It’s A Fire! Where Is My Leash?

By Marieann Gladstone

Close your eyes. Imagine. Your head hits the puffy white pillow as your tired aching body flops on the firm, yet unfamiliar Queen sized-bed of the downtown high rise Holiday Inn. Your dog or perhaps dogs have been exercised and are crated, except for the one particularly spoiled bitch, who has just nestled in your armpit. You welcome a good night’s sleep, before your "wake-up" alerts you to an early hour for your 9 o’clock judging assignment. You drift off to sleep, perchance to dream...

Sooner than you expected, a horrendous noise wakes you from your slumber. A blaring siren. Are you ready for the unexpected?

I found myself in this situation while attending a 3-day weekend of December shows in Binghamton, New York. After the show, I spent a few hours of Christmas shopping at downtown shops, I exercised dogs, returned to my room and dropped on my bed exhausted. The ear-shattering alarm woke me at 1 AM Friday morning. I slapped my alarm clock a few times but it did not stop. I then realized the noise was coming from the hall, not my clock or telephone. I sprang out of bed and I opened the door a bit. The blasting was even louder since the horn was right outside my door. I saw no one in the hall. I stepped back inside, and dialed the front desk. It rang quite awhile and no one answered. That did not set well with me. I went back to the door and peaked out again and the blast stopped. Back in the room relieved, I waited for half-a-minute, then fell back to bed. The fire alarm went off again. Immediately, I called the front desk. "Yes, it's a fire alarm. Please come down to the lobby," the detached voice requested.

I tried not to panic, but in my weariness I had merely tossed my things here and there. Tripping over my dogs, I rushed about in the unfamiliar darkness, fumbled for light switches, grabbed my clothes and searched for leashes, keys and purse. The blast was hurting my own ears, and my dogs sensed the urgency. With their herding dog instinct to guard and protect, they woofed in the confusion. "Come on!" I thought to myself, "Keys! Where are my leashes?"

After what seemed like an eternity, I found the leashes on the bed among the blankets and my keys had fallen onto the floor. I quickly leashed up my two Cardigan Welsh Corgis and my Australian Shepherd and got out the door.

There was no one in the hall. Things were calm, despite the siren and there was no sign of smoke. It was quite unnerving to deal with this all alone. My eyes darted for the nearest exit, but I did not want to go down the stairwell alone. I was on the top floor - the 8th floor - and I know my shortcomings. My pulse raced and I thought, I’m not going to make it. I took off in the opposite direction for the far exit, hoping I would run into some people. By the time I had reached the emergency door, others had joined me, some with their dogs as well. Down. Down. Down we went with nervous dogs and babbling people moving quickly down the eight flights. I had visions of "The Towering Inferno" and other disaster movies. Where was Charleton Heston when I needed him? Keep calm I told myself. This is real life and not a movie. Everyone kept going down the stairs, quite orderly, some casually assuming it was a false alarm.

Or was it? The woman behind me struggled with a young Beagle pup in her arms almost dropping him. "He’s really scared, poor baby. Don’t you have a leash?" I asked her. "No, I couldn’t find it. It’s probably not a real fire," she replied coolly. Her lack of concern surprised me. I chatted to my dogs telling them they were being so good. I kept their attention focused on me.

By the time we reached the lobby floor, the alarm stopped. It did turn out to be a false alarm. Most people either went back upstairs or headed for the bar. My stairway companions with dogs headed outside to exercise the dogs and we were just in time to see the last fire truck pulling away from the entrance of the hotel.

Everybody was buzzing about this the next day at the show. There was a letter of apology for the inconvenience from the management under my door. There was no word about 10% off your bill or at least a free drink at the bar.

This situation can happen to anyone. You do not have to be a dog exhibitor to take extra precautions. Dog "people" could be on the road with one dog or more, or with a young inexperienced puppy. This could happen to a family on vacation with children and the family pet. The point is: we tend to be prepared in our familiar home environment, but when checking in a hotel or motel, are you ready to react quickly when responding to an unexpected emergency?

This "false alarm" incident may have been inconvenient, but it was an eye-opener and provided an invaluable lesson in how to deal with the unexpected. Since then, when I stay at a hotel, I try to get a room on a lower floor. I have trained myself to have clothing at easy access. When my dogs are with me, a leash and collar for each dog is hooked right onto their crate or is on the dresser, next to my keys.

Developing certain habits of preparedness can save precious minutes, enabling you to react quickly in a dark unfamiliar room under the stress of an emergency. You have the added responsibility to calm your dogs, (as well as others if you are not alone), and get to safety. Your dog will pick up on the stress of the situation. Help him through this with assurance. Put yourself in the opening of this article in that strange hotel stirred from a deep sleep to the blast of that alarm.

Were you prepared???

©MZG1998

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