by Linda Heaphy

Traveling for work and owning a pet is never an easy combination, something we found out for ourselves on our first buying trip after Phoenix joined us.

kashgar and phoenix
Phoenix and his favourite teddy enjoy some private time

We first met our little boy Phoenix on 3rd January 2009, while we were still well and truly hung-over from some pretty colossal New Year celebrations, and as they say in the story books, it was love at first sight.  Not that it was a snap decision to get a puppy or anything like that.  I'd wanted a dog for years and since we were finally in a house of our own with a yard I couldn't see any reason to wait longer.  I'd had poodles as a child growing up in the family home (my husband Ian grew up in a cat household and knew nothing about dogs but was willing to humour me), and they say that once you've owned a poodle it's hard to bond with any other breed.  They can't be beat for intelligence; they are hypo-allergenic and just all-round wonderfully interactive and rewarding dogs to own.  So we got online and picked a reputable breeder, then set off to collect our puppy, four months old and black as the ace of spades.

You will remember that the year 2009 was the year of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our business, like so many others, was badly affected - we sell discretionary items and when people are doing it tough, stores like ours are the first off and the last back on so to speak.  We were luckier than many in our situation as we had a lot of stock in hand, pieces that had never actually seen the light of day that we'd collected over a 15 year period and also many objects that were just waiting for a chance at restoration.  But I digress.  Suffice it to say that in 2009 we needed to cut our outgoings drastically to stay in the black, and not going on any buying trips was one very good way to do it.

So bringing home our poodle boy that year was the right decision and for all of 2009 we were able to spend almost every day with him, both at home and in the store, putting off the inevitable question of what we would do once we started traveling again.

kashgar and phoenix
I'm not really a puppy monster, I'm just misunderstood

I've mentioned that poodles are extraordinary dogs and as poodles go, well Phoenix is pretty special.  I know I'm biased (being his mother and all) but anyone who meets him will say the same.  Special doesn't mean good though, in fact he's incredibly naughty and very demanding.  I could fill pages with all his exploits of that first year - continuously barking at our customers, pooping on a friend's bed, pooping in their dogs' bed, chewing holes in my best clothing, stealing shoes, regularly drinking from the water glass on my bedside table and on one memorable occasion, escaping from the store on his own and crossing a major road intersection in order to try and find me.  And instead of dealing with the whole travel problem early on as we should have, we let it slip...and slip, and slip, until there we were in early 2010 faced with either going and getting new stock for the store or perhaps just going out of business and getting jobs that didn't involve travel.

kashgar and phoenix 
The ultimate shoe thief

Being such a special boy (ok, a mummy's boy) our first preference for him was a home-stay with friends or family.  Not being a dog person (and also knowing what he's like through several encounters in the store) my father refused hands-down to take him, despite alternating threats and cajoling on my part.   My mother was willing but she lives in a small apartment, and besides, we knew that Phoenix would run rings around her with his constant demands for attention, cuddles, wrestling and walks.  And although we have plenty of friends with dogs of their own, the field quickly narrowed to those with a yard and an understanding of exactly what they were getting into.  Take, for example, the time we moved in with friends for five months while our house was being renovated.  Our friends had three dogs of their own, miniature dachshunds, good company for Phoenix (so we thought).  It soon became apparent that even at seven months of age, Phoenix ruled the canine roost.  He would sit at the top of the stairs like a little black demon, effectively controlling who was able to enter or leave the upper story of the house and at one point he took to peeing and pooping in the dachshunds' outside kennel, just to make it clear what he really thought of them.

kashgar and phoenix
If you'd met those dachshunds you'd have peed in their bed too

 Of all our friends, one couple, Drew and Andrew, seemed absolutely perfect.  They owned a house with a spacious yard complete with doggie door for easy canine access and they had two beautiful dogs of their own, Mabel and Floyd, both miniature foxy chihuahuas.  We knew their hearts would be big enough to love such a demanding addition to their home.  But most importantly of all, knowing they both occupy senior positions in the corporate world, we were sure they wouldn't let our puppy monster walk all over them.

So with our trip dates fast approaching we decided on a couple of weekend sleep-overs just to see how everyone would cope.  The first went very well.  Phoenix and Floyd hit it off wonderfully.  He was the centre of attention at their dinner party and he spent that whole night curled up in bed with their friend Dionne, who was having a sleep-over of her own with the boys.  So far so good.  As the second sleep-over approached we thought it might be a good idea to give Drew and Andrew a little more advice.  Don't turn your back on him, we said - just like the ocean.  He doesn't like to be rushed or grabbed at - let people approach him slowly and he'll be absolutely fine.  And the most important one of all: at some point in his stay with you he will look you over and say to himself "you know what, I can take these guys.  And I'm going home to my MUMMY". 

Sure enough, during the second sleep-over, disaster struck.  All went well through the night but the next morning Drew got up to answer the door to his cleaning lady, wearing nothing but a flimsy pair of boxer shorts.  And of course the cleaning lady exclaimed at how beautiful Phoenix was and went to grab him for a cuddle, and like the little monster he is, he dashed out between their legs, past the front gate and onto the street. 

Now all was not lost at this point.  Drew followed him out onto the road and (to the great amusement of his immediate neighbours) got down on all fours to try and coax him back inside.  Phoenix barked at him several times and took off, with Drew in pursuit, still almost naked and without any footwear.  As we heard the story later that night over several bottles of wine, Drew chased Phoenix for four kilometers up the side of the Princes Highway, one of Sydney's busiest and meanest roads.  And to really get the picture you have to understand that Drew is somewhat overweight, approaching middle age and not at all what you'd call fit.  So now they're both running up the side of a six lane highway with cars honking their horns and people waiting for buses shouting encouragement, directions and advice.  Every so often Phoenix would stop and look back at Drew, who was purple and almost apoplectic with cut and bleeding feet, just to bark at him again then resume running.  After three kilometers of this a pick-up truck from the construction site Drew had passed two kilometers back pulled to a screeching halt beside Drew and the guy inside screamed "GET IN.  I'VE GOT THREE OF THE LITTLE BASTARDS.  I KNOW WHAT TO DO".  They continued to follow him for another kilometer, thankfully into a quieter street and there with the help of several kind people who came out of their houses to see what all the yelling was about, cornered Phoenix and managed to get him home. 

kashgar and phoenix
How we felt when we realised sleep-overs were out

So.  Home stays were apparently going to be out of the question.  With less than a week to our go till our departure for India we were now at panic stage.  We rang the lady who had originally sold Phoenix to us to ask if we could board him there.  No problems she said, so we made the two hour drive on Friday, the day before our flight.  As soon as we got there my heart sank.  What had seemed like such a good idea a few days before now seemed a disaster of major proportions. This wasn't going to be any sort of holiday stay; this was Boot Camp for poodles.  And in the intervening year since we had bought Phoenix I had managed to forget what a large and scary woman Janet actually was.  And it was pretty obvious that the other poodles living there didn't think much of this sophisticated city-slicker cousin of theirs.  Ok, so Phoenix prefers to drink running water over still water.  Oh really?, I hear you say.  Well, many vets actually approve of this habit because dogs so inclined are much less likely to pick up water-borne diseases or parasites from sharing drinking water with other dogs.  But this point-of-view was unlikely to appeal to Auntie Janet, who obviously had a very low opinion of dogs that favoured running water, owned a leopard print velour bed and slept with a teddy.

kashgar and phoenix
I think this picture is self explanatory

I left him there with reservations.  It wasn't as though we had a choice.  I spent the night bereft of my poodle boy imagining all the terrible things that would happen to him if he were naughty or gave Auntie Janet any trouble over the next two weeks. 

The next morning we set off by taxi to Sydney Airport, spending an hour at check in only to discover when we finally got to the counter that we had completely forgotten to apply for our Indian visas.  Wasn't expecting that, were you?  Neither were we.  Remember, we actually travel for a living so to forget something as fundamental and basic as our visas was a pretty monumental screw-up.  The guys at the Singapore Airlines counter were great.  They took us off to one side and attempted to call the Indian Consulate themselves via an emergency number they had dug up, and then when it was apparent that nothing on God's earth was going to get us on that flight, rebooked our tickets for a week in advance on the spot and spent some time consoling us, telling us that perhaps it was fate and we just weren't meant to fly that day.

And do you know I wasn't as upset as I could have been.  Perhaps, I thought, it was actually for the best.  As soon as we got home (house locked up, all our food thrown out, keys left with the neighbours - who were out) we began the difficult task of rebooking our internal flights and hotels, then rang Janet to say that we were coming out to pick Phoenix up.

It wasn't till we got home from her place that afternoon that we began to appreciate just how traumatised Phoenix had been by his overnight stay.  He had not drunk or eaten anything in the 24 hours he was boarded there.  We know that water and food were in his pen because we saw it - but it seems as though he just decided not to eat or drink.  And he had peed all over his leopard print bed and bedding - or perhaps it was one of the other poodles telling him what a mummy's boy he was.  That night at home he was subdued and refused to play or be his normal demonic self.  We knew we had to find yet another alternative before the week was out.

At this point we had recommendations from two of our customers to work with, both for professional boarding kennels with decades of experience and dedicated trained staff: Hanrobson the south coast outside of Sydney and Akuna Care, to the north in the Hunter Valley.  Neither was particularly economical but for sheer peace of mind we decided it was worth the outlay.  And so we booked him in with Hanrobs, choosing them in the end simply because they were a little closer to Sydney and thus a little closer to my heart.

The following Friday, Phoenix was chauffeured in air conditioned comfort to the resort-like surroundings of Hanrob, where he boarded for the next two weeks. Every second day I rang and I was assured he was hand fed BBQ chicken and was cuddled and pampered and slept on a lambswool lined trampoline bed.  But more importantly, our little Poodini was locked up safe and sound.  All at a steep price of course, but what price peace-of-mind and so forth?  We left for India that Saturday morning, and although I fretted continuously about my poodle boy and wondered if he missed me as much as I missed him, we managed a very successful buying trip and I really only mentioned him to my husband five or six times a day.  Since then the trips have more gotten more frequent and much easier, and I worry about him less. But the best part of all my buying trips these days? It's coming home to Phoenix of course.

kashgar and phoenix
Phoenix has his very own Twiiter profile as Poodzilla which you can find right here

Stay tuned for further adventures of Phoenix and Kashgar

Linda Heaphy
Linda Heaphy

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