First-Class Lounge For Pets Opens At Chicago O’Hare

Luxury pet hotels, pet portraiture, pet birthday parties and even pet facials – these are just some of the ways the travel industry has bent over backwards to make our furry friends feel like they’re on vacation too.

Now, our four-legged besties are getting the first-class treatment at airport lounges, thanks to the opening of a lounge designed especially for pets at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

The on-site kennel is located in United Airline’s new cargo facility and has 28 separate enclosures designed to hold different types of animals comfortably until it’s time for them to fly. The kennel is temperature-controlled, as are the purpose-built vans that shuttle the pampered pooches from the lounge to their flights come boarding time.The lounge, which opened at the end of last month, is the third such pet facility that United is operating in airports across the U.S., with similar services available at Houston and Newark airports.

United says the lounge staff is trained to provide first-class care for the animals, which includes walking, bathing and grooming them. After all, even pets like to stretch their legs, take a hot shower and freshen up their look when they’re in transit, right?

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: Coping With Loss Overseas

Coping with a personal loss overseas in an alien culture without your normal support network can be one of the most challenging things about life in the Foreign Service or indeed any peripatetic international career. I’ve been blessed to reach age 40 without ever losing a close friend or relative.

But six years ago this spring, while living in Budapest, my wife and I lost a beloved pet, Homer, a Labrador retriever who died unexpectedly when he was just a year old (see photo). Those who have never had a dog they really loved won’t be able to grasp what a deep loss this was for us but it was by far the hardest thing I ever had to deal with in my six years in the Foreign Service.

We got Homer while I was going through a difficult time coping with an illness and we quickly became inseparable. We didn’t have kids at the time, so Homer was our baby. We traveled with him, let him sleep at the foot of our bed, and spoiled him rotten with presents and treats. Every time I came home from work, he would be so deliriously happy that I often couldn’t wait to walk in the door.He was popular in our neighborhood in Washington, D.C., but when we moved to Budapest, he was like a rock star in our neighborhood, where everyone knew him by name and would linger at our gate for the chance to pet and hug him. We were the accredited diplomats, but he was the real cultural envoy.

We took him everywhere and one weekend while we were sitting in an outdoor restaurant at Lake Balaton, a few hours from our home, he started to have some sort of seizure at the table and within a minute or two, before we could get help, he was dead. He was just 14 months old and he died on the one-year anniversary of when we got him.

In the days to come, we consulted local vets to try to find out what happened. They concluded that his thymus ruptured, he went into shock and died. Just before he died, he was running around in the back yard of the restaurant, and we had thought that he swallowed something poisonous. If we had been in the U.S., we would have felt more confident that a restaurant wouldn’t have something toxic in the yard but in Hungary, we really had no clue.

I’m sure the vets in Hungary are just as good as the ones in the U.S., but at the time, we couldn’t help but wonder if their diagnosis was correct. We were at a loss to understand why our dog had died and having to try to make sense of it in an alien place was bewildering to say the least.

On my first day back at work, I was still grieving, and having to tell my co-workers what happened brought back all the emotions. I struggled to relay the news, which everyone had already heard through the grapevine, without crying. People were sympathetic but I couldn’t help but feel like no one had a clue what I was going through. I had been at post for only a few months and felt like no one knew me well enough to understand what a deep loss this was for me.

The worst part of going back to work was talking to my boss, who wasn’t an animal lover and clearly had no idea that I was grieving.

“Other than the canine misadventure,” he said, with a smile and a chuckle, “How was your weekend?”

Canine misadventure? I just looked at him puzzled, shocked really, at how he could consider our dog dying unexpectedly at a restaurant a “misadventure.” For us, it was a tragedy. Others have faced much bigger tragedies, but for us, it was a big loss nonetheless. I was speechless and had a sick feeling in my stomach. I had no idea if I wanted to cry or punch him and, to be honest, I was so shocked by his insensitivity, I don’t remember how or even if I responded.

My wife and I had each other to lean on and that’s more than single people have when they face a loss overseas. But my boss’s reaction drove home a point for me. I was in a place where no one, save my wife, really knew me or gave a damn about me. I needed a support network – my parents, my good friends and people who knew how much I loved Homer.

Many in the Foreign Service have suffered much more devastating losses than we did. And many are forced to decide if they can afford to fly home for funerals of friends or more distant relatives if they are in out of the way posts. Karen O’Neill DeThomas, for example, wrote a very moving story about the loss of her teenage daughter to meningitis, and after reading it, I felt like the pain we experienced was nothing compared to her loss. She said that her Foreign Service experience helped her cope with the tragedy and I think there’s something to that.

When you live overseas, whether in the Foreign Service or not, I think you are forced to become self sufficient in many ways and, if you spend time in developing countries, where there is poverty and suffering everywhere you look (Budapest certainly doesn’t qualify on that score), it can put your loss in perspective.

No matter where you live, the only thing that eases the pain of losing a loved one is time. When I think about Homer these days, I feel sad that my sons never got to meet him and that his life was cut so short. But I don’t focus on the tragic ending. I remember the joy he brought to us and others during his brief, but memorable life.

Read More From “A Traveler In The Foreign Service

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]

Adventure Guide 2013: Aspen

If you’ve ever yearned to visit Aspen, this is the time. Aspen is hot right now, fresh off the X Games, because it’s just opened its first sidecountry terrain (see below). The revamped Limelight Hotel is also making headlines for having the coolest après ski spot in town. If you crave adventure and think Aspen is out of your budget, time to reconsider: the hardcore outdoor opps are boundless, regardless of season.

Aspen’s got some of the best downhill skiing, lift-accessed extreme terrain, and parks-and-pipes in the country, even if lift prices are stiff. The key is to cash in on the incredible hotel/ski packages on offer at places like the Limelight or The Little Nell, or bunk at some of the surprising budget options in the area.

New this year is sidecountry terrain at Snowmass. The Burnt Mountain Expansion has added on 230 acres, bringing total skiable acreage to 3,362 – making it the second largest ski area in the state. The Roaring Fork Valley, which includes all four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass – the latter has a whopping 21 lifts), has some of Colorado’s best scenery, as well as a free, 60-mile Nordic trail system. You can also cross-country ski 18 miles down-valley, from Aspen to Basalt on the Rio Grande Trail (take the bus back if you’re tired).

If adventure is your thing, however, you’re going to want to head into the backcountry. Get your adrenaline pumping by mountaineering, ice-climbing (beginners can try this sport out at a waterfall just 10 minutes from downtown Aspen), or skiing/riding in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. For an overnight trip, cross-country ski to one of the historic 10th Mountain Division Huts (some are even accessible via chairlift, although they’re still in what’s considered backcountry).

If you’re in need of a not-too-tame recovery day, try taking a Snowcat Dinner Ride, or take a horse-drawn sleigh out to Pine Creek Cookhouse.


Limelight Hotel: Formerly known as Limelight Lodge, Aspen’s sweetest, sleekest remodel, completed in 2010, this boutique property is just yards from the slopes. Sunny, spacious rooms are tasteful and subdued to better let the mountain take center stage.
The lobby, however, is the newest hot spot in town. Guests can avail themselves of the all-inclusive breakfast (think smoked salmon, waffles, and housemade granola), but après-ski locals, guests, and tourists alike descend for Aspen’s longest happy hour (3-7 p.m.), which includes free cookies and other snacks, $10 pizzas, drink specials and live music. Pet-friendly, wheelchair accessible, and kitchenette rooms available. From $285. 335 S. Monarch Street

St. Moritz Lodge: Even if you’re not on a budget (but, let’s face it, all those toys cost a fortune, and you’re not planning to spend much time in your room, now are you?), this classic ski chalet is a cheerful slice of ’70s kitsch. With clean, bright rooms ranging from dorms to private rooms with or without shared bath or kitchenettes, the St. Moritz is the best deal in the Valley, and beloved for its friendly, homey atmosphere and plentiful free Continental breakfasts. And while you’ll definitely find the expected international backpackers and their ilk, the majority of the clientele is more aging ski bum and bohemian ski bunny. This is Aspen, after all. From $44. 334 W. Hyman Avenue

Aspenalt Lodge, Basalt: If you have a car or don’t mind taking the shuttle, one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s best-kept secrets is this no-frills hotel located right on the Frying Pan River (there’s an outdoor hot tub, too). Basalt is a sweet little town, and one of the Valley’s most desirable (and tourist-free) places to live, thanks to the multitude of outdoorsy activities out the back door. The lodge is 20 minutes down-valley from Aspen; the RFTA transit stop is one block away and costs four dollars, one-way. From $99. 157 Basalt Center Circle, Basalt

Eat and Drink

Louis’ Swiss Bakery: Aspenites all know and love this old-school-style bakery, tucked within the ABC (Aspen Business Center) across from the airport. Swiss immigrant/skilled baker/rancher Felix Tornare turns out buttery pastry and the best meat pies (made with his grass-finished beef) on this side of the UK. The breakfast burritos are also the bomb, and provide all the fuel you need for a day on the slopes.
No website, closed Sundays; 400 Aspen Airport Business Center

The Meatball Shack: Since opening last June, this casual eatery and bar has been drawing crowds because it’s a hell of a bargain. Two heaping plates of delicious pasta (with meatballs, of course) and drinks will set you back just $50, and in Aspen, that’s not too shabby for a meal at a place with cloth napkins. Service is warm, the drinks are strong, and daily specials run the gamut from ribeye steak to sandwiches. 312 S. Mill Street

Ajax Tavern: Located on the upper deck of The Little Nell Hotel, and steps from the Gondola, this is the spot to scope celebs if you care about that kind of thing. More important, it’s got a killer view, and the best après ski deal in town: a juicy burger served with Ajax’s famously addictive fries and a beer for just $15. 685 E. Durant Avenue

Chefs Club: Aspen’s packed with great restaurants, but if you want to go big, this innovative, 8-month-old restaurant in the St. Regis Hotel is the place to do it. The menu changes seasonally, and is designed by a rotating cast of former Food & Wine Best New Chefs (Aspen is home to the famous FOOD & WINE Classic, held every June). Whether you order a la carte or spring for the tasting menu, be prepared to dine very well. If nothing else, have a drink; top mixologist Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT designs the seasonal cocktail menu, and you won’t be disappointed. 315 E. Dean Street

Like most Colorado ski towns, you don’t need a car in Aspen. Most accommodations are walking distance to the slopes, or provide free shuttle service; the town transportation center at the base of the mountain makes getting out of Aspen-proper easy. RFTA transit runs the length of the entire Roaring Fork Valley, from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago. From Denver International Airport, it’s approximately a 3.5-hour drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70; Colorado Mountain Express also provides round-trip transportation from DIA.

Adventure Tip

Best get up before the sun if you want to be the first to carve tracks in the backcountry; you’re going to have competition in this neck of the woods. Remember, safety first: never head out without telling someone where you’re headed (ideally, take a buddy with you), and carry an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user a4gpa]

Video: Rollerblading With Huskies In Brooklyn

When I first saw this video yesterday, it only had 12 views. Now that the video is up to around 1,000 views, it’s clear that people have been watching it. But 1,000 views hardly measures up to the cuteness it captured. It’s just a first-person video of someone being pulled around Bushwick, Brooklyn, while on rollerblades by two huskies. It’s adorable and will make you smile all while giving you a good little tour of industrial/hip Bushwick. After I watched this rollerblading with Huskies video, I put on my roller-skates, which I just received for Christmas, and I tried to get my dogs to pull me. When the little one kept getting in the way, I put him in his crate while I continued to try to teach my medium-sized dog to pull me around on roller-skates, through my house, no less. He cried and whimpered in jealousy so much from his crate that I gave up and wondered if I’ll ever be able to go on a public dog-skating adventure on par with this video.

The Stray Dogs Of The Yucatan

“Dog!” I exclaimed to my husband, who was driving our small rental car along a toll-free road that meanders slowly through the towns of the Yucatan, slowly meandering much like the many stray dogs along these roads. Sometimes the dogs would sleepily walk into the road and stop, find a warm spot and lay down in the sun. These dogs don’t know about time; their previous moments determine their next and that is all. I rescued one of my two dogs a year ago from a street in Laredo. He casually trotted in front of a car that screeched to a halt to avoid hitting him while I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. When I peeked out to see that he’d made it back onto the sidewalk, I got out of the car and beckoned him over. He didn’t have tags, a chip, “wanted” signs or any ads online. And so I took him home with me and he’s been a part of my family ever since.

The last thing I wanted to do during my recent trip to the Yucatan was hit a dog, so I watched the roads vigilantly as my husband drove. We didn’t hit any dogs while we drove around the peninsula, but we came close. Since there are so many stray dogs in the Yucatan, they don’t get spayed or neutered and the stray dog population keeps growing. There isn’t any sort of government-operated SPCA or Humane Society in the Yucatan. Private organizations try to combat the situation and a Planned Pethood in the Yucatan aims to aggressively implement spay/neuter programs throughout the region, but the problem is still widely apparent. For anyone who has traveled to areas of the world wherein programs like these aren’t financed fixtures, stray dogs are usually just an unfortunate truth of travel.

%Gallery-174158%Winding our way through the small towns between Cancun and Merida, the dogs came in all sizes and colors. We occasionally passed an identifiable breed – a Doberman here, a litter of newborn Rottweilers there – but most of the dogs we saw on these roads were that recognizable mix of everything. Usually tan with a medium build, these dogs were wherever people were. Begging for food or attention, they weaved their way through pedestrians and cars in the towns we passed. Some of them looked surprisingly healthy with shiny coats and smiling faces. Others were mangy and diseased. Some were dead.

The reality of the stray dog problem in places like the Yucatan cannot be negotiated without concerted effort. These dogs are part of the culture and landscape of this peninsula, for better or worse, and for all intents and purposes, they always have been. Ancient Maya communities included domesticated dogs. The Maya used the dogs for hunting, companionship, food and sacrifice. They fed the dogs corn and some Yucatec Maya today continue this tradition and give dogs tortillas. Spanish explorers in the 16th century visited Merida and documented the breeding, feeding and sale of dogs in the city.

Maya literature incorporated dogs, too. The Popol Vuh is the K’iche’ Maya creation story. According to it, the gods failed horribly at their second attempt to make humans. The legend says that these humans were made out of wood. These humans were emotionless and would not feed the dogs, so the dogs retaliated in anger and destroyed them. The lesson in this story resonated with the Maya and they placed strong emphasis on respecting and feeding dogs. Associated with human life, renewal and death, dogs were of incredible symbolic importance to the ancient Maya. They held the job of leading people into the Underworld and protecting the home. Dog remains have been found buried alongside humans in Maya graves and royal homes. Presumably, the dogs were buried with their owners in order to guide them into the afterlife.

I clenched my teeth each time we passed these dogs, dead or alive. Dogs have long been an important component of human life. A dog was found buried with a human in Palestine in a 12,000-year-old grave. A dog and human were found together in a 14,000-year-old burial site in Germany. In my experience, most people who grasp the unique relationship between dogs and humans have a difficult time witnessing the kind of abundance of stray dogs I saw while navigating those small-town roads in the Yucatan.

As I was getting ready to leave the market in Merida one afternoon, two little girls walked past me, both cradling tiny, dirty puppies in their hands. I asked the girls how old the dogs were and if I could pet them. I crouched down in the plaza and held one of the one-week-old puppies. I didn’t know whether or not they belonged to the girls or the street and in that moment, it didn’t matter. Just like every other puppy from every time period and every part of the world, the little dog eagerly welcomed my affection.

Read more from my series on the Yucatan here.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]