My parents offered to buy me a plane ticket home for the holidays.
The call came in mid-September, right after I moved from Miami, Florida to the Berkshire Mountains.
Maybe my parents were worried I would run off with a burly yodeler, never be heard from again.
But what to do about my dog, Ollie?
Sure there must be dog sitters in my new town—but staying with a stranger? And for the holidays? Might he/she leave Ollie leave her alone the entire holiday, or try to eat her? (One has to think of these things.)
I could search for a faithful vegan sitter.
Or I could pay it forward—for a $200 roundtrip ticket Ollie could come with me.
It was an easy decision.
Still, I fretted over all of the airline’s rules. There were lots of them and following orders was not always my field specialty.
But it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, right?
The morning of departure was clear. Snowmeggeddon, the storm that threatened to eat New England for the holidays, turned out to be just a snowball. We checked in at Bradley Airport in Hartford.
I removed Ollie from her carrying case and walked her on her leash down the concourse, coffee in hand, as casually as if we were window shopping along the Champs-Élysées. Her eyes were wide, her tail wagged—as did mine; with my little cute dog along for the flight, I was feeling quite special, like a privileged Paris Hilton.
We pre-boarded (but of course), I broke the rules (but I must) and placed her on the empty seat beside me. A male flight attendant with a kind face approached. He rested his palms on his thighs, and leaned in to talk to me, like a waiter taking your order at TGI Fridays.
He asked me Ollie’s name. He told me very slowly that he thought she was A. Very. Cute. Dog.
He leaned in further, smiled wide and whispered with a little wink, “You do know we have a little rule. All dogs must be placed in their carriers underneath the seat in front of you.”
I’ve evolved, you know. I smiled to myself. I thought how very nice and respectful he was about this. No hovering, no attitude. I did as I was told.
The woman across the aisle leaned over. “So adorable. Is that a service dog?”
And then I realized that the flight attendant did not think I was special, like Paris Hilton—special, but special like emotionally imbalanced and potentially psychopathic.
When you believe your dog might get eaten for dinner.
When you make a Snowmageddon out of a snowball.
When you see a girl with a dog on a plane and presume she’s a privileged socialite—or a potential psychotic.
You have to watch out for these things.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Ollie sprinted towards my parents, having no idea she just traveled over 1,000 miles in three hours.
My mother said, “Did they make you put her through the security conveyor-belt?”
It was a wonderful visit, full of gratitude and holiday cheer. But, as I returned to the airport, I had to fully embrace the fact I now had a new home to settle into. A wonderful home but a different home, nonetheless.
A flight attendant in a communist uniform flagged me down while I was on the way to the check-in counter.
“Excuse me, miss. That dog has to go in its case.” She said “that dog” like “that wild African mongoose.”
I told her I’d take care of it as soon as we checked in, then walked away before she could answer.
But I guess I should have known she’d be waiting for me as I made my way towards the security gate.
“Miss, miss. Please come here. That dog must go in its carrying case,” she huffed.
“Can I please see your boarding pass?”
I presumed she was looking for proof that Ollie was authorized to fly—a paw print on my ticket, perhaps?
“I am keeping this boarding pass,” she said, snatching it out of my hand “and you are not getting it back until you put that dog in her case.”
I’ve learned my lessons by now. I wasn’t about to fight her. But Ollie had other ideas.
No sooner had I zipped Ollie in and walked away, did she manage to poke her head through the small opening and spring up, like a clown in a pop-up box.
“Miss, miss!” she called after me “Come back here at once! That dog must be completely zipped into her case.”
I set the case on the ground. I gently tried to coax Ollie back in. We’d been through this practice many times at home. Give Ollie anything to eat—a bone, a treat, a dirty tissue—and she’ll dive right in and do whatever I tell her.
But it was all too much. She was surrounded by the scent of life and like any of us, she didn’t want to miss a minute.
And so, like a stubborn yogi, she arched and stretched every muscle into urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog) refusing to come out of the pose and roll over.
I looked up. Why hadn’t I previously noticed her pointy black hat and green skin peeking out from her uniform? “Miss. Give me back that boarding pass.”
“Come on, Ollie,” I coaxed her, using my yoga-teacher voice and trying to gently adjust her.
“Miss. I’m getting my supervisor.”
But I could have sworn she said, “I’ll get you, my pretty. And that little dog, too.”
Nobody makes a better case for the symbolism of The Wizard of Oz than metaphysicist Carolyn Myss.
“Toto is an extension of Dorothy; he is her intuition….or in shamanic terms, her power animal,” she says. Toto is also Dorothy’s reminder that ‘everything’ she needs is always with her, if she’ll just stay aware of what’s going on. As long as you remain present, everything you need is present with you. As soon as you project yourself back through the rest of your life, you begin to manifest a sense of vulnerability and insecurity characterized by fear or failure. Projection is the art of taking your present moment and stretching it across a lifetime, an impossible formula that will always leave you powerless.” ~Carolyn Myss, Sacred Contracts
These are the vrittis, too. And this time, I was witness; I was not giving into them.
“Ma’am, I don’t think that dog will fit in that case,” said the supervisor.
I took a breath. I knew that that neither of them really wanted to take my dog away, just my power. Because that is what some people with their own need to exert themselves do.
“She can fit in there,” I said and looked the supervisor in the eye. “She’d just rather be out in the world.”
And just like that, she surrendered.
We walked through security and once we were over the other side, I let Ollie out on her leash. We trotted down the concourse, aglow in fluorescent lights, taking one step closer to home.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Julie Balter
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author