Travelblog: Mister Has a Dark Night of the Soul.

Dogs. We rescue them, buy them, inherit them. They are irrepressible puppies, midlife couch-partners or milky-eyed elders with wonky ears. They come from puppy mills, rescues, or impeccable breeders. No matter, once the dog is ours, they immediately become the smartest dog, the cutest dog, the most loyal dog. Every single one of them is the very best dog.

The only thing we love as much as dogs is recounting stories about dogs. Count me in. I’ll try to do justice to Mister’s side of the story because he isn’t as blinded by love as me. Because there are two sides to every story. 

What gives me the right to try? That’s the question we should all ask before putting words in their mouths. I’m a horse trainer who specializes in Calming Signals, or body language, to help people build trusting relationships with their horses. Calming Signals are a universal language, with individual dialects for different species, and the primary goal of listening beyond words. We should think less about how we want animals to change and more about who they are as individuals. That is the starting point in affirmative training. Negotiation begins there.

Mister came to live with me two and a half years ago, by way of a Corgi witness protection program (such a better word than rescue). The first thing this stoic soul told me was that he didn’t like to be patted on his head. Me neither, I thought. Mister didn’t fall in love at first sight, but I had liver treats in my purse. He took a few nibbles, then climbed onto my lap and made himself comfortable.

We chatted, and I breathed with Mister. I told him he was the best boy. Mister had been in three different foster locations while they neutered him and settled his placement. The rescue team took impeccable care of him while arranging his forever home. From Mister’s vantage point, it must have felt like change and more change. Mister probably thought I was another foster. He seemed to hope he could stay, but he probably did that in previous fosters, too.

Mister was careful with his heart. Conservative but hopeful. Mister accepted a few liver treats, but who can say no to liver? Mister was looking for a long-term relationship. Meanwhile, he met my dogs, Preacher Man and Jack. They had some zoomies. Humans thought it was a good match. None of the dogs knew the plan.

Mister had another big change two months later. Post-Covid, I went back to work. I’d always flown to my clinics, but I wanted to drive now and asked Mister if he wanted to be my truck dog and life coach on the road. (Mister would tell you he’s the main character in our travel memoir, Undomesticated Women.) We’re still traveling. We’re up to 22,000 miles and counting. He’s not the sort of dog who likes to cuddle and does not accept public displays of affection from me, either. He’s a stoic dog with a stressful job that he made look easier than it was. Since Mister came, the two of us have never been apart, not for a night. 

But then it all changed when I cruelly betrayed him last month. Mister knew I was packing before I packed, like always, but I wasn’t loading up the trailer. Would I forget the most important thing?

This time I was taking a vacation, the first one in forever. I’d be gone a little over two weeks, an eternity in a dog’s life. I could tell it was going to be hard. Mister was having diarrhea, and I was cooking rice and chicken for him before I was gone. I felt miserable, hoping Mister would have Preacher for company. But Preacher always gets depressed when I’m gone and he’s an elder now. No more zoomies. I left for the airport with a bowie knife sticking out of my chest.

I got home on a Saturday evening. Mister ignored me. He wouldn’t sit on me or bark at me. He stayed in the other room and when it was time to go to bed, he slept on the floor. Mister looked dull, his coat was flat, and his eyes were dark and still. When an animal’s normal behavior changes, I think of health first. Maybe the digestive problems had grown into something serious, or maybe his back went out. When you’re an athlete like Mister, you have your own personal chiropractor.

I made appointments and set about winning him back. It wasn’t as easy as the first time. Treats held little joy for him now. He took them from my hand reluctantly. The health tests said he was fine, but he wasn’t.

So many times, we see our dog’s anxiety when we get back and feel flattered, glad that they’re happy to see us. Looking at Mister, I figured if I was going to leave again, I better have a really good reason. Mister didn’t take it lightly because I told him 22,000 times that it was him and me forever. And I broke that promise.

Mister reminded me that spending so much time alone on the road had left a mark on both of us. We were both a little too involved in each other’s daily business, too involved in our starlight walks, too involved looking out for rogue cats. I knew he’d gotten under my skin pretty deep, but it wasn’t until coming back from this trip understood how deep I was under his skin too. It’s not flattering; it’s choking me with regret.

I know having an animal is a tremendous responsibility, but Mister has me wondering how often we trivialize animal’s emotions and how it impacts their confidence. I’m not saying don’t travel, or that their feelings are identical to ours. Just that I underestimated how hard this would be for him. After all, I taught him we travel together. For all the dogs with “training issues” how many are insecure from being too connected, rather than the opposite? 

As much as we love our dogs, it’s humbling to know they take us even more seriously than we take them.

By humbling, I mean almost scary. Mister is rebounding. He’s a bit less stoic now or maybe I understand him better. Good news, he’s following me into the bathroom again. Mister barks like crazy now if he even thinks I’m leaving, so I slow down and talk to him. We go for more truck rides. He’s always avoided my eyes and still hates being head-patted. But now, when I extend my hand, palm open, toward his cheek, and he tilts his head and leans into my hand. He’s never made eye contact this way before. We stay that way just as long and often as he wants. He says that is the real liver treat. 

I know I’ll be apologizing for a while. I want to say, “Mister, do you know who I am? I am overworked animal advocate who nags and preaches about listening to horses and dogs from dawn to dusk. I just wanted a few days of rest from my workload. But never from you. Don’t you dare think for a moment that La Tour Eiffel wouldn’t have been 22,000 times better with you there.”

(With love, for my friend and her Daily Dog Blog.)

Undomesticated Women, Anecdotal Evidence from the Road, is my new travel memoir. Ride along on a clinic tour through 30 states, 2 oceans, and 14k miles with me and my dog, Mister. It is an unapologetic celebration of sunsets, horses, RV parks, roadkill, diverse landscapes, and undomesticated women. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and signed copies from me.

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33 thoughts on “Travelblog: Mister Has a Dark Night of the Soul.”

  1. This was something I can relate to for many of the same reasons after having rescued many dogs and working with horses. Thank you Anna for sharing your heart. Give Mister a hug for me and a big hug for you. I always enjoy your writings. They inspire me and I hope you and Mister and all your animal companions are doing well today. The human-animal bond shows up in many ways. 🫶🏻

  2. I am glad Mister is forgiving you! I currently have 2 senior dogs who follow me 24/7 from room to room. They Don’t eat as well unless I feed them, they race past me and wait by the car even if I am just taking out the garbage. I feel terrible when we just get settled and I forget something in another room or have to get up…the effort for them to move and get settle again is never worth the additional cup of coffee and I have become better at getting more done before “I sit a minute” Their most settled time is when I sit a minute and they snooze a foot away on either side of me. Certainly this is common for many dog owners. I have gotten to a point that invitations are declined sometimes just based on how I think my dogs can handle my absence at any given time. Not much is more heart warming than a wonderful Dog.

  3. I always feel bad leaving my cats to vacation too. They have an excellent pet sitter but they still judge me harshly once I return home.

    • Shannon – I feel the same. Our neighbors come in and make sure the cats have food but for them the world is upended. Cats don’t enjoy strangers, especially if they are loud. They enjoy their quiet world and us not being here makes it less comfortable. They look stressed and untrusting when we return. It feels a little like I am betraying them by going away.

  4. Hi Anna As usual, your blogs contain much wisdom as well as a great story. Mister sounds so much like my dogs, a Shelty & a Corgi. They are so much like room mates and as for them being ‘just dogs’, there really is no such thing. I consider myself lucky to have them in my life, along with the horses and cats who also share this existence. Take care!

  5. Your essay on Mister puts me in mind of a recent comment in a series of mystery books. In The Thursday Murder Club, (Richard Osman, author) one of the four elderly protagonists wants to adopt a dog. Another member of the club advises against it because of her age, and summarizes his case with this beautiful and poignant statement, paraphrased, “We teach our children to live without us, but we teach our dogs to live with us.”

  6. No worries, I always stress out before going on a trip. It always takes at least aweek to get ready. I only have 2 horses and one dog, it may as well be 10 animals! I am very particular about their care, I always feel like it isnt worth it to go anywhere! It works out better when the same people are involved when we go away. My houses sitter brings her little dog and my dog loves him! It works out very well. I think in time, your
    Corgi will feel more confident when he learns you do come back.🤎

  7. I’ve never been more aware of what you’re talking about than with Goose right now. He has finally found a safety with me that he never had and now it’s my job to help him find that in both himself and a few other trustworthy souls just incase….

    I’m glad he’s bouncing back 💕

  8. OMG, this is beautiful and touching. I had to grab some kleenex. Thank you, Anna, for sharing this with us. Please give Mister an extra liver treat from me. xoxo

  9. I’ve always felt this way about leaving my dog/s, and would rather stay home than take trips without them, much to my husband’s dismay. My Decker has ‘gotten’ to stay with her littermate once or twice; they are the best playmates but my Poppy keeps her eye on me now when we go over for playdates because she doesn’t want to get left. And our rescue Frenchie dreads rides in automobiles, I think because he wonders if he’s being moved once again to a different home. I think it is perfectly reasonable to adapt our lives for the only creature in the world who gives us unconditional love!

  10. Goose bumps!
    I have had a long line of rescues through my adult life; each one “the best dog”. I can’t imagine life without the rudder of a dog to steer me to a grounded existence.

  11. Thank you for sharing this experience you are having with the delightful Mister. I’m sorry to hear he missed you so much, but not surprised. He’s such a special dog, and I consider myself fortunate to have met him in person, and to look after his real estate here in Texas. Hearing about how he is now making eye contact and leaning into your hand I think he has forgiven you for leaving him behind for that trip.

    I will have to think about how these insights apply to kitties since I don’t have a dog. Maybe cats are less attached, more independent, but they definitely respond to my occasional absences.

    • I think cats have more in common with horses than dogs. I always know they notice we’re gone, they don’t like change, but as you say, more independent. And dogs can become almost too dependent. Thanks, Sarah, for looking after Mister’s real estate. And having the cat he is most concerned about.

  12. There is a possibility, Anna, that now Mister knows/feels that you will always come back.
    Every time I go somewhere (without Axel) (groceries or appts) when I come home, there are moans & cries and zoomies – must always hug and pet and love on him – then he is able to go out & pee!!!! Sometimes when I unlock the door I can hear him howling in the other room – but most times, he lays down right next the door & waits.
    Every single comment here makes me feel so at home – every time.
    Its really hard to understand how anyone wouldnt want to feel that love – I guess there are such people – maybe.

    • Before Covid, many of my trips were weeks long, several times a year. Preacher never warmed to other people when I was gone. Does he know I’ll come back? If so, it’s little comfort.

      I don’t know if they decide it’s okay if they are capable of that future reasoning, but I do know they definitely can tell the difference between a trip to the grocery and packing for a longer trip. So smart. Thanks, Maggie.


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