This week’s blog is from Michael Mulick, DO—a physician, outdoorsman, fellow dog-lover, and a writer whom I’m delighted to know. We crossed paths at a 3-day conference for writers in Boston five years ago, where Michael was an attendee and I was an instructor. Although we live on opposite sides of the country, we have stayed in touch.
In the midst of a pandemic, Michael and his family—which includes their dog, Sophie—decided to try living full-time in an RV as they travelled around the U.S., an experience that he is turning into a book.
Thanks, Michael, for sharing a glimpse of life-on-the-road with Sophie.
Interested in being a guest-blogger? Contact me.
An RV Dog’s Life
In January 2021, we sold our home and hit the road to live full-time in an RV for nearly a year. We left during the peak of the pandemic, hoping for a better life for us and our two kids. Our dog, Sophie, was forced to come along.
Sophie was a stray, which is unusual as she is a pure-bred Border Collie. We rescued her when she was one-year-old. I named her after a character in my favorite William Styron novel, Sophie’s Choice. Since then she has picked up many other names: Snowfie, Snoopie, Snoop a loop.
She had been traumatized as a pup. She was an angel in the house but we couldn’t take her for walks. If she saw another dog (even a block away), she snarled and barked. She even bit. Snoops (Sophie) did well at dog parks. People commented “I cannot believe how fast she is,” as she morphed into a black and white blur. But we had to stop walking her. She did best roaming the yard and chasing squirrels.
The transition from a 2200 sq. ft. house to a 200 sq. ft. trailer put Sophie perpetually under our feet. There was no yard to which she could escape. We have a big rig but there are not many windows. Sophie had to climb onto the kitchen bench to look outside. And she could not let herself out. There were other constraints, too: Dogs can’t roam free in RV, State, or National parks.
We all adjusted to the small space. The summer heat wave became our biggest problem. We couldn’t take Sophie on excursions .You can’t leave a dog in a parked car, and the air conditioner in our rig only worked at RV parks. We found ourselves considering Sophie’s safety and well-being more often.
Despite many challenges, the trip turned out to be a lot of fun for all of us. I wasn’t working and was “home” a lot. We were always outside, often in wide open spaces. Sophie loved chasing me as I rode my bike. Snowfie (we sometimes call her that) really loved running in the snow. Our little Snowhead chased us sledding when we were in Colorado for the winter. Sophie seemed to tolerate the trip but I’m sure other dogs would have had an easier time. The most surprising thing was how well she did in the truck I drove to pull the RV. She seemed at peace while driving on the highway. Once we hit a consistent speed, she would lie down on the bench between my wife and me and close her eyes. Once, I drove from Idaho to Wisconsin, driving eight hours a day, for three straight days, and she slept most of it with her head on my lap. I think riding up front was a slice of heaven compared to how she used to ride in the back of our old van. She’s a good car dog. She rarely gets antsy and never asks for a stop.
Border Collies are an intelligent breed. They need a job and if you don’t give them one, they’re not happy so they will invent a job. Sophie constantly monitors the location of our family members wherever we are. But long drives were such a restrictive environment and everyone (the family) was accounted for. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, riding in the truck’s cab was one of the few places she could truly relax. Animals get stressed with major changes to their environment. But as long as they get to be with you, they can tolerate a lot. Sophie did okay on the road even though she is much happier in a house with a yard. Most importantly, though, she showed us she just wants to be close to us and to go wherever we go.
Dr. Michael Mulick is a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Clinical Assistant Professor, Keck School of Medicine. In addition, he teaches Wilderness and Survival Medicine at USC. He lives with his wife, Renee, their two children, and their dog Sophie in southern California.