A rerun of "Animal Planet" flickered across the TV screen as my roommate yawned deeply, lay down on the floor in front of me and rolled over on his back, his long, gangly legs sticking straight up.
"I get the message," I said. "Too much TV. So let's go somewhere."
Darby, my happy-go-lucky wheaten terrier, jumped up and ran to the front door, panting. "I didn't mean right now," I said. "We have to plan it. But you get to pick where we go: North? South? East? West?"
He barked four times. So what else could he mean but one of each?
With the summer travel season looming, Darby and I hit the road to test some popular destinations for their dog-friendliness. Some places, such as Big Bear Lake, put out the doggy welcome mat; others — Las Vegas springs to mind — weren't quite as warm, at least, in their reception. But vacationing with your canine pal is still possible, even at difficult destinations, if you plan.
So pack Rover's toys and leash and jump in the car. Then join us on our excellent summer vacation.
We waited nervously outside the arena while a couple of maniacal Australian sheepdogs and a collie took turns herding four sheep into a tight circle.
Then it was our turn. Would Darby run from the sheep and embarrass both of us? Hard to say. Wheaten terriers aren't exactly known for their herding skills. But I figured if Babe the Pig could do it, Darby could too.
We had come to this ranch on top of a Malibu mountain to have some fun and try herding, the nation's fastest-growing dog sport. Janna Duncan, who operates Drummond Ranch ( 361-3188, http://www.drummondranch.net), specializes in testing and training dogs to herd.
Finally, she gave us the OK to go into the ring. Darby immediately became entranced with the smells — dirt and manure — and didn't notice the sheep at first. Then he suddenly looked up, saw what he probably thought were gigantic dogs, screeched to a halt and trotted in the opposite direction.
Duncan told me to pet the sheep so Darby could tell they were gentle and to call him to me. He walked slowly in my direction, unsure of himself. Then Duncan asked an Aussie named Murphy to join Darby in the ring. Murphy made short work of it, quickly herding the sheep. Midway through, Darby joined in, slowly at first, then gathering steam. After he finished, he trotted over to me for a hug and an atta-boy.
We celebrated afterward at CooGie's, a patio restaurant in Malibu. It's a great spot to see celebs with munchkin dogs in their laps.
We didn't spend the night in Malibu because the accommodations that accept pets are ultraexpensive. Instead, we hustled north on Pacific Coast Highway to Port Hueneme, 17 miles from the herding ranch, where I found affordable prices at Country Inns & Suites.
A bonus: Many Ventura County beaches allow dogs. So we played at Port Hueneme Beach Park, a short walk from our hotel, and at Sycamore Cove beach, which offers shade, a sparse commodity at most beaches.
On another day, I would have been thrilled with the beach play. But not this weekend. Not when my dog had earned his stripes as a sheep herder.
With his snout encased in a muzzle, Darby appeared almost vicious, like a refugee from a "Dogs Gone Wild" video.
"I'm sorry, buddy," I said. "You have to wear this until we get to Santa Catalina Island. That's the rule."
He looked over at his friend Bonnie, a West Highland terrier, who was sitting pretty in a carrying case.
"She doesn't have to wear a muzzle because she's little and can fit in the case," I said. "You're too big. Besides, real dogs don't ride in purses."
He lay down.
Catalina Island isn't one of California's dog-friendliest places, but I was happy to learn that Catalina Express allows dogs, albeit muzzled or crated, ( 481-3470, http://www.catalinaexpress.com).
Dog-friendly accommodations and restaurants are hard to come by here, and the city bans dogs from the waterfront promenade. Nonetheless, it was nice to have Darby along. And he liked parts of the trip too, including exploring the town in a golf cart and chasing errant seagulls.
We stayed at the century-old Hermosa Hotel, which allows pets and is one of the island's most affordable lodgings. We found a great dog-friendly restaurant, the Landing, on a terraced hillside overlooking Avalon Bay. In addition, we learned that many Avalon shops allow dogs, a nice surprise.
On the trip back to the mainland, we sat in the back row. Midway across the channel, Darby started pulling off the muzzle. I pretended not to notice.
"What will you do if we see a bear?" I asked Darby as we negotiated a set of hairpin turns outside Big Bear Lake. He cocked his head and sniffed as we zigzagged along Rim of the World Highway (California 18), an aptly named cliff-side road that winds eastward through the San Bernardino Mountains.
Luckily, we didn't see any live bears — just a plethora of carved wooden ones — in the picturesque mountain community. We hiked along the lake, played in the water and met a lot of mountain dogs and their people.
"Big Bear is really dog friendly," said a ranger at the Big Bear Discovery Center, ( 866-3437, http://www.sbnfa.org/bigbeardiscoverycenter.php), where Darby was allowed to mosey through the museum, sniffing stuffed bears and the skins of long-deceased forest-land creatures. "I have three dogs, and I take them anywhere," she said.
Dogs are accepted at 50 local motels, several restaurants, and by rental boat and tour companies. A local masseur even makes house/hotel calls and will soothe strained muscles after you and Fido overdo things.
It's easy to overexert here. The mountain is full of scenic trails where Darby and his buds have a grand time pretending they're coyotes or wolves instead of house dogs.
My guy did just that as we walked along a lakeside trail on the northern side of the lake. We rounded a curve, and Darby darted out in front of me, apparently on some weird doggy mission. Before I could stop him, he was rolling in dried grasses, mud and the carcasses of three dead rainbow trout.
This city knows how to put the wow in bow wow.
Beautiful people, homes, scenery. And red-carpet treatment for dogs nearly everywhere they go: in department stores, hotels, outdoor restaurants, aboard boats, kayaks and paddleboards.
We began our tour at Fashion Island shopping center, where the region's poshest pets go to shop, ( 721-2000, http://www.shopfashionisland.com). In Bloomingdale's, Darby exchanged sniffs with Buffy, a tiny Maltese in a pink sweater and beret. From there, we waltzed through Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Fashion Island allows dogs in all its stores; everywhere we looked, people were parading with their pets.
For lunch, we stopped at 59th and Lex, an outdoor café at Bloomingdale's; nearby, three other dogs lounged under their masters' tables.
Our home for the night was Island Hotel, a AAA five-diamond resort adjacent to the shopping center. Darby hunkered down in a plush doggie bed, enjoying the luxurious digs and staring out the window at a grand Newport Beach view.
The next day, we went to the beach, but I wasn't sure Darby would enjoy the experience. The last time he hit the water, he didn't do it intentionally. He fell off a dock while chasing a bird; his eyes looked like saucers when he realized what had happened and he had to start dog paddling to stay afloat.
It wasn't easy to get him to perch on a standup paddleboard in Newport Bay. But treats helped. With direction — and a board — from the dog-loving folks at Paddle Power, ( 675-1215, http://www.paddlepowerh2o.com), Darby joined his friend Jeremy afloat on the bay. Until Jeremy ran out of treats. Then Darby abandoned ship and swam for shore.
Next time, we'll try a kayak. And a bigger bag of treats.
We strolled through the posh hallways of Bellagio Hotel & Casino, my handsome escort attentive to my every wish. I said halt; he halted. I said right turn; he turned right.
Darby was on his best behavior as we made our way through the no-dogs land of one of Las Vegas' top casinos. My rule: Act as though you belong and no one will notice. It worked too, until a sloppy drunk grabbed my arm 10 minutes into our stroll. We had almost reached the casino exit when the jerk started fawning over Darby.
"He's so handsome," he bellowed. "Can I pet him?" He reached out, lost his balance and almost tripped over Darby. Then he laughed uproariously. The commotion drew security guards, who booted us out. The drunk got to stay.
Typical. Vegas doesn't do well by dogs. It's too hot, the landscaping is made up of rocks and cactus, and many air-conditioned buildings don't allow dogs.
But it's still possible to take your pal. A few hotels, including the Westin Casuarina, where we stayed, accept pets.
Few restaurants have outside patios because of the heat, so you'll have to use room service or get food to go.
Your hotel concierge can arrange a dog sitter while you dine or gamble, or you can check your pal into a kennel for a few hours: several have partial day rates.
Darby and I visited Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area 15 miles outside the city, which is a fun option when it's not too hot. We went in the late afternoon in early May and stuck to shady areas. But even this option would disappear in summer.
Another possibility: Las Vegas has several good dog parks, with areas for large and small beasties.
But options are limited, especially during the heat of summer. So plan carefully.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times