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The Adventures of Hayley and Brando

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Hayley Sumner had been a world traveler. But she had never really explored the United States. A native New Yorker, she was living in California on that horrible day in September of 2001. As with most who grew up in the City, she lost many friends in the attack on the Twin Towers.

The great loss and tragedy ignited a patriotism within Hayley, and she longed to understand what had happened.  In search of solace, she took along her soul mate, Brando, a part rottweiler, Labrador and Newfoundland mix. She traded her sports car for a truck, and the two of them set off on a trip through the rugged American West. With a video camera, they stopped wherever they saw an American flag.

"I had a very unsettling feeling that was motivating me not only to understand what happened, but also to connect with others and our country,'' Hayley said. "I wanted to see how people were affected by and dealing with the tragedy.''

Along the way, Hayley and Brando made new friends - both human and canine. She learned a lot about herself, including some lessons Brando taught her about adventure and trust, and she bonded with new people they met on the road.

"Here I was, a New York City girl in the wilderness,'' she said. "So much seemed familiar, yet there was so much I didn't know."

Before setting off on the trip, Hayley had researched cafes and roadside motels that were dog-friendly. She hung a shirt on the car window to keep the glare out of Brando's eyes and protect him from the heat. When they stopped at a motel, they heard people having a party - and then heard a knock at their door. It was Brando who led the way, as Hayley and her pet joined her fellow Americans sitting around, having a drink and just talking about the things that needed to be talked about.

They traveled for a time with Harley motorcycle riders. They experienced the kindness of truckers who alerted them to speed traps and offered advice for a woman traveling alone on the open road. They relaxed in an Old West hotel in Livingston, Mont. It was the landmark Murray Hotel, a place with bullet holes in the ceiling, gorgeous antiques and live country music playing.

At the hotel, it was Brando who made the social connections. Sitting in the Montana hotel bar, Hayley heard someone shout, "Is that Brando?'' As it happened, it was a group they knew from the dog parks in Venice, Calif. -- friendly people with a big friendly dog named Ulla. Before long, Brando and Ulla were playfully scampering around together.

The trip was full of adventure and lots of activities. At one point, while they were getting into a paddle boat, Brando slipped between the boat and the dock, and plopped into the water -- his first swimming experience. Hayley dropped her camera bags and dove in to save him, hoisting him up from underneath the water while people at the dock grabbed Brando and pulled him safely to shore.

Hayley and Brando had another scary moment, when they momentarily found themselves in the path of a herd of mustangs. Hayley put Brando up in a tree while the herd passed. Like Dorothy in Oz, Hayley knew she wasn't in New York or California anymore.

Hayley and Brando traveled through most of the Northwest -- Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. In Oregon, the two of them met up with another of Hayley's old friends from grade school. It was good to reminisce with Rachael and her boys, and it was salve for both their hearts.

Hayley took away plenty of wisdom from the trip. She learned that people all over the country are bound by a common love of America. She connected with the mountains, the people, and the patriotism she found everywhere she visited. She also learned something important from Brando about a loving relationship.

The moment of truth happened while fly fishing, when Hayley's friend tied Brando to a post to keep him from wandering off. Not happy to be bound, Brando chewed right through the supposedly indestructible rope.

"The message was clear,'' Hayley said. "If you tie me up, I'll leave. If you respect me, I'll stay with you forever.''

Credit: . Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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