The new rolling dog crate

I've been driving the same 2001 Mazda Tribute since November 2000. I've loved it. I nicknamed it The Rolling Dog Crate, because I've always left the back seats down with a cushioned sheet of vinyl covering them so that the dogs can ride comfortably wherever we go. The vinyl - purchased for about $15 as a remnant at the fabric store - was one of my more brilliant moves. A dog could throw up and I could easily clean it without worrying about the car's carpet or interior. Muddy, snowy, wet dogs? No problem!

But the Tribute now has 212,000 miles on it. As I contemplate another trip to our home in Idaho - with a planned stay of a month or so - I worry about traveling 500+ miles each way with three dogs in a vehicle, winter on its way, with such high miles. It runs great, but....

Here's the old rig, in snow that welcomed us when we arrived in Bellevue, WA on December 18th 2008. Meadow's enjoying the snow.

You can see, attached to the trailer hitch, a wonderful invention called The Twistep. It's a step for dogs, so that they don't have to jump up into, or down out of, a high SUV. Saves lots of wear and tear on joints. When not in use as a step, it swivels under the vehicle, out of the way. I love it.

So two weeks before our planned departure date of October 5th, I started searching for a replacement vehicle. I asked my mechanic about some other types of small SUVs - Honda CRV, Toyota Rav4, Ford Escape. "If you like this one, why not just get another Tribute? It's been a great car," he said. He's right. I wanted another V6, and 4WD since I do so much driving over mountain passes with dogs and other cargo, often on snow, as well as drives into the back country on forest service roads. Unfortunately, now Mazda puts a V6 on their high end Tributes only; I don't want or need heated leather seats and all the other extras that come with the luxury model. Turns out they quit putting a V6 engine in their lower end, sport models, in 2008. 

So I found a 2008 Tribute with only 30,000 miles, single owner. Boy, did I get lucky; it's in "cherry" condition, as my mechanic said. I bought it on Monday, and simultaneously sold my old vehicle to my CPA who figures it'll be a good first car for his son who turns 16 in March. The car gods were smiling on me that day.

Monday night I went to the fabric store and once again found a nice sheet of vinyl on the remnants table for a cost of about $18. I also purchased some foam, to put under the vinyl for added cushion. Then I went to work:

Normal interior with back seats down.

First layer: half inch green foam, two pieces taped together. I used leftover bits of foam to stuff gaps where seats meet or where seats latch to vehicle wall when upright.

One big sheet of black vinyl, edges cut to conform to shape of interior walls. I make sure the piece is long enough to also drape over the back seat portion that rests directly against the backs of the front seats. That catches dog drool and hair as they rest against the seats.

The finished crate, ready to roll.
 The vinyl has just enough texture and softness that the dogs don't slide on it. I also throw a few dog towels in for drying off very wet dogs before they get in.

The only remaining task, to make the new rig a true Rolling Dog Crate, was to get a new Twistep and have it attached. (Long story, but the old Twistep ended up having to be welded to the trailer hitch after breaking off in the snow berm a few years ago, so I couldn't simply move it from the old vehicle to the new one. They are designed to be easily removed from the hitch.) I found the Twistep manufacturer online, and they assured me next day delivery - for free! Maybe they were so generous because I mentioned that my girls and I gave a video testimonial for their product about nine years ago; the current web page shows a malamute using the product. 

The new Tribute didn't come with a trailer hitch, however. I then discovered that U-Haul stocks and attaches trailer hitches, much cheaper than the dealership. I managed to get the Twistep delivered Wednesday morning, and took it with me to my appointment that afternoon to have the trailer hitch installed. Skylar, the young man at the Kenmore U-Haul store on Bothell Way very graciously installed my Twistep for free. He, too, thinks they're the coolest thing for dogs.

Whew. A whirlwind of activity to find and fit a new car so that the dogs and I can travel safely. But worth all the effort. Wednesday night I packed. The dogs - Maia in particular - paced and slept close to the door so that I couldn't sneak out without them (as if I ever would). Thursday morning I packed the car. When it came time to load the dogs, I wondered if the new Twistep - slightly different (and from my perspective, much improved) than the old model - would vex Maia. With a recently tweaked knee, and general old age, she's more reluctant to try something new. But she was so eager to be included in wherever this trip was taking us that she quickly stepped onto the Twistep and into the car without hesitation. Meadow and Finn were fast on her heels.

And we're off!

Travelin' dogs. Photo taken with my iPhone, pointed haphazardly over my shoulder while driving on the way to Idaho. Don't tell. Meadow's back rests against a month's worth of kibble, taking up significant space in the rear left corner.

Rebecca WallickComment