Carol and Lulu

My mother-in-law is 93 years old, almost completely blind, almost completely deaf, cannot walk unassisted and has age-related dementia and tongue cancer. Through the grace of amazing genes and the perfect care home she has survived (so far) the pandemic, so last week my husband and I traveled to see her in person for the first time in a year and a half. We brought Lulu along for the ride because, while not a certified therapy dog, everyone loves Lu and Lu loves everyone. She is the perfect dog to share in a care home. Plus, she’s fun to have around.

The world certainly doesn’t need one more blog or article about traveling with dogs. Much has been written and said on that subject. But Lulu, with her one bad eye – her only eye – and her endless pluck and charm makes for good copy. Also, Carol, my mother-in-law says the darnedest things, so I thought it would be amusing to see where that combination would take us. No doubt adorable photos help.

Carol lives in Upland, CA, a beautiful old-style California town east of Los Angeles. We live in the Bay Area, so over the years we’ve learned to make the drive in two days since there is no good time of day to enter the LA traffic scene. We stop half way in the thriving (now) wine country town of Paso Robles (previously and still to some extent a ranching community). We have our go-to dog friendly hotel we book – it’s a Holiday Inn Express – but many of the hotels in Paso Robles invite dog guests to stay for the usual fee and rules applied. Lulu is not the first of our dogs we’ve brought to the Holiday Inn. We have a routine for arrival, check-in, potty time, dinner, etc. Lulu, who lost one of her eyes two years ago to a retinal disease and has a cataract in the remaining eye, learns her surroundings quickly and makes the best of every situation. You just tell her where you want to put the water and food bowl. She’ll figure out the rest. This way to the lobby? No problem. Stairs faster than the elevator? Just show her those stairs once and she’ll take it from there. I love watching this dog figure stuff out and adjust. I wish I could be more like her.

Dinner at the hotel

After a good night’s rest, we took off for Ventura where we met a dear family friend for lunch. Lulu hangs out in her crate while we dine away from the car. We recently purchased a Tesla. Prior to test driving what amounts to a giant smart phone on wheels, I told the sales rep I’d like to see the back of the car as I often transport my dogs in their crates. (Our other dog Claude did not accompany us this time as he is NOT a good candidate for visiting seniors in care homes. See my Plan B Blog if you’re curious about Claude’s idiosyncrasies). The sales rep said, “Oh. Do you know about ‘Dog Mode’?” “Sold,” said Dave with a wry grin. So while the car charged in a public lot, with Dog Mode blasting away, Lulu chilled in her crate and we scarfed fish tacos.

Fresh from a dip in the pool

Back on the road we arrived at my brother-in-law’s house just in time for dinner. But not before Lulu flung herself into the pool and then promptly regretted her choice. I scooped her up, none the worse for wear (she’s a decent swimmer), dried her off in the warm sunlight and safety of the kitchen and dinner was promptly served. It’s always about dinner.

Then finally the day dawned that we would see “Grandma” for the first time in 18 months. Carol, my mother-in-law, was remarkably none the worse for a pandemic. She was much the same as she had been at Christmas in 2019, a miracle all things considered. Her primary caregiver, Kathy, chalked it up to eating carrots every day. Handy pro tip. Carrots notwithstanding, my stepdaughter, Valerie and grandson, Kyle joined us for lunch on the patio of a local Mexican restaurant where another good meal was consumed and Lulu found Grandma’s stray tortilla chips on the ground.

Eyeing tortilla chips at a restaurant in Claremont

Carol makes no bones about the fact that she’s a cat lover. But even the most ardent cat fan has to love Lulu with her lap ready approach to living and her silky, soft coat. Carol lights up when Lulu visits. Even when she doesn’t remember her great grandson (to be fair he’s 6’3’; not the baby of her memory) she remembers Lulu from a year and a half ago and asks about her if we don’t bring her along. “Where’s Lulu?!” “Ummm, hi mom, good to see you too.” LOL

Relaxing in the sitting room with Grandma

Carol grew up in South Dakota, a child of the depression and very straight laced mores. Her mother wouldn’t allow them to have a dog because “Dogs are too much trouble.” There were always cats, however. For as long as I’ve known Carol, dogs have been described with cisgender male pronouns and cats with cisgender female pronouns, despite any assignments anyone else, including nature, might want to impose. So for reasons one can only guess at we were amused to hear Carol continue to ask why Lulu is named Lulu. Dave explained – more than once – that she came with that name and it suits her well, so we didn’t see the need to mess with it. Eventually it came out that Carol perceives Lulu as a male name and she thinks the dog would prefer something more feminine. Okaaaay. I tried to make a joke about early twentieth century show girls being named Lulu, but I was met with a blank stare from both Carol and Lulu’s one eye.

Next stop, an overnight with Valerie and fam, which includes plucky Chihuahua cousin, Oliver and Winston, the even pluckier cat. Lulu lives with a very large and in charge cat, Lorenzo (see my blog, Boss Cats), so she was unfazed by Winston. Winston is like Goofy, the Disney dog, who proclaimed he was “brave, but cautious.” He was mesmerized by Lulu, following her everywhere and making contact whenever the moment seemed right. He even had the guts to approach her while she ate (it’s always about dinner) and lived to tell the tale/tail.

Cousin Winston checking out the menu

On our last visit with Grandma Carol before heading home we had a frozen yogurt excursion. Lulu was the happy beneficiary of the dregs of the bowls. Carol thought it was a gip that Lulu didn’t get a chocolate chip, but Lu, none the wiser, was very happy with her lot.

Enjoying the last of the frozen yogurt

It’s a powerful feeling to see a loved one you thought you might never see again. I made my mother-in-law laugh more than once during our visit and the warmth I experienced at seeing her smile and the twinkle in her eye was surpassed only by the joy I felt at seeing her pet Lulu. Lu seems to recognize her role in our visits, even if we’re just doing stuff she loves to do. After all, sitting in laps, being petted and licking frozen yogurt cups isn’t exactly a big ask for a happy-go-lucky dog. Or any dog for that matter. But Lulu embraces whatever circumstance she finds herself in, whether it’s adjusting to one eye or making an old woman smile on a summer afternoon. And I marvel at Carol’s acceptance of her own condition. Even though her mind is no longer sharp and the world doesn’t always make sense these days there are glimpses of the sharp witted, spirited woman I first met 32 years ago. Both Carol and Lulu have grace. I hope I do too when I grow up.