Taking a 50-day road trip across the country and back could be daunting under any circumstances. But imagine taking that journey with a homeless pooch as your only travel companion. That’s exactly what Michelle Sathe did last summer in an effort to spread the word about Pit Bull awareness and homeless pet adoption.
Sathe is a writer and dog lover who volunteers with rescue groups including The Brittany Foundation in Southern California.
“I decided to go on a classic American road trip because I was turning 40 and didn’t want to do a midlife-crisis cliché like changing jobs or buying a motorcycle,” she said in a phone interview from the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary in Utah, where she is doing research on the Michael Vick dogs for her forthcoming book, “Pit Stops: Exploring America & Its Bully Breeds with Loren, a Rescued Pit Bull.”
At first Sathe was going to hit the road with Buster, one of her own two Pittie mixes, but she decided instead to take Brittany Foundation sanctuary resident Loren, a 4-year-old Pit Bull. “I thought she could use a break from her kennel and the opportunity to socialize with a lot of people,” Sathe said.
Loren proved to be the perfect travel buddy. “She had no accidents on the entire trip,” Sathe said. “She was great with elevators, revolving doors and restaurant patios. She never misbehaved.” Loren also proved to be an ideal mascot for pit bull awareness. “A lot of people had never met a pit bull before, and she was a great ambassador. So many people commented on how sweet she was.”
With financial support from sponsors and private donations, the two hit the road for a 7-week adventure on May 16. Sathekept a daily blog of the trip that was printed in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal and will be included in her book.
A woman and her daughter spotted Loren as they came out of the building next door. “Is he mean?” the lady asked.
“No, she’s really friendly. Come over and pet her,” I said. Loren was wagging her tail frantically against the post – thwack, thwack, thwack. They did so and she made her usual introduction with a ton of sloppy kisses. The little girl sat on a makeshift couch and Loren jumped into her lap as if she were a Yorkie rather than a 50-pound pit bull. When I told them of our adventures, the mother told me they were heading out to California and Oregon in an RV with a rescued cat.
Along the way, Sathe worried that she might be doing Loren more harm than good by making her think she was her dog mom and then returning her to the sanctuary. But now that time has passed, Sathe feels the trip was beneficial for Loren.
“A behaviorist I met with the Animal Farm Foundation said anytime you take a shelter dog out and socialize her it’s a positive experience,” Sathe said. “It was good stimulation and gave her a change of scenery. I tend to anthropomorphize dogs, but unlike people, they really concentrate on the present.”
Aside from the exhaustion of driving solo and not knowing anyone in many of her destinations, Sathe said one of the most challenging aspects of the journey was visiting animal shelters and putting faces to the statistics of how many animals are euthanized.
“I’ll never forget some of those faces,” she said. “There are so many homeless animals. Over half the animals in shelters don’t make it out alive. There is an immense problem with pit bull breeding, dog fighting and cultural issues. How do you preach outside the choir, to the breeders and dog fighters?”
Because of the trip, Sathe said she doesn’t feel alone in her goal to alleviate the number of homeless dogs. Although every animal welfare worker she interviewed told her she didn’t think the problem would be resolved in our lifetime, Sathe said, “Meeting people trying to help gave me hope in humanity, and hope in terms of overcoming obstacles. But the problem is deeper than I imagined.”
For a country girl, [Loren] took to the city with a fair amount of ease – stopping at lights (unlike the rest of the masses), avoiding the grates whenever possible, and, when we were at the hotel, deciding finally that elevators were not the enemy and trotting right in.
She even managed the revolving doors as if she‘d been doing it all her life. Loren laid on the cool marble floor when we checked in. Two guys called to her from the bar and she would’ve gone to have a drink with them, had I let her. Hussy.
While she would “definitely” undertake a journey like this again, Sathe said that the next time she wouldn’t cover so many miles in a short time.
“I’d spend two or three days at each stop so there was more time to explore,” she said. “Now that I know what I like and don’t like, I’d avoid places like New York City, which is not a good place for dogs. I’d do more online networking through Facebook and other sources to set up meetings with people along the way. The trip would be more planned than spontaneous.”
One of the most spontaneous parts of the trip was the changed itinerary when Sathe found out that Ohio was not pit bull friendly.
“By bypassing Ohio, we ended up in Pittsburgh, which turned out to be one of our most significant stops,” she said. Not only did Loren get her first taste of ice cream, Sathe visited the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, which has actually seen an increase in Pit Bull adoptions due to its “Super Seven” program that trains and socializes the dogs.
About halfway through the trip, Sathe got word that a furever home had been found for Loren. Unfortunately, the Hollywood ending did not work out, and Loren is now back at the sanctuary.
“I don’t feel sorry for Loren anymore because she’s in a rescue,” Sathe said. “She is safe and loved. Sometimes a dog’s home life – being chained up and neglected – is worse than shelter life.”
If you are considering a road trip with your pooch, Sathe recommended throroughly researching your destinations before you leave. “Look into ordinances to see if there is any breed specific legislation,” she advised.
For lodging, she found the Motel 6 chain to be especially dog friendly, as well as La Quinta Inns. Neither of these chains charged extra for Loren. The Red Roof Inns and Super 8 chains also welcome dogs, and charged a modest $10 fee.
Does Sathe feel the cross-country journey was a success as far as enlightening people about bully breeds and homeless pets?
“I believe that, in a small way, we did make a difference,” she said. “It’s hard to quantify, but I definitely feel we made a spiritual difference.”
To adopt Loren, contact The Brittany Foundation.
This weekend (November 7-8), Michelle will be participating with other volunteers in The Brittany Foundation’s annual fundraiser “A Day In Their Paws.” She will spend 24 hours with Loren in her kennel, taking breaks only to eat and use the restroom.