Many years ago when my three daughters were just about to enter their years of preteen drama, I had the idea of taking them on a train trip from Florida to Washington, D.C. They were old enough to enjoy all of the museums and attractions of the Capitol, and I figured that it would be an interesting alternative to flying or driving. They hadn’t arrived yet at the stage that they didn’t want to travel with their parents.
As a boy growing up in the 50s, I had a long-lasting fascination with trains which I hoped to pass on to my daughters. The 21-hour trip by train is longer by several hours than a car trip, but I knew that we wouldn’t need a car in Washington, D.C. I liked the idea of not having to do any driving with kids in the back seat asking me “When are we going to be there?” The train from Florida begins its trip in Miami, stopping once in Ft. Lauderdale, and picked us up in downtown West Palm Beach. We didn’t anticipate that the train would be almost full to capacity when we boarded, so we weren’t able to sit together.
I chose a seat next to a blind man who was accompanied by his seeing eye dog. We struck up a conversation and he was going to visit some friends in the D.C. area. They were going to meet him at the Union Station in the Capitol.
He had made arrangements in advance with the train personnel to alert him when there would be suitable stops along the way for him to take his dog off the train to relieve himself. Although most of the more than 20 stops were no more than a few minutes for passengers to board or depart, there were several which were between 5 and 10 minutes.
I volunteered to accompany the man and his dog off the train at these longer stops so that it would make it easier for him to find the designated “doggie rest areas.” At the first long stop in Jacksonville, Florida, we didn’t have any trouble getting to the area, but unfortunately, I noticed that the dog had some blood in his stools. His owner was obviously unaware of this as his guide dog was defecating, and he didn’t appear to be in any pain.
When we re-boarded the train, I told him about what I had observed. He thought back to the night before he left when he had dinner with his friends when one of them had given the dog a bone to chew on. Apparently it was a pork bone, rather than a steak bone, and he knew correctly that this sometimes can cause splintering in a dog’s gastro-intestinal tract.
The bleeding became progressively worse at each of our “rest stops.” However, the dog was a real trouper. Luckily he had pads on which the dog sat obediently next to him and there was no visible discomfort except for more than usual intestinal noise.
As we passed through Virginia, the situation worsened. There was more blood in the stool and he was becoming more lethargic. He was not urinating as much as before and didn’t want to eat.
After discussing this with the owner, we decided to call ahead to the people who were going to meet him in Washington, a few hours away. I used my cellphone to call his contacts. Luckily he had the information written on a piece of paper in his file of important papers.
After a few phone calls back and forth, the owner’s friends arranged to make an emergency appointment with a veterinarian in Washington as soon as we arrived.
A day later, I received a phone call from the owner to let me know that his guide dog had to be hospitalized overnight for rehydration. He was fine following that incident.
I was happy that my daughters watched this whole drama unfold during our trip by train. It certainly made an otherwise long, boring trip into one that they still remember almost thirty years later. They learned that sometimes complete strangers must be “called into service” to help another human being.
And they also witnessed firsthand that fate sometimes places us in the seat next to another person in need. Who knows if another person would have acted similarly? I certainly hope so.