Strangely, I’m a bit obsessed with Panda Express.
Each time I road trip to the U.S., I have to go through the Panda Express drive-thru and anything other than deep fry makes me excited – especially veggie and rice.
Drive-thru is a travelling with the dog mainstay especially in non-patio weather.
So that’s how I ended up at Panda Express near E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky last summer with my dog Victor. Sometimes traveling with fur family involves some compromises, in the form of boarding for the day.
Let me explain.
Despite being very dog-receptive, you can’t take your dog everywhere in Louisville. Yes, the dog-friendly Aloft Hotel downtown was one of hipster Victor’s favourite boutique hotels to date. And we landed in town on Dog Day at the waterfront Kentucky Derby Festival. Not all must-see Louisville stops allow four-footed companions.
The two places I had to see: The Muhammad Ali Center (see travel guide below) and The Derby Museum at Churchill Downs – especially Derby Week. (see horsetrotting.net). Neither would accommodate Victor, so I had one choice but to board him for half a day at The Kentucky Humane Society.
Wait. It’s not what you think.
To generate revenue for the actual Humane Society animal shelter, the organization runs two boarding, doggie daycare and grooming locations – Pet Resorts – just outside the city’s core. (I drove about 30 minutes in rush-hour traffic to get there). But the facility was pristine, and well-run with friendly staff and some regular daily boarders hanging out at the front desk. Furry heads pop up over the counter like gophers when you open the front door.
Other dogs, like Victor, stay in kennels while doggie daycare pups run in a windowed playzone equipped with pre-school playground equipment and toys.
Best of all – they squeezed Victor in for a bath and trim that day. The Kentucky Humane Society Eastport Pet Resort offers grooming services. Nothing like a clean-up on the road.
Like hairdressers, every dog groomer has a technique of their own and this time Victor lost his schnauzer-esque mustache in the process. He looked like a different dog.
But that didn’t stop people on the streets of Louisville from stopping me to pet him. One even inquired about the possibility of puppies. (Nope).
The Kentucky Humane Society Eastpoint Pet Resort, where Victor stayed for the afternoon, is located near Louisville’s E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, home to the communities’ first off-leash dog park. Six acres divided into small dog and all dog sections.
What better place to run Victor after a day inside?
Well, the 550-acre State Park proved an idea run for my adventure-seeking terrier-cross, but unfortunately the dog park didn’t. Like all leash-free runs in Louisville (and there are many) you need to buy an annual pass – a code card to open the gate – in order to use the parks. Not great for travellers.
If you’re in town for much longer than two days, unlike me and Vic (the next day we headed to Huntsville, Alabama), it might be worth buying a $35 pass at any Feeders Supply Store.
Instead, we roamed the expansive E. P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park. We almost got lost. Interactive Adventure Trails miles long take you past soccer fields, tennis courts, and even an archery range. Trails lead in to wooded areas, which we had to ourselves on a late weekday afternoon, and dogs are supposed to be on leash here.
My one complaint (other than that permit issue) was the lack of maps along the trails – they’re needed. The park is that big. Fortunately, I parked near the large wood-panelled community center, so I used that as a reference point when asking the few people how to get back to the parking lot.
Cutting through the soccer field, we eventually made it back to the car working up an appetite.
Fortunately, Panda Express was nearby, on-route to the highway. So was Petsmart, which explains why I ended up with a Veggie Bowl to go, and Victor ended up with more single serving portable wet food (road trip tested) and a new stuffed ice cream toy celebrating his Spring day romp unfazed by the Kentucky Derby hype taking over Churchill Downs nearby.
I have yet to find a Panda Express drive-thru in Canada.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Downtown Louisville is easy to walk, especially with the dog because people openly love-on dogs there. Driving is a little more challenging, thanks to wide one-way streets and an adjacency to the waterfront currently being redeveloped for pedestrians and festivals.
You’ll want to visit ‘museum row’ anchored by the Louisville Slugger factory and museum – tour rooms of baseball artifacts, give the batting cage and try, and visit the actual factory hand crafting the famous bat assembly line style. The relatively new kid on the block is the Muhammad Ali Center, a multi level interactive high-tech museum dedicated to the life’s work of the boxing great.
You’ll need a ride to get you to Churchill Downs, but it’s worth it. This is the heart of Louisville’s energy, especially Derby Week every May. The Derby Museum is open year round.. and tours of Churchill Downs, especially the Backside Tour taking you behind the scenes of racetrack training, is electric Kentucky Derby Week, though races happen here year round. Dust off your fascinator.
Need more info?
Check out The Insider’s Guide to Louisville guide book on Amazon.com or The Insider’s Guide to Louisville on Amazon.ca. (affiliate links)