Han’s Best Friend

Anyone who knows me probably knows my dog, Hank. If you haven’t had the chance to meet Hank, let me introduce you.

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“Don’t you go in that pond, Hank”

Hank is my big, yellow, shedding, guyliner-wearing, sweet hunk of a doggo. I adopted him back when I lived in Birmingham, AL from a shelter who described his living conditions before his arrival as abysmal. He was a year old, and he had never been introduced to toys, to leashes, or treats…he didn’t know love.

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The first photo I have have Hank: in his kennel in the shelter. Its so heartbeaking

We had to start from the bottom and learn all of the basics: this is your food, and no one will take it from you. This is your bed; you’re always allowed to sleep in it. Yes, these toys are for you, play with them. The crate door will always be open, but you don’t have to stay in it. My hand is only raised to pet you, please don’t cower in fear. Yes, I am your person, and I won’t ever leave you.

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At home in Mississippi, riding in the Ranger.

Truth be told, I thought I wasn’t making much of an impact on him. He didn’t seem happy months after I had adopted him. He wouldn’t interact with me, he wouldn’t stay in the same room with me, and every time I left him he destroyed the things I bought for him. I’m ashamed to say that I gave up on Hank—I made the decision to return him to the shelter. I had convinced myself he would be better off with someone else. But then it happened. After making up my mind I took Hank to the dog park—I wanted to give him one last romp around before I returned him to the shelter where I had adopted him. I sat down on the ground at the park to watch him play, and as I sat I noticed another dog lingering close by. After a few moments I saw that the dog’s hackles were raised, and his teeth were bared. He was glaring at me. His body was low to the ground and he was making slow steps forward. I heard a slow, deep growl come from the dog’s chest. I didn’t know what I had done to illicit this type of behavior, but I knew I needed to act fast because I was about to become the victim of a dog attack. I started to raise my arm to guard myself as the dog lunged forward. All I remember seeing is a blurred streak of yellow barreling through. Before I even had time to think through my defense, Hank had met the dog head-on and took the bite that was meant for me. He fought for me. He saved me.

Hank saved me.

Luckily, Hank only received superficial wounds from the attack. I fixed them right up with some antiseptic and a couple pickle-free Chick-fil-a chicken sandwiches. My dog wasn’t going to eat measly brown pebble dog food after the way he had bravely defended me.

And that’s when it finally stuck. Hank was MY dog. From then on out I never questioned his loyalty to me, and he has never let me down. It wasn’t the only time Hank would save me, though.

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Playing in the Mississippi snow! 

 

I’ve spoken openly about the extent of my depression in prior blog posts. It’s the first time I’ve been completely honest and open about how badly the condition affected me. The early years were hell. In those times while I was suffering in silence, not convinced I needed help, feeling ashamed that I couldn’t make myself better, Hank was there. He knew how I felt before I even felt it. On the days I needed cheering up, he was silly. He would do anything to make me laugh. The persistent little joker wouldn’t let up until I acknowledged him and his antics, and seeing my smile only made his antics get crazier. On the days I was angry, he was steadfast. He let me yell, he watched me throw things, and he waited until I started trying to hurt myself before he would step in. As I would claw at my neck in despair or pull my hair in frustration and beat my hands on the floor to feel the pain I thought I deserved, he would gently step in. He would nuzzle my neck, lick my hands, and lay his head in my lap. I’m sure it scared him to see me that way, but he knew it was time to stop me, and he did it. Those instances of anger were rare. More often than not I was trapped in my bed, weighted down by an imbalance of chemicals in my brain. Those days he understood. He would crawl into bed bedside me and lay down with a sigh. It’s as if he was saying, “I know somethings wrong and I’m here for you. Let me make you better”.  And he would.

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What a lovey…Hank E. Hankerton.

I honestly thought I was giving Hank a better life, but that certainly hasn’t held true. He’s given me the better life. My travel journey would be completely different if I didn’t have him. My life would be different. He’s helped build me back me back up to be myself again. He had to start at the bottom with the basics: I know you have food, get up… it’s time to eat it. This is your bed, but we need to get out of it—take me for a walk. Yes, my toys are here for you too…please try to play with them. Your door may not always be open, but I know how to get in—I will reach you. Raise your hand to pet me…please don’t succumb to your fear. Yes, I am your dog, and I will never, ever leave you.

 

He’s more than just a dog. He’s my protector and defender, my therapist and confidant…I’m his life and he’s my best friend. We saved each other and will continue to do so time and time again.

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Christmas 2015

 

Tips on traveling with your furbaby

I want to introduce you to the main man in my life: Mr. Hank E. Hankerton. Don’t even ask, because he’s not told me what the “E” stands for and apparently never will. Hank has been traveling with me since day one, and while we like parks, traveling with him isn’t always a walk in one. I wanted to share with ya’ll my experience, give you some tips, and tell you why I would recommend it to anyone who already has pets they wanna travel with!

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A little backstory on Hank:  I adopted Hank from an animal rescue in Birmingham, AL in 2014. I saw his picture on Facebook, messaged the shelter, and was meeting him within the week. The problem with Hank was that he had been “returned”. I know? Like an article of clothing. Apparently Hank’s previous owners adopted him from the rescue when he was a cute, little pup, but when he started getting older, growing bigger, and requiring more time and guidance they decided to keep him in his crate all the time (they admitted he only was let out to potty). Because he was a “return” (gosh, I hate that term) he was discounted to $50.00 so someone would adopt him. Well 50 bucks and a Petco blue collar later and I had my best friend for life. I highly recommend adoption if you’re thinking about getting a pup. They’re so grateful.

There are three huge things you need to consider when deciding whether to travel with your pets or not: their health, housing, and the trip.

Health

The first comes as a bit of a no brainer—you know if your pet is healthy enough to start travelling to new places every 3 months. But there are aspects you don’t think about until you’re in the situation. I always travel with a copy of Hank’s medical records and a 6 month supply of any medication he may need on hand. This is helpful because if something were to happen (hello rubber band ball incident of 2015) and you needed a vet quickly, you would have medical records on hand to provide to help make things easier. Not only that, but all boarding/daycare facilities and most groomers require updated vaccinations for your pet to be allowed in the facility. Another thing I always do is let my vet know where I’m travelling and how long I’ll be gone. SO many times my vet has recommended a different type of vaccination or a change in monthly flea/tick/worm protection based on the area we’re traveling and the time of year we’ll be there. I keep Hank’s main vet at my home base of Meridian, MS. It makes it easier to have continuity of care for him, and because our vet is a friend I know I can call her for small things and she’ll give me advice. It just makes things easier. BUT. I always find a recommended vet in the area for just in case purposes. While we were in Colorado we had to go to the emergency vet twice because Hank has pica, and it was nice to have already researched which vet I should go to.

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Housing

Secondly, you have to consider housing. Short-term, furnished, wallet-friendly housing is hard to find anyway, but add pet-friendly on top of that and you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. Because of my severe depression, I was able to get Hank registered to me as an Emotional Support Animal (benefits of ESAs, registration, and why I chose this route coming in a future blog). Because of Hank’s registration housing becomes a teensy bit easier, but it’s still difficult. I do a search on AirBNB or other rental services for housing that falls within my budget/desired area/desired type and message owners directly to explain my situation. Some people stand firm on their decision to allow no pets, but some will make exceptions. It never hurts to ask. It also helps to do a search on Facebook for housing groups. Many places I’ve traveled have their own version of a “for rent/sublet/roommate search” group that you can join. Once approved to join the group a quick “short term pet friendly” search should give you a few options. Sometimes apartments have short-term or corporate housing available. If not they may have short term leases available—it’s worth looking into the cost of that plus renting furniture. Craigslist is always available, but I used it as a next to last resort. If nothing else works out, Hank and I have stayed in an Extended Stay Hotel before for 4 weeks. It wasn’t a bad experience, and many times your travel companies have group rate discounts than can provide if you ask your recruiter (hint: they can be great resources as well).

 

The Trip

The last thing to consider is the trip. I’ve loved traveling all over the country with Hank. We get where we need to go, but we take fun detours that help break up our drives and give him the opportunity to hang his head out of the window and stretch his legs. Things I will ALWAYS have in my car before a trip: a beach towel, my handy-dandy squeezy water bottle, one week’s worth of food, a collapsible bowl, and Hank’s medical records. These are all “just in case” items. I always try to stop every two hours to let Hank get out to pee and stretch his legs. If you plan your trips beforehand you can find cool detour attractions that will increase the entertainment of your drive as well as provide a good energy outlet for your pet. Hank and I have stopped at national parks, roadside attractions, highly recommended rest stops, and even Las Vegas! Overnight stays can get a little tricky, but I’ve never had an issue staying with Hank at La Quinta Inn and Suites. They don’t charge pet fees, and they’re super budget friendly for a one night stop on the way to your destination.

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First travel assignment! Leaving Birmingham, AL heading to Colorado Springs, CO

The key to a good pet travel experience is keeping your pet’s normal routine. Hank and I move so frequently, but he knows that when I put my scrubs on it means it’s time for dinner and goodbye treats! Parks are easy to find and DogFriendly.com can give you a great idea of activities and places you can take your pets in the area you’re in.

As much as I love Hank, I wouldn’t recommend adopting while on the road. Its worked for some people but it makes it so much harder on both you and your new pet. Getting a puppy at the end of one assignment, and then driving the distance and beginning a new assignment isn’t going to promote consistent training or a daily routine. Baby animals require frequent vaccinations and lots of attention, and most boarding/daycare facilities won’t take them until they’re a certain age. Definitely food for thought.

If you already have a pet and you’ve been considering travelling I say do it! It shouldn’t hold you back. For me, not having Hank with me is not an option. There are times that I literally need him for my mental health. But having him makes eating at new restaurants or exploring new places so much easier. He’s my best friend and I’m his. I’m so happy we’ve been able to embark (hah!) on this travel journey together.

Pike's Peak

10 awesome activities you should do in Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs, CO was my very first travel assignment and holds a special place in my heart. I made sure I fit in as many activities as I could in the half a year a lived there. Here’s my list of 10 things you should do while you’re in the Springs.

1. Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the Rockies’ southern Front Range. It was my first “fourteener” to explore. I didn’t actually summit it, but many people do! I drove around the winding curves with no guardrails in my 4Runner to reach the top. It was such an experience! From that high up you can actually see the curve of the earth. And Bonus: the shop at the top makes a very special kind of donut. It’s has to be made special because in the altitude it usually wouldn’t work!

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2. Manitou Incline

The Manitou Incline is also known as “death by stairs.” It’s an “extreme trail” that gains nearly 2000 feet of elevation as you climb it. And when I say climb I mean you’re taking a never ending stairway straight up the side of a mountain. The views are great and the rewarding feeling you get at the summit very nearly drowns out the pain you feel in your legs and hiney. Warning: there is a false summit. It’s such a little devil.

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3. Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds is a collection of caves just outside Colorado Springs near Manitou Springs. The complex cave system hosts amazing underground views. With several options for tours daily (including a super cool lantern tour) there’s something fun for everyone. Not only that, but for all those claustrophobics out there, the stunning views from the pavilion could captivate any audience for hours on end. And if anyone out there needs a bit of an adrenaline rush, Cave of the Winds has you covered with a Cliff-side obstacle course, and two separate rides that will throw you over the cliff if you’re willing!

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4. Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado’s natural splendors. It’s a beautiful sandstone rock formation that can be found right in Colorado Springs. There’s all kinds of activities you can enjoy: jeep tours, 5K’s, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding. If that’s too fast-paced for you, there is a slow winding road that runs through the natural landmark so you can enjoy the rock formations at an easy pace.

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My first day in Colorado on my first travel assignment. Hank was such a pup!

5. Horseback Riding at Broadmoor Stables

Old Stage Riding Stables was located a little ways up Cheyenne Mountain and offered horseback rides through the mountains. They have rides for any ages and any experience level. I would highly recommend booking a tour…it was such an amazing, different perspective of the mountains that I hadn’t seen yet.

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6. Cocktails at the Broadmoor

The Broadmoor is a luxury resort in Colorado Springs. It has so many cool amenities to enjoy while you’re staying there. From a spa to golfing to pet-friendly rooms, it’s got it all. Complete with the best library to pretend you’re Belle from Beauty and the Beast in. Even if you’re not staying at The Broadmoor, you can enjoy dining and drinks from one of its many dining options. For us it was great for having some spiked hot chocolate to warm up with after our mountain horseback ride.

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7. St. Mary’s Falls

Guys, there are so many hikes you can do in Colorado Springs (that not even counting the whole state of Colorado.) But this one stood out to me because it was so hot, but there was still ice and snow on the ground. Typical Colorado…it doesn’t know what weather it wants to put on any day. The hike to the falls was a moderate hike with great views all the way to the top. I took Hank with me and he had a blast kicking up snow and trying to eat it. At the tippy-top we had a packed picnic for lunch. No better lunch view than the side of a mountain!

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8. The Royal Gorge

The Royal Gorge is amazing. It’s such a cool destination. You don’t really understand how cool it’s going to be until you get there. For sure walk across The Royal Gorge Bridge and take a picture with your state’s flag (all 50 are proudly flown across the bridge). That won’t be the only picture-taking opportunity. The Gorge has all the views. So insta-worthy. And, again, for the adrenaline junkies, The Skycoaster is available. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the sensation of being thrown off a cliff, that’s your ride! There are some milder rides available for those who don’t care to know that feeling.

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9. Zip Lining in Canon City

About an hour southeast of COS is Canon City. There you can find the Royal Gorge and all the fun adventures it hosts. One thing I would recommend is doing the zip lining tour it offers. It was super fun and can actually be combined with a rafting tour too. Just remember to wear closed-toe shoes! (I didn’t. I had to wear borrowed swim shoes. Such a Hannah move)

10. Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling ended up being my sport in Colorado! I don’t boast much athleticism, and skiing didn’t suit me, but I could sure snowmobile. It was so fun! Me and my travel friends cruised through the snowy forest mountains and I personally pretended I was a spy in a movie chasing a spy villain. You don’t have to do that though. But you should. Definitely look up a tour while you’re there if you have the time. We found a great on on Groupon!

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In summary, go to Colorado. Just do it. This list doesn’t even begin to cover the awesomeness of that state.