Riding Amtrak With Rally!

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After traveling with a service dog aboard a plane, car, bus and boat, I approached Rally and my six hour train ride from Reno NV to Martinez CA with little trepidation. Certainly, six hours was a long time for us to be sitting still, but at least the train had an observation deck that we could visit, and the dinning car was open for lunch. I packed Rally’s usual travel bag; food, a few bully sticks for him to chew on, his brown rug to lie upon, an extra leash and his vaccination papers. The evening before our trip, I refrained from giving Rally more than a few sips of water; although the train did make a brief stop on Sacramento, I didn’t want to be fighting embarking passengers onand off the platform in search of something green and tall that Rally would grace with his pee. I also called Amtrak, and let them know I would be traveling with a service animal; they were very courteous and asked all of the right questions before assuring me that the staff would be ready to assist me.

The next day, Alex and I drove to the Amtrak train station. It was still early, and Rally was intrigued by the noise and smells that surrounded us. We entered the building, descended down the elevator (much to the awe of the elderly couple who shared the space with us) and settled into chairs to await my train. Rally lay down at my feet, content to watch the hustle and bustle beyond the windows.

Neither Alex or I had eaten breakfast, expecting the train to arrive on time and figuring that we wouldn’t have any time to grab a bite on the way to the station (I have a chronic fear of being late) but as time passed and the announcer proclaimed the train would be late, I began to wish we had snagged a coffee or a doughnut on the way. Hearing my grumbling stomach, Alex hastily left, returning with a sandwich and a water, which we devoured. Rally nibbled on a bone and contemplated his toenails.

Eventually the train rumbled along. It was nearly two hours late, but Rally only gave a heartfelt sigh and heaved himself to his feet, following me outside to the tracks. Alex and I said goodbye, and I was helped up the stairs into the train. The stairs leading up to the top layer of the train were tiny, scarcely wide enough for one’s shoulders, so Rally followed at my heels as we climbed to our car. I quickly found a bulkhead seat with ample legroom, and lay out Rally’s bed. He flopped down with a long-suffering sigh, oblivious to the other passengers as they boarded behind us.  I took off his vest and harness so that he could relax better, and he immediately went to sleep.

The train took off laboriously, and Rally and I settled in for the six hour trip ahead of us. Fortunately, I was well prepared, having been to the bookstore the day before and purchased four sturdy tombs, so the first four hours passed in bliss. The dinning car opened for lunch, and after putting his vest back on, Rally and I lurched and stumbled our way down the length of the train to the compartment. The poor waiter had never encountered a service team before, but he saved the day with a smile and a nearby table. Rally went under the table and I ordered a microwaved hamburger, a soda and a packaged cookie. I watched the beautiful mountain landscape crawl by outside the window, and admired the crispness of the snow against the thorny rock face. There were patches of wildflowers blooming on the cliffside, tall rigid pines and spidery swaying ferns basking in the sunshine. Spring was certainly advancing on winter’s heels.

After eating, Rally and I headed back to our seats, where we resumed reading and gnawing on a bone. As we descended the snowy mountains and chugged along the rolling farmlands of California, Rally became interested and sat at my feet, staring out at the scenery. Suddenly, with a whoosh and a blur of speed, another train roared past us. Rally leapt to his feet, eyes bugging out. Clearly he thought the train was about to collide with ours! I reassured him and led him back to the window. it’s important-especially for service dogs who cannot afford to be afraid of anything-that if something scares them, the dog is returned immediately to the site and taught that whatever it is that frightened them cannot actually harm them (be it a passing train, a nearby car backfiring, or just crossing a bridge).  Rally flinched as another train passed, but when I yawned and went back to my book, he tentatively resumed his post at the window. By the time the fourth train zoomed past, Rally had lost all interest and fear. In fact, he looked a little embarrassed as he lay back down across my sneakers.

We arrived in Martinez around four PM, and my dad was waiting to pick us up. He was driving his red convertible Mustang, and Rally was immensely thrilled when Dad lowered the roof. The entire trip back home, his tongue hung out, ears flung back against his skull, eyes slitted against the wind. We were both glad that the long trip was over, but it had been a pleasant adventure, and I looked forwards to our return train ride.

 

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