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With My Dog as My Co-Pilot

When I decided to quit my job and make my first cross-country trip, I could picture it perfectly: a mix of taking in beautiful mountain and water scenery, visiting monuments and museums, consuming unhealthy and fresh food alike, hiking through our national parks and walking through new cities. Transportation would be in my four-door sedan and accommodations in rented homes and motels. And right there, riding shotgun beside me, would be Reuban, my chocolate lab.

Mary Beiro with dog Reuban
Mary and her dog Reuban

This was so easy for me to picture because last year I took a four-week road trip with Reuban. We traveled south from our home in Alexandria, Va., to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, west through Tennessee and home again.

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Reuban is the only travel companion I wanted. Sure, I love my family and friends who offered to join me. But Reuban and I had already traveled one-third of the way across the country and had countless adventures together. He never complained about my driving, bad sense of direction or radio picks.

The trip was all mapped, and I was saying my goodbyes when life threw me a curve. Two days after friends threw us a bon voyage party and 10 days before we were to head west, Reuban passed away suddenly.

I wouldn’t have even thought to take this leap, this trip, had it not been for Reuban. Not only my travel companion, 80-pound Reuban was also my protector and confidant.

I admired him for abilities I lacked. He was fearless and charged into every new situation. He was a handsome boy, and adults and children stopped us often for pets and conversation. He balanced my shyness by giving me conversation openers and a new circle of dog-loving friends.

Not everyone understands the bond and love that we share with our pets. Some of us are also fortunate enough to have that rare connection that reaches deep into our soul. It's like nothing we could have imagined, but feels totally right. We're the lucky ones.

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But it's hard to remember that when they're gone.

The direction I head will be the same — west and north — but my trip will be very different than planned. On one hand, it will be easier and I’ll have much more flexibility. I won’t have to worry about the availability and expense of pet-friendly accommodations. The to-do list of activities is now endless — national parks don’t allow dogs and as a senior, Reuban had a limited activity level.

On the other hand, I take off grieving for my soul mate and the adventures we won’t share.

I’ll be going it alone.

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