There have been many stories of pandemic separations. What do you do when your dog is 3,000 miles away?
Ryan Hong had big plans for 2020. He’d been picked by his employer to deliver training to the bank’s staff around the United States for 10 weeks starting in mid-March. It was going to be an adventure.
First challenge, how to get his dog looked after? Spotacus (Spot for short), is a Pit Bull, Dalmatian, Labrador mix that Ryan adopted 5 years ago. His solution was to take Spot to his parents out in Mission Viejo, California and then pick him up at the end of the training. He made a seven day winter road trip with his brother to deliver Spot. “Up until that trip, Spot usually got a little motion sickness, but on that trip he became a road warrior!”
Ryan's plans for nationwide travel and training ended when COVID hit, and this man's best friend was on the other side of the country: “I was FaceTiming him every other day just to check-in. It would have been amazing to have had him with me during the pandemic. I live by myself. Spot would have kept me physically and mentally active. It would have been great to have my dog here.”
There were many layers of complications in getting Spot back home to New York, not least when Ryan’s dad tested positive for COVID. “Dad went through some terrible times. He was in the ICU for two days, then he was in the recovery room for two days. Then just when we thought he beat it, there were some residual effects. We found out that he had a mini stroke in the middle of it all. He's recovering. He's getting better. COVID is definitely the real deal.”
When the New York pause happened, Ryan knew that he wasn't going to be able to travel for at least a couple of months: "From March until really the beginning of July it was not getting any better. When Dad was out of the hospital for a few weeks and was recovered, I felt it was safe enough to go home to see him (and pick up Spot).”
Ryan flew back to California. When he walked back into the family home, Spot was sitting in the kitchen with Ryan’s brother. “When I opened the door and came in, he paused like ‘who's that?’ When he finally saw who I was, his tail was wagging and he ran towards me. It was definitely a good feeling to have that reaction.”
Originally, Ryan was looking to fly back with Spot instead of doing a road trip, but the airlines suspended pet travel unless the pet was small and a therapy or service dog. Spot is none of those things.
Then Ryan looked into transportation. It would have cost him $4,500 to hire a company to drive Spot across the country, which he thought ”was a bit outrageous”.
“So I thought, it's a lot cheaper to drive back and I can make a vacation out of it. I'd already done cross country one way. So why not to cross country another way, but instead do a different route," he took a diagonal journey instead of the southern route. "So that I could visit new cities and places that I’d never been to before.”
Ryan drove back with his friend, Kristen. Here are some of the highlights.
How was Vegas?
I used to go to Vegas at least three or four times a year when I lived back in California. This is the first time I've not set foot in a casino and not placed a bet on anything, even a slot machine, nothing. We weren't sure how safe it would be to be with that many people. There were a lot of tourists which was kind of mind boggling.
We stopped in Vail in Colorado. I was so impressed with Vail to the point where (if I had the money) I would love to buy a home (or maybe a second home) and live there. Colorado was the most beautiful drive of the trip because of the changes of landscape. You have the Great Plains, then you have rolling hills and you have the Rocky Mountains. You've got the red rocks and then you have the trees. It's just gorgeous.
Favorite side trip?
Kristen loved the movie Bridges of Madison County. She was the one that said: "Hey, we have to stop here". It was only 30 minutes outside our route. I thought it was just one bridge (this pic is at Holliwell Covered Bridge), but it's a collection of about 50 bridges in the county. Yeah. A lot of history.
Are there advantages to traveling with a dog?
On the first trip with my brother, I did get pulled over by the cops in Alabama. The police officer said that I was driving too close to the car in front of me. One of the first thing the cop said was, "Oh, you have a cute dog. I also have a Pit Bull." So we talked about dogs for five minutes. The cop just gave me a warning. I truly believe Spot got me out of the ticket.
Do you have any tips for traveling such a long journey with a dog?
Take stops and find ways to keep the dog active. Spot's a bigger dog. He loves running.
I rented a van to give him more space. I put down the back seats so he had the whole trunk for his bed. Plenty of pit stops for the bathroom. He's a simple dog and seemed happy with a toy to munch and squeeze.
We booked ahead to stay at La Quinta Hotels on the route as they are pet friendly.
What was your experience in all these states with the pandemic?
Every state we went to had masks. States in the middle — like Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio, Iowa — had either just reinstated or put in place a mandate the week that we were there.
For food, we chose to do take out most of the way. There was only one city — Omaha, Nebraska — where we did dine in. The restaurant was very sanitary.They made sure that everybody was at least six feet apart, all the wait staff wearing masks, all wearing gloves. We did our research beforehand.
Ryan and Spot arrived back in the city last weekend. They are self-isolating for two weeks. "Spot’s definitely added some quarantine pounds. We’ve been playing fetch and running around our small backyard, and doing some virtual home workouts together like HIIT, yoga, and indoor cycling. He also the best workout partner because he loves being my heavy weights so I can do squats. So great to have him back. He’s home!"