There was an incident on the plane. Around hour seven in transit, on our second flight between Halifax and Los Angeles, my dog started frantically scratching at the walls of his carrier, begging to be released.
I put my hand inside the carrier to comfort him and felt a distinct dampness. Once the beverage cart cleared the way, I took him to the bathroom and let him run around the very limited floor space as I replaced the absorbent pee pad. And then we went back to join my boyfriend at our seats and I hoped he could hold on for another three hours.
My dog, Bandedo (he came with both that name and that spelling), is a four-pound chihuahua whose size and sweet nature make him easy to conceal, so I take him almost everywhere – including on vacation. I’m not the only one, of course. A whopping 48 per cent of Canadian dog owners take their pets on vacation. As such, hotels around the world now commonly allow dogs for a small fee, often throwing in bowls, treats and subtly suggestible poop bags. Even more, there are now hotels with dog butlers, that offer pet photo shoots, room service menus for dogs (including “yappetizers)," “rover reiki” massages and even in-house pet psychics.
And so, as Halifax failed to yield to spring, sleeting almost defiantly, we planned an escape. I thought about where the dog might like to go (and, yes, where I was interested in visiting) and recalled reading that the most pet-friendly destination in the United States is Los Angeles. So, we packed our bags and headed for West Hollywood. I wanted to believe that Bandedo’s canine brain would somehow recognize the concept of vacation. (Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous.)
Upon arrival, we checked into the Mondrian, a hip boutique property on Sunset Boulevard known for both minimalist design and the hot bodies drawn to its pool bar. We were greeted by the #vanderpupcation package, a promotion based on a Real Housewife who loves dogs, which included a bowl and treats. The dog was also offered either bedazzled pyjamas or a tiny fluffy white robe, and we obviously chose the more dignified option. His humans were offered complimentary cocktail vouchers, which we immediately took to the pool bar – which the dog unexpectedly loved. He spent approximately 20 minutes running around the potted plants and greeting strangers before conking out on a lounge chair in front of a picturesque view of downtown LA.
West Hollywood is indeed a great place to bring a dog. Every time we passed through the lobby of the Mondrian, guests and bellhops stopped to fawn over him. Bandedo loved the crisp white hotel sheets, rubbing his face against the soft grain. The combination of magical weather, outdoor patios, general pet friendliness and his ability to discreetly fit in a small tote bag meant that we could bring the dog almost everywhere.
We spent all three mornings of our trip at Conservatory, a café where the dog sat on my lap next to a box of bright, blossoming plants while I happily ate superb avocado toast (obviously). We strolled down Melrose Avenue, popping in and out of vintage stores and high-design clothing boutiques. The hotel left us a gift certificate to The Healthy Spot, a fancy dog boutique, where we spent US$100 on dehydrated duck kibble and lamb liver treats. We took him for burgers at Carney’s and, when his little head popped up from the tote bag, the kids in line behind us started begging their parents for a chihuahua.
At Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant, I briefly thought our winning streak was over. They allow dogs on the patio but they must stay on the floor – an understandable policy, but not one that my literal lap dog is accustomed to. But we put a towel on the ground and the waiter brought him a small dish of water and he stayed exactly where we put him. While we ate our jackfruit tacos and pickled vegetable tostadas, he snoozed contentedly on the sun-dappled patio.
After three days in West Hollywood, we hopped in a car and moved onto Newport Beach, a small and extremely wealthy oceanside enclave in Orange County. We stayed at the remarkably dog-friendly Fashion Island Hotel (which welcomes dogs up to 30 pounds for a fee of US$150 a stay). At lunch at the hotel’s Oak Grill, I sat under eucalyptus trees and ate an Asian grilled chicken salad (very California) and our server brought over a soft blanket “to build the little dog a little nest.” Later that day, the dog was even permitted to curl up next to me in the club lounge while my boyfriend and I ate shrimp and made sarcastic comments while watching Fox News.
We headed out on a boat tour of Newport’s glorious, yacht-filled harbour, which is a little like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. We saw where John Wayne (the local airport is named after him) and Shirley Temple once took up residence, and I was told that much of the money comes from the “tech and finance sectors.” (We passed one ship called the “Dot Calm.”) The dog slept through most of the tour, which made me feel better about taking my nervous dog on a boat without his life jacket.
The dog woke up, unfortunately, when my branzino arrived at Malibu Farm, a waterside locavore restaurant nestled in a fancy little shopping enclave called Lido Marina Village. Technically, the restaurant doesn’t allow dogs to sit on the plush sheepskin pelts lining their outdoor benches, so my boyfriend threw a jacket over him and we hoped that the waiter wouldn’t notice a suspiciously barking pile of fabric when he came by with yet another glass of Santa Barbara rosé.
As we packed up to leave – and I once again cringed at the idea of forcing our dog to fly economy – I thought about how a friend of mine, a dog-training hobbyist, told me that taking a vacation with my dog was unethical. (I’m still not sure whether he was responding to the general concept or my specific plan to take my chihuahua to a vegan Mexican restaurant.) “We need to ask whether actions are species appropriate,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. “Ultimately, we are asking them to accommodate how we live, but we rarely pay it back in a way that they would understand.” He concluded by recommending I read Jessica Pierce’s Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets, which asks whether keeping pets is good for the pets themselves.
I’m sure Bandedo didn’t actually care very much about contemporary California cuisine or seeing actor Jason Segal at the Grand Central Market. He probably would have preferred that we all just stayed at home, lying on the soft carpet in the living room and eating the rest of the cheddar cheese.
Taking my dog along on trips is, of course, for me. As he gets older and sleepier, as I notice that he doesn’t jump up on the couch as much as he used to, going on vacation without him feels a little too much like life without him. And we still have a lot of cheese to eat together, likely both at home and abroad.
The writer was a guest of Visit West Hollywood and Visit Newport Beach. They did not review or approve the article.