Every paw-parent dreams of exploring the world with his/her fur baby, but only few go the extra mile. Niharika Singh Dalal, mother of Rio Singh, is one of those few. She travels across the country hoping to give Rio all the adventures and happiness in the world, all while fighting against his ill-health. By Bayar Jain
T+L India: Do you remember the first time you met your dog, Rio Singh?
Niharika Singh Dalal: The memory of meeting Rio is as vivid as him sitting next to me right now! He was 10 days old and covered in mites; it took a month for him to recover and get all his fur back. It was madness at first-sight, and not love. I just wanted him to recover. I didn’t realise I was being thrown into motherhood in my 20s. He was alone and tiny, and separated from his biological mother. I had to bottle-feed him every few hours. I dealt with every little task that comes along with mothering a new born baby. He went everywhere with me in a puppy bag!
I think the genesis of his profound love for car drives comes from the time I used to sling the puppy bag like a baby harness around myself, and drive with him to work, shopping, and meeting friends.
My dad always had two to three dogs in the house when we were growing up. Our furry siblings were as important—or more important—than most humans. But Rio was right out of a movie! He was the naughtiest puppy I had ever known, and has now grown into a dog who has more EQ than most humans.
T+L India: When did you first learn about his tumour? What treatment is he going through and how is he responding to it?
Niharika Singh Dalal: We learnt about his tumour last year. There is a tennis ball-sized mass growing on his spleen.
Our choices are limited when it comes to his treatment. It’s either to remove the entire spleen, which would put tremendous strain on an older canine, or we let it be and let the illness run its course. We don’t want to take away the quality of his life. It’s a heartbreaking choice for any parent.
T+L India: What motivated you to start vacationing with your furry friend?
Niharika Singh Dalal: I didn’t have a choice. I love travelling and didn’t always have someone to babysit Rio. My dad had to go back to the sea often as he was in the merchant navy. Leaving Rio in doggy hotels came with a heavy burden of mommy guilt—I wish I had a more romantic answer to this!
But like human moms, even dog moms go through their share of feeling guilty about leaving their kids alone and going for a holiday. So it started from there, and in time I realised that he is a fantastic travel companion, especially while driving at night. He keeps me safe. He is a gentle giant, but people keep a safe distance when they see a big, black dog.
T+L India: Tell us a little bit about the destinations you covered together so far.
Niharika Singh Dalal: Rio loves car drives, even more than food—and that is a big deal for a Labrador! There is nothing more heartwarming than looking at Rio sticking his head out of the car window with his ears flapping in the wind. He has flapped his ears and eaten snow in Spiti, Mashobra, Junga, Chandpur, Landour, Manali, Mukteshwar. He has jumped and swam in Chandra Taal, ate more snow at Kunzum Pass, and has barked at bikers on these highways!
T+L India: How do you choose your travel destinations?
Niharika Singh Dalal: Weather and pet-friendly hotels. These days, it’s about [visiting] snow [destinations] because of Rio. He loves it and we want him to have the best time.
T+L India: What are some of your fondest travel memories with Rio?
Niharika Singh Dalal: Looking at him going berserk with excitement in Chandra Taal has to be one of the best memories. He was thrilled. He jumped in every stream and tried to chomp on every bit of snow as if it were candy!
T+L India: How has the concept of travelling with pets changed over the years in the country?
Niharika Singh Dalal: I think this has more to do with people realising that a pet is like any other family member. They have real emotions and need a lot of care. Just the way you won’t leave a child in care of a stranger, you can’t leave a pet or furry child.
Also hotels recognise the need to be pet-friendly. It’s great business and you are getting free amusement looking at a human running behind his/her dog constantly.
T+L India: Which place have you found to be the most pet-friendly?
Niharika Singh Dalal: Aashraya On The Ganga in Chandpur, Rishikesh, is a beautiful place to take your furry companion. It offers great short treks and is near a river. Nomad’s Cottage in Chicham and Losar are also wonderful places. They prepared boiled chicken for Rio Singh; the staff was so kind to him!
The Himalayan in Manali is a beautiful property to stay with your pet. It’s built like a castle, so it was perfect for prince Rio Singh! He felt right at home.
Sitla Estate, Mukteshwar, is another place built and kept with love. It’s also where we discovered that Rio is a gentleman. During our stay, we met a beautiful fur baby called Eva. I think Rio was smitten by her. One of the evenings, we gave him a bone as a snack and saw him sharing half of it with Eva.
T+L India: What are the things to keep in mind while travelling with pets?
Niharika Singh Dalal: Keep your kid hydrated. Dogs, like humans, forget to drink enough water out of excitement. This can develop UTIs. So make sure that they drink enough water.
Boiled chicken or eggs are available at most pet-friendly stays, but do call and check. Be very careful of local dogs in the hills. They are very territorial and will come charging at your dog. In Kaza, Rio was attacked by a pack of local dogs who bit my husband while defending Rio.
T+L India: What are your favourite travel destinations?
Niharika Singh Dalal: Spiti is our favourite travel destination these days. It has a lot to offer—adventure and cold weather. We have been lucky enough to meet some warm people on our way.
T+L India: Your bucket list destinations to visit together?
Niharika Singh Dalal: We want to drive to Kerala with Rio, stopping at Udaipur, Pune, Goa, Bengaluru and then straight to Rio’s grandparents in Trivandrum. Hopefully 2022 is the year for it!
Related: Plan A Paw-Fect Vacation To These Popular Dog-Friendly Hotels Around The World