At the end of last month, I took the puppacita on her first plane ride. She did a great job, of course, and wasn’t freaked out by any of the noises or newness. I discovered that a tiny, sweet chihuahua with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth snaps TSA agents out of their grumpiness and that meaty treats for pups make it through security — and, for some reason, both at Dulles and LAX I was singled out for the explosive-residue-on-hands test while holding the puppacita (no full-body puppa scans). On the way out to L.A., the flight attendants (and the other passenger in the row) let Chi-Chi sit in the middle seat; she only went under the seat for takeoff and landing. Passengers in surrounding rows started passing me their iPhones to show off pictures of their dogs. And the puppacita slept most of the time, until the flight attendants came around with the basket of JetBlue snacks — she’s a fan of popcorn and the like, so the opening of bags made her perk right up. Unfortunately, Dulles was the only airport on our stop with a doggie bathroom area past the security checkpoints, but the puppacita managed to hold it through our Boston layover on the way back and make it home.
While waiting for a red-eye at LAX, though, I started to see tweets about some evil storm that had whipped through the D.C. area. I messaged my pet-sitter to see if there was anything I should know; her last stop at my place had been that Friday evening before the derecho and she was leaving on a camping trip the next morning. Little did I know at that point that staying in L.A. — or, like my pet-sitter, running off to the woods — would have been a better option that flying home.
I wasn’t too worried because my place never loses power, even during the 2010 Snowmageddon. After arriving at Dulles (and letting puppacita use the fake fire hydrant), I was almost to the parking garage when a TSA agent told me there had been a furious storm the night before; parking payment machines weren’t working and neither was cell service at the airport. Driving home from the airport, I had to stop for multiple traffic lights that were out. I noticed cars stranded along the side of the road. My car started to flash a heat warning. Even though the A/C was cranked up, puppacita started to pant — which she never does unless she’s overheated, a rare occurrence. Nothing helped until I took a bottle of water in the car and poured it over her.
At home, I discovered that my whole complex was out — though the condos and adjoining center of restaurants and shops next door had power. A transformer that fueled my complex had been taken out by the storm, and with a quick trip around the corner I saw the pole and wires at the edge of a wooded area littering the ground. The temp was only 79 when I walked in, but would get much worse. I arrived back when all of the neighbors had fled and filled up local hotels, when local friends were also out of power, and when my pet-sitter was no longer around to help with care.
First stop was to a restaurant around the corner to try to recharge my computer, blackberry and wireless hotspot, all drained from the trip, but there wasn’t enough power in the outlets there to charge everything. Temps were near 100 degrees. That night it wasn’t too bad, though a bit on the miserable side — even though I tried taking a cold shower, the humidity it added made the house worse afterward. The next day, I tried a stop at Wal-Mart to root through the remnants of the flashlight aisle, and found a few. I found a couple tiny battery-powered fans, and one cooler left — but there wasn’t any ice to be found at any of the stores. I came back to get the puppacita from the increasingly sweltering apartment and hustled her over to the mall, where the guys at the AT&T store kindly agreed to charge some of my devices. We sat in the middle of the mall at a random outlet for an hour or two, enjoying the cool air as shoppers shared their outage experiences and came to visit with the puppacita. We stopped at a PetSmart to get single-serving pet food cans, or as close to it as we could, since any leftovers would spoil.
Poor Chi-Chi just wanted some sleep (and was probably cursing me for taking her away from 74-degree L.A. with its perfectly plush manicured grass). I’d easily smuggled her into the movies before, so now was as good a time as any. We went to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and she slept in my arms the whole time. Outside temps were easing a bit as the sun went down, but it was oppressive in the house by the time we got back.
I was most worried about the chinchilla. These furry Andes mountain critters can die if exposed to temps over 80 degrees, and by now the thermostat said 89 degrees. She’s the reason I keep the house at 69 degrees and keep her in a room with a ceiling fan in case the A/C. was out. Chinderella has a granite slab on which to sit and cool herself off, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough. I moved her cage into the darkened bathroom, the coolest room, and watched her carefully for signs of overheating. I tried to get the pets hotel at the PetSmart to take her in her travel cage, but they would only take cats and dogs. So last resort — I went to the first aid aisle at Wal-Mart and bought boxes of those instant ice packs that you pop for the cooling effect. I kept putting those in her cage, where she was sitting on the granite slab. It’s a miracle she made it through — if she had shown any symptoms of overheating other than cozying up to cool things, like reddened ears or laying on her side, next stop would have been the emergency exotics vet. But she’s quite the resilient type — after I was freaked out by articles saying that chinchillas were too sensitive to travel and could die during a move, she turned out to be the best cross-country traveler out of the bunch in the move to D.C. four years ago.
The next night was awful. The puppacita was determined to take her favorite place on the bed, but even with the windows open she started panting again. I was continuously taking her to the sink to pour cool water over her. Finally, we settled onto the floor, as close to the window as possible, for an uncomfortable night of tossing and turning. Awoken by the sun the next morning, I was dejectedly staring up at the ceiling, planning to take Chi-Chi and my laptop back to the mall to get some work done in center court, when the bedroom light came on with a pop-and-fizzle and the ceiling fan turned on — the pet-sitter must have left them on. It was over, but not for all in the D.C. area. I threw out all of the food in the fridge and freezer, and started working on the laundry from my trip. Puppacita just wanted to take a long nap. Her allergies were insane by this point from not being able to cover her sensitive skin with anything, due to the heat, when I took her outside.
Nearly a week after the power came back, my rat Red passed away. I don’t attribute it to the heat, as he was old and handled the outage quite well. But I’m glad he waited until after I returned to go.