Words by Dorian Mode. Photography Lydia Thorpe
With international travel impeded by lockdown, seniors are choosing long driving holidays. Sometimes these holiday destinations allow you to bring your best mate. No, not your spouse. I’m talking about a driving/drooling holiday with your dog.
Some issues ago you may recall me visiting the Snowys Region to fly-fish, only to get the dates wrong on the legal fishing season (some streams close in winter to allow fish to spawn and update their Facebook profiles). So unable to fly-fish, Dave and Deb – proprietors of Elm Cottage in Tumut – kindly invited me back for the summer. But with no one to look after our boxer, Dougal, Mrs Pictures was chary of coming.
‘Why don’t we simply bring Dougal?’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Sure,’ I reply. ‘Elm Cottage is pet friendly if I recall.’
My wife looks uneasy.
Why? Well, being travel writers for the last 20-odd years, we’ve never brought our pets to work. For us, it’s usually a working holiday of sorts. So after checking with Elm Cottage, I packed up the fly rods and dog bed and pointed the Toyota south.
From where we are on the Coast it’s about a five-hour drive to Tumut. But it felt like fifteen, with Dougal silently ‘crop dusting’ in the back and panting like a marathon runner. The smell was appalling. Dougal was stressed. Don’t know why. We have him in the car all the time – albeit short trips. Naturally, we scheduled plenty of lift-the-hind-leg stops and drink-noisily-from-a-bucket stops but this did little to temper his anxiety. We half wondered if he would have been happier in the backyard at home and fed by our neighbour.
But as we pass the point of no return on our journey, it’s “lead on McWoof”. However, each time we step back into the Rav4 after a wee break, no amount of Channel No5 expunges the fruity aroma of this anxiety. We sit driving cross-eyed half the time. Suddenly my wife says, ‘Incoming!!!’ And we lift the front of our shirts over our noses. In the end, it is easier to simply drive with the COVID masks on, earning quizzical looks from passing motorists.
As we arrive at Elm Cottage it’s exactly as we remember: neat as a pin. Luxurious but unpretentious. And for less mobile seniors reading this, there are no stairs. The property is as flat as a billiard table. And all this pet-friendly luxury framed by that wonderful trout-filled river burbling at your doorstep. Heaven. And there is nothing to bring except a fishing rod and groceries (linen & towels are included) which are easily purchased in town. As previously mentioned in articles, I never understand people scrimping to save a few shillings to stay in a cheap motel when for a few shekels more you can cook in your luxury cottage and save on overpriced restaurants, which are often noisy and disappointing for the money. Besides, where would you get a better view with your meal than at Elm Cottage?
Moreover, Elm Cottage is inaptly named. It should be Elm Cottages as you can stay at the cottage of your choosing. The last time we stayed at Elm’s Red Gum Cottage. But this time we are in our favourite: River Gum Cottage. And what’s special about River Gum is while all the cottages have your private trout stream at your doorstep, the section of the river below River Gum is specially cleared for fishing tragics like yours truly. This means that Mrs Pictures reads a book on the cottage balcony periodically lifting her head to see me poke around my private river below. Only this time Dougal watches me from the balcony like a frog watching a fly. God knows what he’s thinking: seeing his master clad in muted colours, stalking the river and casting a fly rod. Is he throwing a stick at an imaginary dog? What a weirdo. Suddenly, Dougal would come bolting down the hill and spear into the cool river like a high-diver, spooking all the trout for the ‘evening rise’.
Now, the plan was to have Dougal sleep on said balcony. But he simply wouldn’t stop panting with anxiety. We were at wit’s end. So we brought his dog-bed inside and he slept/panted there. It took a couple of days for him to finally settle down. At one stage we thought of visiting the local vet to buy Valium. Not for him but us.
But our sojourn wasn’t all about me and my fly rod (sadly). We did poke around town. I always find something new in Tumut. Here we visit the restored Tumut Railway Station where we learn that Tumut – equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne – was earmarked as the nation’s capital before Canberra was imagined. Who knew? And we also visit the flanking pioneers’ graveyard. We keep Dougal in the car as we feel it’s disrespectful to allow him to lift the back leg over Elsie – died 1898. A Devoted Mother and Cat Lover.
We later visit the Tumut River Brewing Co and meet the owner. This micro-brewery is uber cool with 24 beers/ciders on tap including a range of staples, limited release seasonal offerings as well as rotating “guest taps”. They also offer a selection of locally sourced wines and gourmet pizzas. They’ve earned national awards for their booze and patrons can sample these via their taproom and/or a brewery tour on request. Psst! Be sure to check their gig guide on their website as visitors can also enjoy live music – remember live music?
But generally, Dougal is so stressed we can’t stay anywhere long, let alone see a band. So no cafes, charming country pubs or hip micro-breweries. But as aforementioned, Elm Cottage is all set up with a BBQ on the balcony and a newly renovated kitchen. So we had a ball, snug in each other’s company as we have been for 35 years.
To conclude this yarn about travelling with Dougal, I thought I’d have a chinwag with my local vet, Dr Graeme Cross at Petstock Vet Erina. Graeme is a dear mate and fellow jazz musician.
1. Graeme, we travel with Dougal in the car all the time (local park, beach, you) so why was he so stressed? We thought of taking him on holiday with us he’d be happier than a dog with two…
GC: Dogs don’t do too well with movement. It’s a primal response. It’s all-new stuff. He’s familiar with his local environment and feels anxious leaving it. Simple as that.
2. Are certain breeds more prone to anxiety?
GC: Yep. Staffies, boxers (like Dougal) and some smaller breeds aren’t great travellers.
3. How can you make your dog less anxious on a long road trip?
GC: Don’t play heavy metal in the car! (Bach?) In other words, no loud noises. Whispering is good. Did you know that dog TV is now available if you have a tablet? Short trips are good: the beach, the park etc. Judicious use of medication on short trips works well, too. I recommend a bit of both.
4. Can I give dogs human Valium or antihistamines?
GC: [Chuckles] It’s not advised. Drugs don’t work the same on pets as they do on humans. (So nothing in the bowl at the micro-brewery?) There’s a new generation of drugs that are available for pet anxiety that work well. They’re more effective than the medication even four or five years ago. They now work within half an hour. You can also try a pheromone spray that is a reassuring scent for pets.
5. How should you travel a long distance with a dog in a car?
GC: Try and keep the climate good – as you would do for small children.
6. Do dogs get car sick like humans?
GC: Yes, they do as a matter of fact. They can get the same kind of motion sickness humans get. Interestingly, their brain is wired up much the same way for motion.
7. Is it illegal to travel with an unrestrained dog in a car? Do they have to wear seatbelts?
GC: It’s advised to have a dog restrained in the car – more for your safety as a driver than anything. You can kind of clip a lead into a seatbelt in your car. Or there are specialty dog restraints for travelling with your dog in a car.
We sell them at Petstock.