Bringing Butley, Part I

February 26, 2013  

Two actors decide to do anything they can to bring their dog on the road with them, including buying him a car


By Todd Cerveris

So … we bought our dog a car.

Seriously.

He doesn’t drive.
He can’t read a map.
Frankly, he’s not even big on hanging his head out the window.
But … we bought our dog a car.
On Craigslist.

Lemme explain.

As dog lovers, my wife Angie and I had been planning, at some point, on getting a dog. At some point. Having just moved to a new apartment in the Inwood section of Manhattan, and as I was in rehearsal for the second year of the “Twelve Angry Men” national tour, we figured … later. But we all know what happens when you make plans: the universe laughs. The story goes that a friend of ours who fosters dogs for Stray From The Heart – an animal rescue and fostering organization in NYC – was in between apartments himself. He called Angie one afternoon while I was in rehearsal. Could we take a dog for the weekend? Maybe a week? Just while he gets everything sorted out. Sure, Angie replied, and our friend brought the dog by while I was at work. Angie had an appointment that evening, so she had to leave soon. “He’ll be fine. I’m sure he’ll be happy just to take a quiet nap while you’re out.”

Meeting Butley

So, I got this message on my phone, “Honey, there’s a strange pit bull in our apartment. He’s a sweetheart. Just take him out for a pee when you get home. See you tonight.”

Now I’d had enough experience with dogs to know that breed predicts neither temperament nor behavior. I knew that good dogs and bad dogs come in all coats and colors. But when you hear the phrase, “strange pit bull in your apartment,” a raised eyebrow of concern is understandable.

I got home that evening, turned the key and went inside. I had forgotten that there was a new dog there until right as I was walking in. A pair of ears and a pair of eyes perked up from the couch, wide and alert. I knew the first thing to do was to lower the threat level. I sat down and turned sideways, speaking in low, reassuring tones. But frankly, I probably could have been wearing a clown suit and playing a trombone because 70 pounds of grey, furry inquisitiveness and enthusiasm came rushing straight at me without a lick of caution or reserve. And of course, “just a weekend’ got turned into a lifetime.

He was found at age 2, wandering the Bronx. New York Animal Care & Control (NYACC) took him in, and he was on the list to be put down the next day when Stray From the Heart rescued him. Our friend, his foster father, had been calling him Buddy. Another foster owner had called him Bentley. “Butley” just happened, by mistake or misunderstanding, and somehow it seemed to fit. So evermore, “Butley” it was. And given that he looks a bit like Nathan Lane in a poster for a play of the same name, well … it was a done deal.

Fast forward to one year later. I was finishing “Twelve Angry Men,” and my wife and I were contracted to begin the tour of another show, “Spring Awakening.” Both of us together, this time. Rather than leave Butley with friends or family, we wanted the whole to family to go on the road together. After facing the obvious and innumerable complications of flying Butley from city to city, the answer was clear: buy a car. The problem was that we would be finishing rehearsals in New York City on a Sunday and then we would begin previews in San Diego the immediately following Tuesday. We obviously couldn’t buy a car in New York and drive across the country in a day, so we hunted for a car in San Diego. After looking around for quite awhile, we found a promising listing on Craigslist.

We talked with the owner back and forth for quite a bit, and it was sounding encouraging – single owner, a mechanic himself, lived just outside the suburbs in Southern California.

We got the VIN and researched the car’s history – no accidents, regular maintenance. Actually, the maintenance had been done on a very regular schedule – almost like clockwork.

And then he said, “If you want, we can leave the rack on top.” We thought it might be good for luggage. They sent photos. There was a logo on the front of the roof rack which I asked about. “Oh, that’s just a custom bike manufacturer where we had our bikes made.” I thought to myself, “Someone who has custom bikes made for riding around in the desert – that’s someone who’s going to take care of their car.” So we sent them a deposit and planned to pick the car up when we got out there.

The next part was getting out there.

Logistics

We looked into a specialty pet airline, but while its advertising made it look like they had separate flights just for animals, in fact they were just a travel broker who arranged all your pet’s travel plans on regular commercial flights, with no responsibility beyond that of the airline – and at a significant price increase.

We looked into hiring someone to drive Butley across country, but that would have been even more expensive and complicated.

So we decided to fly him commercially ourselves. It was July. He was a pit bull. It was complicated.

The airline we were flying refused to transport pit bulls at the time. Plus, we were flying into San Diego in mid-July. The whole problem of temperature on the landing strip meant that we couldn’t land in San Diego any time during the day, when it would be above 75 degrees. And we couldn’t leave from NYC during the day, as we’d have the same problem. So we ended up flying Butley on Northwest airlines (not the one for which our company provided flights for us). He flew out of Newark at 7 a.m., had a layover in Minneapolis (where we knew the temperature would be cool enough) for the better part of the day, and then he flew from Minneapolis into San Diego, arriving after dark, when the runway would be cool enough.

Here’s the best part: For the time he was in Minneapolis, Northwest had a great program for pets traveling with a layover at that airport. They took the dog to a local kennel that had contracted with them. You provide food, medical information, vaccination info, etc. And the dog gets to go hang out at the kennel for the afternoon, stretch his legs, have a meal, relax and not have to endure the stress of staying inside his travel crate, not getting to eliminate, suffering the airport freight-handling noise all day, etc. Basically, it’s a travel lounge for dogs. And it was a little expensive, but nothing compared to the other options. I think his whole ticket was something like $700. We joked about Butley “having a martini on his layover.”

So we loaded up everything we could imagine we would need for a year and either shipped it in boxes or packed it in a suitcase. We found people to stay in our apartment. We bought a used flight crate for Butley (which we planned to donate to a San Diego animal shelter once we got there). We got Butley all the necessary medical exams and vaccinations. We got a certificate of health within the requisite 10 days of travel. We made copies of all Butley’s paperwork, including his health certificate, his vaccinations, his adoption certificate, a letter from the veterinarian stating he was in good health and ready to fly. And then, for good measure, we just made copies of all his medical records and anything else that looked official in any way.

Even so, we still had an issue with the woman handling Butley’s ticket in Newark. She kept saying there was some piece of paperwork we needed. We had complied to the letter with every stipulation the airline required, but she kept blabbing on about some “seal” we were supposed to have. (I’ve talked to veterinarians and airlines since who have no idea what she meant. Some people have suggested she was suspicious of us flying a pit bull in general.) But ultimately, because of the fact that we traveled with a folder that had all his paperwork, we literally flooded this woman with enough information that she acquiesced. Lesson learned – in the case of documentation, more is always better.

So, when we arrived in San Diego, we took a cab out to meet the owners of the car on which we’d put down the deposit. We looked it over, were very impressed with the service records they’d kept and the car’s general condition; we paid the balance, signed the title and drove to the airport. We were now car owners – the tour ahead was beginning to feel very real, now.

It was after sunset, and the temperature in the San Diego summer had cooled to a balmy 68 degrees. We drove around to the cargo pickup terminal, checked that Butley’s plane had landed, and we parked. We waited for them to unload the plane, and then they brought out his crate. Butley had never flown before, to our knowledge, and we didn’t know how he’d handle it. (And yes, like nervous parents, we’d called to check in with the place in Minneapolis where he’d spent his layover – apparently he’d won them over handily as well.)

We were relieved to see his broad grin and to hear his tail thumping against the inside of the crate when they brought him out. We let opened the crate and he scrambled out, jumping back and forth like a kid coming home from his first day of school, full of stories and new impressions. We breathed a deep sigh of relief that everything had all worked out so impossibly well, and we opened up the back door of what would be our command central for the next year. “Butley’s car.” He jumped right in.

We hooked him into the Kurgo seat belt we’d bought for him so that he could be harnessed in but still have some freedom to move. We programmed the GPS to take us to our San Diego hotel. We made plans to stop off at a burrito stand on the way home. And as we pulled out of the parking lot, it was official. Our tour – and our year on the road – had officially begun!

This article was first published on October 15, 2012.

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Comments

13 Responses to “Bringing Butley, Part I
  1. WOW talk about love! I’m sure Butley appreciates all of the love and sacrifices you made for him.  Can’t wait for part 2!

  2. CindyLeeFearon says:

    love, love, love this story! can’t wait for part 2!!

  3. barbaraleeanderson07090 says:

    Todd, I can’t wait to hear Butley, part deaux!  I too have a pittie that’s doesn’t drive, can’t read a map, and isn’t big on hanging her head out the window.  But I renovated the back seat of my Mustang so that she could have a solid, padded lounging area all to herself.  Needless to say, Diva isn’t just her name!

  4. trissi_v says:

    Butley is one handsome devil, I loved the side by side with the Butley poster.
     
    Its amazing how pets change your lives…I think about vehicles now that make it easier to transport our pups (we have a 4runner for the dogs).  I have had to make travel plans for my elder kitty (using a large dog kennel for a small cat is perfect…it can’t be shook around like a little one and you can fit a small litter box in it for travel).  These furry kids really change how we think and live (for the better).  🙂
     
    Can’t wait to read the next installment.

  5. DianaJones says:

    Bought a car for your dog? Love it!! You are really cool people. And this should be a book or movie in the making. Can’t wait for part deux. And Butley is studly!

  6. mansbstfrend says:

    now thats love…

  7. mansbstfrend says:

    i must say that music would drive me mental!!!hahaha

  8. mansbstfrend says:

    hahaha…i think butley is jus so gawgess..hes a spoilt baby, how any 1 could think of putting a beautiful baby like him down ill neva know or understand….im so in love with him…

  9. Mrbrainsyck says:

    What a spoiled dog. =) Unfortunately with the money I make, my dogs will just have to live with the cramped space we have for driving in. Also I would probably set myself on fire if I had to endure that car ride. You should get your wife interested in metal.

  10. PenthouseT says:

    How do you deal with all of the back seat drool?

  11. avegas72 says:

    Love the video. Too funny!
    Aw Butley is a cutie pie!!!