Kimma and Jari’s Magical Journey: A Cross Country Adventure into a New Life

So… it happened – I got the job opportunity of a lifetime, training search and rescue dogs full time at the most amazing facility in the country. I wasn’t looking for a new job, but this one sort of fell in to my lap. While it was a tough decision to move away from my family and friends, and to leave my wonderful job as an Animal Control Officer, I could not pass up this chance to put my years of learning and training to the test and to help an organization whose mission I strongly believe in: “turning rescue dogs in to rescuers!”

It took quite a lot of planning to figure out how this was all going to go down. I’m lucky to have an amazingly supportive husband, and to have friends and family who were more than willing to help out with any of my dog needs. The plan was to fly out to Los Angeles, California from Newark, NJ right after Thanksgiving with a few suitcases of stuff, then fly home for Christmas, and then drive back out to California, with my van and the dogs (and my husband).

First stumbling block!! To dog, or not to dog? Should I leave them all home since I knew I’d be coming back after only a few weeks? No, no. I can’t POSSIBLY be without a dog for that long! I determined that Sonya was the best choice for this travel experience… But why did I pick the non-primitive dog? Well there were a few reasons. Kimma is not a fan of crates (she will tolerate being in one thanks to a ton of behavior modification training, but it really isn’t super fun for her), and I knew that flying her would stress her out more than would be necessary. Jari, while awesome in a crate, and great in new places, is not super fond of other dogs at times, and I had no idea what my life would be like there. Would he constantly be in contact with other dogs at the training center? How would he handle that? He is also pretty chill at home nowadays that he is almost 6 years old…. Sonya, on the other hand, is great in crates, great in new places, and great around other dogs. I joke that she’s more well-adjusted than I am most of the time! Plus, she is the one who needs the most exercise… So, I figured she would be the best for me to have come along.

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Alright - we made it out there! A dog trainer and her Sheltie, getting ready to take on the world! I got started in my new job. Met some great people. Sonya settled in brilliantly, and she was easy to leave with someone to watch while I went home for the Holidays. Christmas came and went, and it was time to start our epic Finkie road trip! We loaded up the car (how do I have SO MUCH STUFF?!?), made sure the dogs were comfy, and we were on our way.

My dogs have been on plenty of road trips, and due to our sometimes crazy competition schedule, they are therefore used to being in the car. They sleep pretty much the whole time, potty quickly at rest stops, and are relatively easy going in hotels. Well. Except with Kimma’s medical condition, she has to potty pretty much RIGHT upon waking up after she’s been sleeping! So imagine my surprise when we get to our first hotel stop in Chicago (yes, our first day of driving was like 16 hours – my husband is a machine!) and we are on floor 29. Hmmmm…. Well, it is what it is! First order of business, since we were downtown was to find somewhere to let them potty. Jari is fine anywhere, but Kimma is a bit pickier… Luckily, we find a nice park with plenty of grassy spots across the street. Bingo!

We enter the hotel to check in, and we have to wait in a short little line. That’s fine, except my dogs are convinced that the person behind us must have treats on them. Sorry random stranger for the little red dogs staring in to your soul! We finally get in to our room and the dogs have zoomies. Jumping on the bed, barking… Let’s play the game of, “How long will it take us to get kicked out of here?!” I quiet them down by having them lay on the bed for a cute picture with some treats as a reward. Phew – got a few minutes of some brain work there. Humans got some food. One more potty break, then it’s time for sleep. We get out first thing to walk in the park before we get ready to leave. Have to take care of the dogs before the humans, after all! At this time, I’m reminded of how glad I am that Kimma and Jari do not mind elevators!

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Next stop – Colorado! This part of the trip was met by some not so fun weather on the windy mountain roads. But once we reached our hotel, there was much rejoicing to be had because SNOW. THERE WAS SNOW. NORTHERN BREED DOGS IN THE SNOW. They made doggie snow angels as Jari buried himself in it (as is his way), and Kimma barked with excitement. This place catered very well to us, as we got to leave our car running right out front while we checked in so that the dogs could stay comfortable, and they had two dog bowls and two dog beds waiting for us in our room. Obviously, they had to pose with their things! Since they got their zoomies out of their system outside, both only had to do their customary sniff inspection around the room before they started to just lounge around. Everybody slept very well….

Oh. Guys. But the next morning. SNOW OMG THERE’S SNOW HERE WOOHOO!

Needless to say, we had a couple of longer walks before leaving this place! I’m very glad they do not understand that where I am in California we do not see snow… They might not have allowed me to bring them if they knew! One more long day of driving, and we had arrived on site, only a little after midnight. We went right in to my room (where I had set up crates for everyone already) and went to bed pretty much right away. Only a little bit of protesting from Kimma before she stopped pacing and slept.

Since I am staying on site, I only really have privacy in my room itself. It’s not a very big space, but enough for us for the time being. The next morning after a walk, Kimma and Jari got to roam around the rest of the building (no one else was staying there so we had free reign), and seemed to like it. Especially the comfy armchairs! We walked up to the building where my office is, where Sonya was waiting for us. I let them all loose in one of the fenced in yards. It had been the first time the Finkies had any off leash time in days! Of course, in true Finkie fashion, they were just interested in sniffing around and looking at birds. Poor Sonya wanted to run and play, so she had to settle for playing with the humans! We were finally reunited, though just for the day as my husband had to leave to go back home. But the dog squad was whole again, so that made my heart happy.

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Second stumbling block!!! My office. Personal dogs are allowed to come to work with us, which is amazing. The rules state that they must be OK with people (all three of mine are), and cannot exhibit any serious issues with other dogs (Jari doesn’t like if another dog comes up to him, but otherwise we are good). In my time there up to that point, we had not had any run ins with work dogs, so I knew that Jari could be totally fine.

I decided to try it.

Sonya had been as quiet as a mouse while there. I could leave the door half open, and she didn’t disturb anyone. But the Finkies aren’t called Barking Bird Dogs for nothing! And Kimma is a dog that needs time to settle in to things before she doesn’t feel the need to alert bark. I knew this, and asked my coworkers to fill me in on their behavior while I was out and about training dogs. I was not surprised when they said that they were kind of barky! I decided keep the door fully closed when I wasn’t in my office, and I got a white noise machine to have going to cover up any outside sounds. That worked pretty well, but it was still difficult for Kimma especially. Another trainer recommended a YouTube playlist of various hour-long loops of different sounds (airplanes, fireworks, car sounds, etc.). Well that did the trick! The new combination of YouTube, plus the white noise machine on low and the door closed, meant happy relaxing dogs, and happy coworkers!

Note – I had thought of just leaving dog(s) in my room and not bringing them to my office at all, but decided against it. I figured that for the time being, the office noise (which I now have reduced dramatically for them) was easier for them to get used to versus the potential for regular visitors and tours to be coming and going through the place where I am staying. Plus, one of our training areas is near the dorm building, and I knew that the sounds associated with our training (dogs barking, people happily talking and cheering – tells you all you need to know about the place – it’s filled with motivational trainers and staff!) would be way more disturbing for them than office noise. Once I have a place of my own, I might reconsider things, but in general I like having them there to play with and train before/after work and on lunch break. Plus, we get to utilize the canine gym, grooming/bathing facilities, and other parts of campus when they are not in use with the search dog candidates – the site is like doggy Disneyland!

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This brings me to my third stumbling block…. Visitors! As I previously mentioned, I’m staying in a dorm-style-living set up. The reason the building was even constructed was to accommodate handlers coming in to train from all over the country, and visiting trainers who were there to do workshops, among other people. This means a constant influx of new people and new dogs! Hotel living was one thing, but now the dogs were used to running the place. With that in mind, I knew that they would view strange people and dogs going in and out as a very different thing than they would in a hotel situation.

When we drove out to California, of course I bought a small TV, an Amazon FireStick, and I already had a Nintendo Switch all ready to be set up. While I wouldn’t have cable, I could at least use various apps to get some shows and movies streaming.That, combined with another white noise machine (I need one to sleep), and a door draft guard did the trick for canceling out much of the noise outside of my room. I also utilized my separate entrance door to take them in and out for potty walks so that there was minimal chance of being met face to face with a strange dog. We have had multiple guests, and so far, no real issues! For that I can thank the behavior modification I’ve done with Kimma in particular to get her used to settling in to new places quicker. I also have modern technology to thank for things like Hulu and Netflix, along with my white noise machine obsession!

It’s been a little over a month since we all began this new life together, and we are finally getting sleeping, quiet dogs while I’m out of the office, as well as content pups while guests are staying on site. There is still room for improvement, but I am so impressed with how well they are all handling things in this new place. We have a new training club that they visit regularly (which includes well-maintained, grassy, enclosed fields to run on), and we’ve been able to hike with new dog and people friends. They also have some coworker fans who like to give them treats and pets throughout the day while I’m working (something I totally encourage of course!). I know more adjustments will need to be made once we find a house, and I’ll be sure to write about that, too! If I had to give others in any type of similar position some advice and words of wisdom, it would start by reminding them that change like this takes a toll on our dogs, some more than others, and patience and creativity will be your best assets. Turning to others for advice and sympathy is a great outlet, especially because it’s not just our pets that are affected by things like a big move and/or job change. They can sense in us any unease, so take the time to relax, have some fun, and enjoy the journey.

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