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Despite best intentions, car becomes dogs' world on wheels


I bought my station wagon six years ago -- a car that made my dogs comfortable -- and drove home.

That night, I made up the New Car Rules. I still remember them, albeit with a sense of nostalgia:

* Dogs ride in the back. The seats folded down to make a level platform, so there was no reason for the dogs to plant their rumps up front. The front seats would stay clean and hair-free. I even spread rugs over the dog area to catch the fur and to cycle the canine seat covers through the washing machine weekly.

* Dog spit and nose prints would be cleaned off windows immediately. I bought window cleaner and paper towels to stash under the seat and vowed to use them daily.

* Car washes and vacuumings would be frequent, to pick up the few stray hairs and the most subtle suggestion of Eau de Canine.

The first sign of my pending failure came less than a week after the car's purchase, when I decided to drive a few of my co-workers to lunch. One fellow, perhaps more sensitive than most, made a face as he settled in.

"For heaven's sake, Gina, it already smells like dog," he whined. "And the fur! Do you have a lint brush in the glove compartment?"

One by one, my New Car Rules had been neglected, ignored and ultimately forgotten.

I quit washing the dog rugs, ran out of clean ones and eventually did without. The seats still stayed pretty clean, but the dog area started to look as furry as the dogs themselves.

I ran out of window cleaner and paper towels and didn't replace the supplies. I cleaned the windows with the hose and a piece of newspaper when the smeared windows became a safety hazard.

Toni and Andy ride quietly in back, but Bobby's convinced the view's better in front. He wone the battle of wills, and now he rides shotgun.

Trips to the car wash became a monthly, semiannual and finally an annual event. The last time there, the supervisor sent the car back to the vacuum crew three times before he was satisfied. The window cleaners worked overtime. I left a big tip.

Still, I didn't realize how bad things were getting, although the clues are everywhere. Baggers loading groceries into my car ask me what kind of dogs I have even when the car is empty. And people routinely guess which car is mine in a parking lot. (Is it the 40-pound sacks of kibble in the back seat? Or the leashes and travel bowls?)

Only recently have I decided it's time to think about a replacement car. The decision is driven more by the dogs' need for more space than by any desire for style, elegance and cleanliness. With the addition of Bobby and the constant stream of guest canines, my compact wagon seems a little too snug. So I'm looking at minivans.

When I buy one, you can bet I won't repeat my mistakes. The car will stay clean and the dogs will sit where I choose. The van I like the best has lots of dog space and separate air conditioner controls for the rear passengers.

Once Bobby learns how to use them, I'm sure he'll leave the front seats alone.

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