stupid animal rather then saving his sorry ass from himself. Kamikaze, of course, being female and ornery, thought the whole thing was game and I tracked her collar bell and glowing eyes up and down the lot, into the trees and back again before threatening to let her be eaten by whatever wild animals roam these parts. That seemed to do the trick, or she just got bored, because she let me pick her up and deposit her back inside while I grumbled about how stupid it is to travel with cats.

I was good about the windows for a few days and then Zima had an accident in the caravan which made me forget yesterday. Came back to Moscato screaming for rescue, again (I don’t know why he goes exploring when he obviously hates it), and the worst possible scenario, Lager missing. Now Lager loves to wander, far and wide, and can often disappear for days at a time back home. While we still had a week planned here, the thought of having to worry about him for any length of time stressed me out and I spent a solid chunk of time calling for him and cursing the fact that I have no memory for important things like closing windows. Travis was too annoyed with me (and obviously worried as well) to join the search and dealt with the dogs instead. Eventually I had to give up, it was too busy and other dogs were everywhere and the chances of Lager willingly emerging into all that were slim. I figured he’d show back up for dinner later and tried to get some rest in the by-then uncomfortable heat. A few hours later I happened to hear the sound of a man whistling for his dog to recall, and I recognised the dog as an older one I’d seen walk by earlier. I wondered if he’d spotted our wayward Lager since he didn’t seem the type to run off, and I rushed down the path for the man to confirm his dog had just chased a black cat into the trees. At least I knew he was around. It took another two hours of waiting, but eventually I heard what I’d been waiting for, the sound of Lager’s pissed off meow in response to my calling his name. I fought my way through trees and bramble and, of course, more thorns, to where he was laying, glaring at me like I was the one who had lifted him bodily out of the caravan and thrown him in to the wild. He clung to me on the walk back, eventually purring with pleasure at my company while I lectured him on the dangers of wandering off in places he doesn’t know. I’d say he heeded my words but I caught him pawing at a window early this morning trying to go out on another adventure so clearly I wasted my breath.

At this point we’re both just trying to hang on till next week when we can make our way to Hungary and our friend, Mark, who we are desperately excited to see. Ideally, there won’t be any more drama, but the likelihood of that is small so stay tuned!

Let the Adventures Begin Again

I thought our first blog of the trip was going to be super boring, a rant about how unhappy we are to have left home and how difficult it is to adjust to meaningless wandering with no schedule again. I should have known better. With nine dogs to keep things interesting, including four very naughty puppies, how could our first day be anything but an adventure?

Today’s adventure took place in Belgium, at a rest stop near Brussels. Using our trusty European Truck Stop app, Travis was able to find a place that had multiple reviews stating an open gate that would lead to a big free area where we could run the dogs off leash for a few hours. As usual, the information was reliable and the dogs spent a happy twenty minutes or so running around and doing their business while Trav caught up with his girlfriend Georgia and I moped around feeling irritable. Eventually, we figured it was time for feeding, since we’d been on the road all morning and had made everyone skip breakfast since it was too busy at the truck stop we spent the night at to safely have all the dogs out at once. Everyone seemed calm, the area seemed secure, so Trav went back to the caravan to get feeds and I stayed to watch the hooligans.

Within minutes, Zima, typically, decided to lead her brothers on a scouting expedition through the wooded areas surrounding our clearing. I followed at first, calling half heartedly to them and glancing back now and again to be sure the older dogs were with me. After getting caught in a couple of pricker bushes, I stopped and realised that Nibble had remained where she was at the gate, intently watching for Travis’s return. Nervous about leaving her where I couldn’t see her when the general public could wander in at any time, I backtracked, reasoning that the puppies wouldn’t get far by the time Travis returned with food, and hungry as they were bound to be, they’d return quickly at the sound of a shaken food bowl… this method worked at home when they wandered out of eyesight after all.

I confidently shook a food bowl and called for Zima and Dobbie a few times, then waited without concern to see the four of them flying towards me, eager for their late breakfast. After a minute or two, I took a few steps towards where I’d last seen their white tipped tails and shook the bowl a little more ferociously, adding in Slade and Balkan’s names and a slightly panicked “PUPPIES,” which we’d used to round them up their entire lives. The adults chowed down while I walked deeper into the woods, and the thorny branches now springing up everywhere. I tried to remind myself that there wasn’t really anywhere for them to get off too, and that they had probably just wandered slightly out of hearing. Travis went in the opposite direction while I started shaking the food bowl constantly and we both called, increasingly desperate and irritated, for our brats. Three or four minutes later, we regrouped where the older dogs had finished eating and agreed that he would take them back to the caravan, change into pants to protect himself from the thorns, while I headed out into the cornfields just behind the woods. Travis’s annoyance was plain, he hadn’t wanted to let them all off at once anyways, and I was trying to cover my concern with a airy comment about how they’d surely be back as soon as we went looking for them properly.

I followed the trail the puppies had created in the tall grass until I reached the cornfield. There was no sign of them anywhere, and only the rustling of the cornstalks breaking up a rather deafening silence. Even the sounds of the nearby highways were muffled in all that corn, and I wished I’d brought Wasi along to keep me company. I wandered back and forth for a few minutes, trying to make a game out of my panic by pretending I was a tracker of old. I scanned the ground for paw prints, confident that four still clumsy puppies would have left an easily followable trail in the deep, impressionable dirt. It took me a few minutes, but I did eventually stumble on a paw print that clearly belonged to a Slade or Balkan. Success, I thought, check me out, tracker extraordinaire! It bothered me a little that there was only one clear print, and none of the jumble of tracks you’d expect from four dogs running together. But I followed the prints I could see every few feet, shaking that food bowl, confident I would stumble onto them at any minute.

Twenty minutes later, with scratches covering every body part, and an itch spreading across my legs and arms from god knows what was on all those thorns and stickers, I broke free of the corn field to a clear walking path. A field of cows were to my right, with an open meadow to my left before it turned in to what appeared to be a Christmas tree farm. The paw prints I’d been following were long gone and after so long struggling along the edge of the cornfield, I was able to orient myself only because the highway was now directly in front of me. The puppies were no where to be seen. I struggled to hold back tears and to silence the berating voice in my head that was reminding me that if they were gone, it was my fault. I spotted our truck stop back to my right and after a few more shakes of the bowl and desperate calls of “PUPPIES,” I headed back. I was trying to reassure myself that they were all microchipped, all had dog tags with Travis’s phone number and our social media tag line, hell they even still had their haltis on so someone would pick them up and get in touch. We’d planned to spend the night there anyways so surely they’d either be found or wander back in at some point in the next few hours.

I braced myself to walk back into the thorns edging the cornfield, wondering if this rest stop had a shower because I was going to need one to wash off all the sweat and whatever poison those prickers had got me with. I could feel blood dripping from the scratches on my legs and sighed at the thought of a pair of my favourite pants gone. It’s crazy what you think about in a crisis isn’t it? About 100 yards along the field, I ran across the start of fencing the truck stop was on the other side of. I glanced up at some trash cans and saw a flash of white… Zima and all three of her brothers were happily digging through what they could reach on the ground. She must have smelled me, because before I could say anything, she looked over and let out a happy bark. All four of them bounced over to the fence line, tails wagging, clearly pleased with themselves and not the least bit stressed from their adventures. They were lucky a fence was between us, because I was torn between overwhelming relief and a very strong desire to beat the lot of them. In the end I just stared for a minute while I took ten deep breaths before shaking the bowl again so they’d follow me and starting along the fence line towards the gate. I had to come off the fence for a while to fight my way back through to the clearing, and I ran into Travis, who promptly jumped over the barbed wire surrounding the corn and went off to round them up. It took me another three or four minutes to fight through the thorns and stickers, and, helpful bitch (literally and figuratively) that she is, Zima reappeared a minute or so in to lead me out… easy for her to do since she could duck under the majority of what was holding me back.

If you’re wondering, there’s no point in scolding them since they had, after all, returned. So we fed them, made a lot of comments to each other about how they’re never coming off their leashes ever again, took stock of our injuries and took them back to the caravan for water and their crate. Exhausted, mentally and physically form the ordeal, I sat down on the sidewalk and was promptly surrounded by happy, not the least bit apologetic puppies. Zima climbed in my lap for a snuggle and I started to laugh… while we definitely will not be repeating this experience (I hope), at least it had forced me to think about something other then missing home. You can always count on the Travelling Menagerie for an adventure!

Six Month Reflection

It’s almost impossible to believe that today marks six full months of travel. If you had told me this time last year that I would be in Bulgaria, having been on the road for 26 weeks, been through 15 countries, seen countless incredible sights, made so many wonderful friends, and managed to add seven more dogs to my Menagerie (oops), I would have rolled my eyes and told you you were crazier then I am, and that’s saying something. Yet here I sit, tucked in the little caravan that has been my home for the last six months, and I have done all of those things and more. It’s weird to contemplate how different my life is then I thought it would be a year ago, and more, to really grasp how I feel about the changes.

I “knew” travelling with all my animals around Europe with no plan and little money was going to be challenging. Everyone knew that. But I had no idea just how plain hard it would be. I could never have anticipated the stress involved with not being able to afford campsites, food, gas, and vet care. I couldn’t have known how often we would be coasting in to a truck stop on the last fumes of gas, or what it would be like to not be able to find any rest stops as the last rays of sun were setting behind yet another mountain. When we lost phone service and reliable WiFi we faced a generational challenge that I know our parents would have laughed at… but you can’t find truck stops on a map!!

The reality of six large dogs and five cats cooped up in a tiny caravan and car is actually brutal… there is nothing fun or exciting about it. It’s dirty, hairy, smelly, and crowded. No amount of vacuuming or wiping down can keep the sheer volume of animal at bay. On the days when there’s no place for off leash walking, the dogs pick fights with each other and the cats to work off energy. Or they bark incessantly until your head wants to explode and you can’t think straight.

I’ve struggled with nightmares and insomnia for years due to PTSD, but on this trip sleep has become a distant memory. The few hours I do catch are often interrupted by high beams at truck stops, drunks throwing up in front of the caravan, or dogs and cats simply stepping all over me in an effort to find a place to lay down. And the fact that I haven’t had any sleep doesn’t stop the fact that they all want breakfast, potty breaks, and walks at the crack of dawn. There’s no option to just throw the door open and let them run around the yard for a bit like back home… it requires fully getting up, getting dressed, putting on leashes, yelling for everyone to shut up and sit down so you can do all those things, and then being dragged out the door and across a parking lot to the nearest grass so the business can get underway. This is rain or shine, snow or blazing heat, day and night. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve closed my eyes and wished myself back to England in my great big house with my huge fenced garden and a husband to lean on when it gets to be too much for me. That’s not an option out here on the road so we just get on with it, albeit with plenty of griping and swearing at the animals and at each other when Trav and I have reached the end of our ropes.

Other challenges are more unexpected. Laundry has been our biggest shock. Laundromats such as we have back in the States are not a thing through much of Europe, especially not in small town, rural Europe where we spend the vast majority of our time. We can go a month between finding laundry options and while I have enough clothes to get through it, poor Travis suffers. More, the bedding suffers. Usually I would change sheets once a week at minimum… I’m used to hair but this is a whole different ball game and it drives me crazy. Showering is another issue. In countries with good truck stops we did okay, but when we entered the Balkans, things weren’t so easy. Here in Bulgaria we have access to a house and shower, except it’s winter time, and the pipes freeze regularly. We’ve gotten real good at washing by baby wipes or showering in 60 seconds when there’s enough hot water to do so. They claim that not washing your hair too often is actually good for it… well mine is being put to the ultimate test; I’m not sure I’m impressed.

The reality of life on the road is that there isn’t a lot of what you see in the photos or on those travel shows. We sight see once in a blue moon and in some counties have missed the best sights altogether because they aren’t practical with dogs in tow. It’s not one big adventure day to the next; most of the time it’s just trying to stretch the last few dollars to feed us all until next month’s pay check and be able to afford the gas to get us to the next country or safe place. It’s wondering how to cook food with no stove and no place to start a fire, and how to stay warm with no electricity when the temperatures drop below zero (the animals are real helpful there)! It’s never knowing where we are or where we’re going next, and often not being able to read the signs that are directing us there. It’s a lot of communication by hand and Google translate and often knowing that neither party has a clue what’s been said. It’s hard and it’s depressing and it’s frustrating and it’s often lonely even with each other and the animals for company.

But all that being said, I wouldn’t take back a single moment of the last six months. We maybe be living rough, we may be taking the longer, tougher road, but damn are we living life to the fullest. No one can say that we haven’t taken the bit in our teeth and ran with it.

I’ve bathed in a lake in Denmark and stood on the spot where two seas meet. I’ve traversed most of Poland in an attempt to enter the Ukraine (which admittedly failed). But I’ve walked the castle in Krakow and gazed through the gates of Auschwitz. I’ve ridden native horses in the Czech Republic and watched traditional song and dance at one of their local village fairs. We made friends there, from both the Czech and from all the way from China. In Austria we may have seen some of the worst of life, but we also saw some of the best. I drove Standardbred racehorses and summitted my first mountains. I rode in ski lifts with my service dogs and danced on the streets of Hallstatt with Wasi. I saw Vienna through my family’s eyes, rediscovered Austria’s beauty through them when it had all gone a bit sour. The friends we made it Austria will be ones we keep for life: we’ve revisited some already and have others coming to see us next month! I finally made it to Italy, and the magic of Venice. There’s more to discover there but at least I got a taste. A dear friend joined us there and made it all the more special.

Entering the Balkans, we had no expectations, no ideas of what life would be like here. In Croatia we were introduced to Rakia (ewww by the way), perfect beaches and the friendliest people around. Bosnia and Herzegovina stole my heart with its unexpected charm and harsh mountain beauty. There I rode horses free across lands littered with the ruins of ancient people’s. The recent tragedy only made the people’s determination to move forward all the more inspiring. We lived in a town that had been at the center of the war, where houses still bore the bullet holes and bombed out craters of the violence. Our hosts there has experienced the war first hand, one on the front lines, another having to give up his eight month old daughter to keep her safe. The shadows of what they lived through was often still visible in their eyes and their hard exterior, though when you got to know them, they were people just like us who wanted peace and prosperity just like people everywhere. They shared their stories and it was impossible not to feel their pain. It was humbling and frightening and inspiring all at once.

Our time in Serbia was too short but we reunited with one of the friends we made in Austria and he shared life there with us. We met his family, had dinner made by his grandmother (amazing by the way). We helped move a (very large) pig and played with some piglets. Our friend shared his family’a story with us, how life had improved for them but there was still more they hoped to do with the house. We talked about the protests in Belgrade and how politics are the same no matter where you are in the world. And again it was brought home to us how very alike people are, no matter where they may be… we’re really all the same at heart.

Now we’re in Bulgaria. In the last six months we’ve rescued two dogs and successfully rehomed one. The second dog has a home waiting for her when she weans her puppies. Somehow I’m once again raising a litter of six puppies born on my bed, nearly seven years exactly since my Nefsi was born. I was just divorced then too; how’s that for life coming full circle? My own dogs and cats are happy and healthy. Wasi will celebrate his one year birthday tomorrow; he will have spent exactly half his life living on the road. That’s one well travelled pup! We lost our precious Sami but we’ve never forgotten her, not even for a moment… she’s still apart of our Menagerie in spirit.

I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know where we will go when our time in Bulgaria is up, or how we will get there. Outside factors have made life all the more difficult right now; especially financially, but I imagine we will get through it. I long to return to England, to my horses, my friends, my life there, but I know it’s not possible right now. There’s so much more to see, so much more to do, and we’ve finally gotten the hang of this life on the road so I suppose we should take advantage; lord knows I’ll never do a trip quite this way again! But it’s certainly been one hell of an adventure so far, and I’m glad it’s not over yet!


As most of our followers already know, we were only a few days free of Kova before our second rescue dog entered the picture. Upon arriving in Bulgaria and meeting our hostess Dee, it quickly became clear that we had one major thing in common: animals. Specifically, animal rescue. Less than a week after we arrived there, we were asked by Dee and her friend Krissy if we would be willing to step in and save a street dog that had been running around the village for a few weeks.

My instinct at the request was initially to say no. First of all, we’d already seen what having a seventh dog along was like with our travels, and it was exhausting. Though we hoped to stay in Bulgaria for a few months, I was concerned that if the host arrangement didn’t work out, we’d be stuck with another dog on the road. Second, the dog in question didn’t meet the criteria Travis and I had agreed to when we acknowledged we were willing to rescue animals on this trip; namely, she was not starving nor was she in what we would consider crisis since a couple locals were feeding her twice a day. So I was reluctant to say the least.

Two things convinced me to change my mind. The first was the news that the Kmet (the village mayor), who hates dogs, had decided the dog in question was a nuisance and had arranged to have her picked up by local animal control and transport her to the shelter. On the surface, this may seem like a positive option for a dog, it gets them off the streets at least. But animal shelters in Bulgaria aren’t like animal shelters elsewhere… the reality was that this was a death sentence for the dog. The second was the first picture of the dog I saw. It was, for a moment, like looking at a ghost.

Nearly a decade ago, I rescued a puppy in a national park in Kentucky. I named him Zilpo after the park we found him in. He was one of the best dogs I’ve ever had, and ultimately, he lived his life out with Travis’s family after I joined the Air Force. We lost Zilpo only a few months ago, far too early. When I saw this dog’s pictures, it was like looking in to Zilpo’s sweet face again: I couldn’t say no.

We went to pick her up on a Saturday night. She was waiting with Krissy in front of the apartment complex, and she came straight to me, shy but sweet. In the first glance, I once again balked… she was very clearly very pregnant. To be honest, in that moment I almost backed out. Seven dogs temporarily is one thing; but puppies? In my tiny caravan? And an intact female who would not be able to be spayed promptly with my intact Wasi who is quickly becoming very aware he still has his balls? It was a recipe for disaster. In the end though, it was the very fact that she was pregnant that swayed me to follow through: if the shelter option has been a likely death sentence before, it was a 100% certainty she, and her puppies, would be dead within the day if we sent her there now.

I named our new rescue Gabrova on the five minute ride back up the hill, for the region of Bulgaria we are in. I call her Gabbie. She spent the first night in the car since it was too dark to try a pack introduction. I barely slept that night, worrying she was too cold and too pregnant. The next morning I woke up, put her on a leash, and brought her in to the caravan. It was a risky introduction, completely unlike me. But some instinct told me that it would be okay with this dog.

And it was. Gabbie was the perfect mix of submissive and stand her own ground. My other dogs took to her like she’d always been a part of the pack. Only Wasi was initially a problem, because he fell head over heels and abused her constantly. She put him firmly in his place until he got his hormones under control. The other dogs barely seemed to notice she was there. Even Moomkin liked her straight off.

Over the next few weeks, Gabbie stole my heart. She is sweet, faithful, silly, and just plain wonderful. In all my years of animal rescue, only Syn has been a foster failure. I am very good at rehoming the animals I take on. With Gabbie, it was a daily struggle to even consider finding her a new home. She just… fit. So you can imagine my heart break when the perfect family came forward for her. I was torn completely in two. I didn’t need a seventh dog by any means, but I love Gabbie, fully and completely, in a way I rarely do even with my own dogs. It took all my common sense, and the fact that it truly is the absolutely perfect family to convince me to commit to letting her go.

Gabbie’s new family is waiting patiently for her in Scotland. They keep in touch and are already as in love with her as I am. I know she will be happy there and that I made the right decision. I’m trying to savour every moment I have with her now, since I know one day soon I will have to give her up. In the meantime, I’m not only getting to love Gabbie, but I’m also getting to love the six healthy puppies she gave birth to on the night of January 2, into the early hours of January 3. Sadly, I only had 48 hours with tiny puppy number seven, Zagora, who was just too small for this great big world… but at least I got that with her.

To bring this story full circle, one of Gabbie’s puppies will be returning back to the States with Travis to live with his family there… because I am 100% positive that Zilpo was born again in this litter, and we’re getting our very own version of A Dog’s Tale. It’s a fitting link in a rescue tale that almost didn’t happen because she didn’t “fit the criteria.” Gabbie brought us new life in more ways then one, we will always be thankful.

Happy New Year

I know I’m late and that I’ve been absent for a few weeks. Suffice to say, when I can’t get my happy pills, just waking up in the morning and dealing with my dogs tends to be all I can handle in a day. That and the fact that my thoughts always turn rather morose during those withdrawal episodes kept me from wanting to write and bring everyone down with me. But I’m happy to report that good old Bulgaria has an unlimited supply of Zoloft and I have stocked up for the foreseeable future and after about a week back on them, I’m feeling much more myself again!

The last few weeks have been mostly quiet to be honest, so I haven’t missed much. We’re nicely settled in to our routine here in Gabrovo, though admittedly that routine has including a rather hermit-like existence for myself as I’ve been on puppy watch! I’ll go in to more details on her own post, but suffice to say that we have our second rescue dog of the trip, along with the seven adorable puppies she gave birth to yesterday. I know, what in the hell were we thinking. Stay tuned!

Our holidays here in Bulgaria were wonderful, aided by the fact that our hostess has already become more family then friend. We were included on all the festivities, and they even bought us some Christmas gifts. I managed to watch White Christmas on Christmas Eve, my personal tradition, and made everyone some American chocolate chip cookies.

Christmas morning Travis whipped up some an awesome American breakfast (we shared lots of home with our friends this holiday!) of pancakes, eggs, and bacon and of course, mimosas! I engaged in a game of monopoly with Sky, which I was obviously winning before we gave up. The kids were thrilled with their presents and I was so touched when we got ours. We also spent lots of time FaceTiming back with our own families back home, and I admit to more then a touch of homesickness.

The week between Christmas and New Years was marked by warmer temperatures and mostly by me complaining about the overwhelming amount of mud in the caravan. I can deal with a fairly high degree of mess/dirt, obviously, or I wouldn’t be able to travel like this with my animals, but even I have my limits. Mud, especially of this heavy, clay variety that sticks to everything and doesn’t easily brush or vacuum off is enough to make me break out into a full blown panic attack, which I did multiple times. Thankfully, Nefsi may be retired from public access work but he’s still on point at home and he was able to bring me around before I lost my mind. Wasi is doing his best but his idea of disruption is currently to launch himself in to my arms and slather me with slobber… a would be effective tactic except I hate dog kisses and it makes me even more strung out. We’re working on it, he will get there.

For New Years, Dee and I struggled to stay awake until midnight and ended up cuddled up in her bed with six dogs and who knows how many cats about two hours out. However, thanks to Wasi’s insistence that he could also fit (he couldn’t) and his repeated attempts to do so (I still have the bruises), we weren’t able to succumb to sleep before the year changed. We rang it in with sparkles and lots of noise and then hightailed it to bed.

Now we’re a few days in to 2019 and I’m taking a moment to look back over the last year. It’s been a long one, with some incredible highs and some seriously low lows. I want to say the ups outweighed the downs but honestly, I think it probably came out pretty even. All things considered, that’s better then expected so I’ll take it. I do know that I’ve had one incredible experience after another this year, from filling a lifelong dream of riding racehorses in Newmarket, England to taking the leap and embarking on this insane tour of Europe with my furry family in tow. No one can say that I’ve let PTSD take life away from me, that’s for sure, and since that’s my daily goal, I’m satisfied. This coming year I’m hoping to find a bit of the opposite of what I found this year: less questions and more answers, less drama and more peace, less restlessness and more stability… most of all, though, what I’d like to find in 2019 is a home to call my own, where I can reunite my horses, safely house my dogs and cats, and never have to worry about losing it all again. So here’s to that!

P.S. I also want a really good vacuum this year… my life in the caravan would be so different with a really good vacuum 😂!