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Metra going to the dogs, just not this one

Gilbert has kept a low profile the last few years, but Friday’s late-breaking news that Metra plans to begin offering train rides to pets roused him from his slumber.

In short order, he was staking a claim to a window seat, at least that’s what I thought he said.

I’ve learned from experience that some people have trouble with the idea of a talking dog, or more precisely, they have trouble with a guy who wants to be taken seriously writing about the issues of the day but professes to talk to his dog.

Gilbert thinks they should lighten up, but in the interest of journalism, I decided to interview Metra spokesman Michael Gillis for this story instead of relating any conversation I may have had with a Spaniel mutt.

So how about it, Gillis, does this mean I can bring my dog on the train?

“You don’t ride Metra,” Gillis said, which is the problem with having a former Sun-Times colleague and soccer teammate as the Metra spokesman.

Well, no, but maybe I’d start if I could bring my dog.

“Is he small enough to be put in an enclosed carrier that you can hand carry?” Gillis probed.

These carriers come in all sizes, and as you know, I’m a pretty big guy so I could probably handle it.

“Is the carrier small enough to fit under a seat or in your lap?”

I don’t know about under the seat, but I have a wide lap.

“Is he going to behave himself?’

Now that’s a tougher question. Gilbert will turn 15 on Cinco de Mayo, the birthday we assigned him when we brought him home from the pound, and he’s calmed down considerably in that time. But I couldn’t rule out a little barking, especially if there were other dogs on the train.

Gillis informed me the rules will require the pet not be disruptive to other passengers “due to factors such as noise, smell or aggressive behavior.”

Well, he smells bad right now because he’s overdue for a bath. We can fix that, but I can’t promise he won’t have an accident somewhere along on the way. The groomer tells us he has a problem when he gets nervous.

I sensed the discussion was starting to make Gillis nervous as well, so I forged ahead.

Will there be any weight limit for the pets? Gilbert weighs about 28 pounds these days.

“No. This is a trial. It’s a pilot program. We’ll have to see if there’s a need for more specific rules later,” he said. “You’d have to be the judge of whether Gilbert is too big. I would say he’s probably borderline.”

Borderline. That’s probably the right word for it. I’ve often wondered if Gilbert had a borderline personality disorder, brought on by issues of abandonment when he was a puppy. I didn’t really say that to Gillis, but I should have.

Still, I must have said something strange, because Gillis asked suspiciously: “Would GILBERT like to ride on Metra?”

Well, sure. At least, I have to believe he would. I’m from an old railroading family, and I know Gilbert likes to think of himself as part of the family.

“Maybe he’d prefer the CTA,” Gillis suggested hopefully, as in he hoped he wouldn’t be subjected to another interview with me later after a Metra conductor had been forced to put Gilbert and me off the train.

I told him I never realized I could take Gilbert on the CTA.

“We did some research. Most transit agencies do allow this,” Gillis said, then conceded: “He might be borderline for the CTA as well.”

How soon can I buy Gilbert’s ticket?

Pets will not need a ticket, Gillis assured me, but he noted the new policy still needs to be approved by the full Metra board next month. That means it could be spring before Gilbert will be allowed on board.

That information threw me off. Given Gilbert’s attention span, he’ll probably have forgotten all about it by then.

Then Gillis mentioned the pilot project will apply only to the Rock Island Line.

But I don’t live on the Rock Island, I protested. I don’t want to ride the Rock Island.

“Maybe GILBERT wants to ride the Rock Island,” he said pointedly.

That’s what I get for not reading the fine print. Next thing you’re going to tell me I can’t open a window so Gilbert can stick his head out.

“No, we don’t have windows that open, except emergency windows,” Gillis said.

Maybe we’ll just drive.