When I learned about the Leonberger dogs’ loyalty to their owners and fondness for children, I convinced my husband that– it was not a bean-brained-paid boondoggle– it was worth flying to purchase a Leonberger puppy because none were available near us when our Labrador retriever passed. Anyway, we had sufficient airline points to pay for our flights.
I joined the Leonberger Club of America and found a breeder in Seattle, Washington, who had mated her female. Prospective buyers were often selected when the vet confirmed the bitch’s pregnancy. I submitted an application, and the breeder approved it, convinced that I would train the dog and not return him when he weighed 140 pounds.
The puppies were born, and the breeder picked mine based on temperament, knowing that I had two young children. Though some in the dog business ship puppies in cargo, I felt that it was cruel.
My daughter, who was nine, and I flew to Seattle to pick up our new family member the weekend that he turned eight weeks old; a pet can fly on a plane if it can fit in a pet bag under the seat in front of yours.
No one had told me how to fly with a dog. While I anticipated the adventure, “what if scenarios” revolved through my mind like a spinning top. I learned that traveling with a pet causes perspiration. Though we had flown out to Seattle with the Sherpa bag under the seat, I wondered what would happen if Fido was too tall or bulky to fit. Would they confiscate him and send him to cargo?
When we picked up our puppy from the breeder in our rental car, my daughter held him on her lap and spoke softly as she ran her hands through his coat. Separation anxiety caused him to yelp and yap during the forty-five-minute drive to the airport.
Though I paid his air fare, I worried that passengers might suffer from dog allergies or complain to the airline personnel about traveling with a pet in the cabin.
After passing through airport security, we took Fido to the restroom and filled his water bowl. He wouldn’t drink, and we headed to the gate that was two gates past our boarding zone, hoping to hide him. We placed his carrier on the floor, and high-pitched screeches erupted from within. I unzipped the top so that Fido could stick his head out. We slipped him ice cubes and puppy kibble from between our fingers; his teeth pricked our hands like tiny thorns. We hoped that food would distract him, and the breeder’s soft blanket, scented by his littermates, would soothe him.
He was asleep when they called our flight, and I had slung the bag over my shoulder and placed my hand over the black mesh end to prevent anyone from seeing the contraband. Only the airline staff knew I lugged invaluable loot. We boarded, and I slid the sack under the seat in front of us. When the plane departed, I took a deep breath and exhaled. I celebrated with a glass of wine.
The aroma of chicken and beef drifted through the cabin and Fido stirred. When the stewardess served our dinner, my daughter had taken her retainer out of her mouth and rolled it in a napkin placing it near her plate, After eating, the flight attendant removed the tray, and five minutes later, my daughter noticed that her retainer was missing. We jumped out of our seats and hurried forward to alert the attendant, who pawed through the trash with plastic-gloved hands and found it.
When we returned, I checked the pet bag and noticed that the zipper was open; Fido had crawled out of his prison. I heard the lady behind me say, ” Where did you come from cutie?” I knew where the fugitive had fled.
I rose and edged sideways out in the aisle, and I turned around and grinned at the woman behind us who had an escapee sprawled across her Nikes gnawing her shoestrings. She picked up the dog, petted him and handed him over. I apologized and returned to my seat. When I placed the absconder back in his bag, his soprano shrieks pierced the cabin. Sweat beaded my hairline. I wasn’t allowed to remove Fido, so I brushed my foot against the side of the canvas and hoped that I could calm the criminal.
The grey-bearded man who sat next to me crossed his arms over his potbelly and said, “I had no idea that you had a dog in there, what kind is it?”
I flashed a smile and said, ” He’s a Leonberger puppy.”
“Hamburger? Hamburger puppy? I eat those especially if they are noisy when I am trying to rest.”
I twirled my hair around my index finger and placed it behind my ear and said, “Sorry.”
The man leaned back and closed his eyes. A few rows behind, a baby screamed. I watched the hamburger-eating man open one eye and furrow his brow.
Though I had regretted disturbing everyone around us, I learned a valuable lesson on that flight: We had traveled six thousand miles in two days to discover that Fido didn’t fit. We changed his name to Harry as in Harry Houdini.
Though it sounds bazaar to fly cross-country to purchase a dog, I wouldn’t trade the two days that I had spent with my daughter exploring Seattle, or our decision to adopt Harry. He was great with children and became one of the best dogs that we have ever had.