When Nelson and Paula DiGennaro become full-timers sometime in 2008, three close friends will accompany them in their motorhome: a bird who likes classic rock music and two dogs who conveniently use a litter box.
The DiGennaros, FMCA members from Huber Heights, Ohio, travel in a 36-foot Itasca Meridian with toy poodles Cinnamon and Raven and a lovebird named Flagger.
Raven weighs about 7 pounds, double Cinnamon’s "teacup" size. “Cinnamon is the hold me, love me pet,” Paula said. “But she watches everyone in the neighborhood. She is our guard poodle. Raven, on the other hand, is always wanting to play and putting a toy in your face.”
When RVing with dogs, it's important to have them crate trained so they don’t run loose in the RV when you're away, Paula said. “People who don’t kennel their animals when they’re away run a huge risk of a lot of things happening.”
Raven and Cinnamon, sisters from the same litter, have their own Nylabone folding kennels. “They're hard-side kennels but they fold down to roughly 4 to 5 inches in depth and you can just pull them out and pop out the front and back,” Paula said. “They are very easy to store under the front couch or the bed.”
Although the kennels promote the canines’ safety, the DiGennaros never leave them alone inside the motorhome for long hours. “With pet ownership comes a lot of responsibility,” Paula said. “They give us a lot of love and we have to make sure we take care of them.”
To make motorhoming easier on everybody, the DiGennaros trained Raven and Cinnamon to use a litter box, the waste receptacle traditionally used by cats.
Both poodles can use the litter pan while the motorhome is in motion. That way, Paula and Nelson can travel all day long, if necessary, stopping only to allow Nelson to stretch his legs.
“The litter tray is excellent,” Paula said. “During the night if one of the dogs has to use the restroom, they can come out of their kennel and go back and use the tray. And during the day when we’re moving they can go back and use the tray. And they don’t have accidents.”
Even if dogs are older, they still can be litter pan-trained, Paula said. “It’s just something that you have to get them used to doing. If you have patience and use positive reinforcement of praise and treat rewards, they adapt very quickly.”
They purchased the cat litter pan in the dog department at PetSmart. “They also offer a dog litter pan but we found it bulky, heavy and not working for our little ones, and not conducive for RVers,” Paula said.
They lined the bottom of the pan with a pre-deodorized puppy pad. They covered the pad with two layers of opened newspaper. “When the paper gets soiled we change it,” Paula said. “But the puppy pad doesn’t get soiled as often, so it can stay in the pan for a much longer time frame.”
They love their bird
Flagger, a peach-face lovebird, weighs about 44 grams. Her name comes from auto racing; Paula and Nelson are huge fans.
Flagger’s birdcage is anchored to a buffet ledge along the edge of a window, next to their computer printer. “She can watch out the window and chatter while we travel,” Paula said. “And we can pull the blinds so she’s not in direct sun.”
Nelson and Paula use Super Grips Fasteners to fasten the cage and keep it from moving. The fasteners “work like a charm,” Paula said. “… When we're somewhere and we want to take her out to sit on a picnic table, we just unlatch the Super Grips and lift her cage out. Then we put her cage back when the time comes.”
Super Grips Fasteners are available in black or white from Camping World, she added.
Traveling with a bird ensures that the DiGennaros always will have someone to “talk to.” Or listen to.
Flagger helps Nelson to appreciate sounds that he might otherwise overlook. “It’s fun to hear her in the morning when she’s chirping and answering the other birdies,” he said. “As RVers, we’re so in tune to ignoring things that we just turn off the sound of the birds. All of a sudden Flagger will take off on birds and we’ll say, what is that?”
Flagger really picks up her chirping at about 10 p.m. and carries on for about an hour. “She likes certain music,” Paula said. “She absolutely loves The Who. She loves the Rolling Stones. She loves the Eagles. I think it’s because of the percussion, the cymbals and the guitar, maybe just the people.”
Like her owners, she also enjoys watching motorsports. When those events are on TV she gives a running commentary, in bird talk.
What’s the biggest concern when traveling with a bird? Making sure they eat and drink because they can become dehydrated, Paula said.
“Flagger eats all the time, but if a bird doesn’t cooperate like ours does, you need to stop every couple of hours and let the bird actually get down and eat and drink. The motion of the motorhome sometimes can keep them from wanting to eat.”
Another concern: heat. “People think that because it’s a tropical bird it should withstand heat in an RV if you wanted to leave and not air-condition the RV,” Paula said. “That’s not necessarily the case. If a bird is used to being in air conditioning, it’s not going to be able to handle the heat any more than you can.”
In addition, Flagger’s cage needs to be cleaned only every week or two, so there isn’t the constant cleanup you have with larger pets, she said.
The DiGennaros look forward to enjoying their full-timing years with Raven, Cinnamon and Flagger on board.
“Flagger’s cage is safely secured yet she can look the window while traveling,” Paula said. “And with the poodles’ litter pan, we don't have to take them out while driving or even when stopped. It's a perfect traveling pet setup."
Flagger is the DiGennaros’ second pet bird. They had another lovebird, and it’s an interesting story how it found them.
In 1992 they arrived home from a motorhome trip after driving through severe weather in northern Ohio. “We had been having tornado warnings — we had actually driven through a lot of it,” Nelson said.
When they were unloading their motorhome a bird, about the size of a parakeet, flew into their garage. It was green with a bright red face, red bill, rings around its eyes and a stubby tail.
“She landed on the roof of our car and we rescued her,” Nelson said. “It was Labor Day, so we named her LD.”
As it turned out, “long distance” may have been a suitable moniker as well.
After talking with various people and doing a bit of research, the DiGennaros learned that when Hurricane Andrew ripped through Miami, Fla., two weeks prior, it had blown away a bird aviary. Many of the Fischer’s lovebirds had gone free, and LD happened to be a Fischer’s lovebird.
The Fischer’s lovebird, named after German explorer Gustav Fischer, is a species in the parrot family.
The experts concluded that LD came from the aviary in Miami, Nelson said. “She was scared to death to be anywhere except in a cage; she wanted to be confined. So that led them to believe, too, that that was the case because they would have been confined in a large caged area.”
LD had probably wanted to be captured, he added, because two weeks of getting blown around in the hurricane had left it exhausted and near death.
For nine years, LD traveled everywhere Paula and Nelson did. “I never realized a bird had personality until we had that bird,” Nelson said, “because we used to play a game and make noises and she’d respond back. And even the one we have now does that.”