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Dogs, Ducks, and an African Lion? Sierra goes to Big Bear

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

They say you really get to know someone when you travel together. In this case it wasn’t my husband I was getting to know better—we were going to Big Bear to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, after all—it was Sierra. Having had her for only a little over seven months now, we didn’t know what type of traveler she’d make. Would she get carsick on the long drive up or back? Become destructive in the cabin we’d rented? How would she deal with all the new sights and sounds? Thankfully, the answers were no, no, and amazingly well. What we discovered in short order is that Sierra is very adaptable, thoroughly enjoys new places and people, and is a fun traveling companion.

Because we’re still working through Sierra’s separation issues, we couldn’t imagine leaving her in a kennel while we went away. So after careful research, I’d found the Cienaga Creek Ranch in Big Bear City, which rents what might be termed “upscale rustic” cabins. My kind of camping! Best of all, the accommodations are dog friendly. The San Bernardino National Forest is only a three-hour drive from L.A., but being immersed in such raw natural beauty, we instantly felt transported.

We began each morning by hiking and exploring. Although dogs are allowed off-leash—it’s actually a selling point for visitors—we’re just not the betting type with a dog who’d been in the shelter four times before we adopted her. Sierra wore a long line and body harness for any outdoor activities, and didn’t seem to mind a bit. The hikes allowed her to climb rocks and jump over logs, race up and down trails, and best of all, follow the scent of fascinating critters. It really was Disneyland for dogs.

There was one type of animal we’d read about in the brochure, but were still taken aback when we heard him; an African lion. No, lions aren’t suddenly running amuck in the wilds of southern California. Randy Miller, a top animal trainer for the film industry, owns a compound called Predators in Action. The facility is very close to the cabins, and as promised, we heard the lion roar throughout our stay. I’d been worried about how Sierra would handle such an unfamiliar and perhaps frightening sound. Another surprise—she tilted her head and listened the first time or two, and then went about her business. Someone’s got to track those squirrels, after all!

Next, we drove down to the lake where we discovered that no, Sierra most certainly does not have a fear of the water—especially when ducks are involved. She waded right in after a family of ducks who were happily floating by. I’m betting that had she been leash-free, she’d have swum out to do her own version of a duck meet and greet.

Speaking of meeting and greeting, we had lunch at a restaurant in town that we’d heard was dog-friendly. My husband had visions of sitting at a patio table having to restrain Sierra the entire time, unable to eat or drink his beer…and she completely surprised him. After some initial sniffing around, she settled down quite nicely for most of the meal. Well, tethering her with a short leash a chair helped, too. (And yes, I could have asked her to down-stay, but she hadn’t had practice yet around so many distractions.) There was a lot of oohing and aahing from surrounding patrons, and some drive-by petting that Sierra took in stride. A little girl at the next table kept excitedly pointing to Sierra throughout the meal and whispering to her brother. Finally, she asked her father if she could go over to say hello. I assured dad that yes, the slightly wolfy-looking dog does like children (and not for breakfast), and a very sweet cuddle-fest ensued.

As with any good vacation, the time flew by all too quickly. Three days after we’d left, we left the cool, lush forest and headed back to the hot desert. I already miss the crisp air and the way the morning light hits the trees. Sierra doesn’t seem to mind at all, as she’s currently involved in happily coaxing treats out of a ball. I have to admit that in all the years I’ve lived with dogs, this is the first time I’ve actually traveled with one. After seeing how well Sierra did, my husband and I have decided that it surely won’t be the last.


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