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Travel with dogs: Thinking outside the crate

Tracy L. Barnett
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Lily, Tracy, Penelope, Jonah and Josh Pesikoff

HIGH-TRAILING IT Lily, Tracy, Penelope, Jonah and Josh Pesikoff (from left) hike Bear Creek Trail in Telluride, Colo., in July 2015. 

Pets are part of the family, so it’s natural to want to bring them along on trips. That can be a challenge if your dogs are too big to fly in the cabin – and it’s gotten harder recently, as headlines about tragic dog deaths in transit have prompted less permissive policies on the part of most U.S. airlines. We spoke with four Buzz-area dog lovers to scope out some of the alternatives.

For Tracy Pesikoff, it’s a no-brainer; she and husband Joshua take their summer road trips to Colorado and their winter trips to Florida as a part of the adventure, with Penelope the standard poodle lounging in the back of their Jeep Grand Cherokee. For Liz and Adam Pulaski, however, time was of the essence, and they decided on a shortcut: a flight aboard Wildcat Touring, a semi-private charter service that allows big dogs like their goldendoodle Charlie to ride in coach. 

Susan and Wayne Whitney decided to spend a month this summer in Aspen, and hit on an innovative solution: a local dog-walker who was willing to drive their dogs – and their car – to the Aspen airport, and then meet them there when they headed home.

Road-tripping it

Tracy Pesikoff has been a standard poodle person as long as she can remember; in fact she can’t remember ever not having one by her side. Oliver, a large black standard poodle, was her faithful companion when she met her future husband, Joshua, and she made it clear the deal was a twofer. “I said, ‘I come with the dog, the dog comes with me,’” she said with a laugh. 

Sadly, Oliver passed away when Tracy was six months pregnant with her first child, and she ended up giving the name to her son – Jonah Oliver. Shortly after Oliver’s death Elliott came along – another black standard poodle. 

“When I brought Jonah home I put him on changing table, and Elliott put his paws on the table, licked Jonah and I said, ‘Jonah, meet your new brother.’”

Now Jonah has gone off to college, and Elliott, too, passed away after 14 happy years. Elliott’s place was taken by Penelope, a smaller apricot standard poodle. The Pesikoffs periodically load up the Jeep, plug in some tunes and enjoy the ride. 

“It’s 20 hours to Colorado, and 10 hours to Florida – and she’s done it so many times, she just lays in the back seat and she’s totally fine,” Tracy said. “I usually try to have a big play day the day before so she’s good and tired. I think she likes listening to our music and hanging out with us.”

Liz Pulaski

Liz Pulaski takes a break in the shade with goldendoodle Oliver.

The semi-private solution

Now that her daughters are gone to college, Liz Pulaski is the main caretaker of the family’s two goldendoodles, Oliver and Charlie, and it’s become more important than ever to take the pups when they head to Aspen, where they have their second home. Liz and husband Adam used to board the dogs. But when they learned of Wildcat Touring, a summer charter service that launched in 2015, they jumped onboard. The Houston-Aspen route is three times a week during the summer, and they allow large dogs in their kennels in the coach. 

She wasn’t too sure about it the first time she tried it. “You’re anticipating that they’re going to bark or get sick or disrupt the flight. But the movement of the plane and the sound of your voice calms them down.”

While the one-way fee for bringing a small dog with you is $100, large dogs are charged a $600 handling fee per flight, and you must buy two adjacent people seats to make room for the crate on the floor even if you are traveling alone. Still, for the Pulaskis, who spend a month or more in their Aspen home, it’s a no-brainer. 

“They were so gracious; it’s like having a baby. But they get you on the plane and get you settled with the dog first. They set up the whole crate for you, and you just come on the plane with the dogs on the leash and you put the dog in the crate.”

“It’s a nice service, and they’re so sweet to the dogs,” said Liz. 

McKenna Whitney

McKenna and Maverick Whitney enjoy the morning on the Roaring Fork River in Colorado.

Personal pet chauffeur

Until recently, the Whitneys didn’t vacation in dog-friendly destinations, so they typically relied on their housekeeper to care for their corgi, Maverick, and their golden retriever, Torch. This year, however, Susan was intrigued when a friend mentioned she’d been hiring her dog walker, Matt Cullen, to drive her dogs to Boston and back. They’d decided to rent a house in Aspen for a month, and didn’t like the idea of leaving their canine companions behind for so long. This seemed like the perfect option, so she reached out to Matt. 

“He was very responsible; he had the trip all mapped out – I could tell he was very conscientious and a pet lover himself,” said Susan. So they loaded up their Suburban with most of their luggage, the dogs’ toys and bowls, and finally the dogs themselves, and Matt took the helm and set off for Aspen, timing the trip to meet the Whitneys at the airport. They were able to take the car and head straight to their rental house, while Matt flew home and then flew back at the end of the month to make the return trip. The cost of his services and expenses was around $2,100, said Susan. 

“But it was more than the money; it seemed more comfortable for them and more comfortable for me,” she said. “It’s just fantastic. You can load up the car with whatever you need, and at the end of the trip, it shows up right at the house, and the dogs are comfortable, walked and fed.”

Also available for year-round professional transport is Lone Star Pet Carriage. Created by Daleen Agardy and later joined by husband Bruce, this year-round, cross-country pet transport service employs a computer dispatch system and TLC.

Tips from the experts

Thanks to our travel experts: Lone Star Pet Carriage, BringFido.com, River Oaks Travel, and dog caretaker Matt Cullen. Matt can be reached at matt@buttercupsbuddies.com

Traveling by air

Make sure you or your dropoff provider know what size and type of crate they will accept for the proper fit for your pup. Different carriers have different standards.

All crates must have a water-bowl feature on the inside.

Check with BringFido.com for requirements for the country you’re traveling to. Many countries require vet certificates and proof of vaccinations, and even pet passports. Also, do not give the dog tranquilizers unless you have spoken to a veterinarian about this.

Traveling by land

Know your pup. If he gets nervous in the car or short rides then he will probably have stress on a longer drive. Many dogs that get nervous have only taken car drives to the vet. A good way to ease this fear is to take them more frequently on fun trips, like to the park or to one of the local pet shops, where they can explore and know they are heading for a good time.

Make sure while traveling you have a close handle on their leashes, etc. 

Use a good restraint harness that can be inserted or attached to the passenger seatbelt. Many companies and pet supply stores carry these. But if your vehicle is big enough and your dog is used to a crate, that’s the best way to go.

Have water available at each stop. Some dogs can go longer than others without stopping. As a minimum, stop every couple of hours.

Many hotels now are very pet-friendly, with some going as far as customized amenities (hello, pet-sized robes at Belmond Hotel Splendido in Portofino!). Rosewood Las Ventanas al Paraiso even offers pet massages, walks on the beach, and portable pet cabanas for the beach and pool. Residence Inn, Kimpton and many Indigo boutique hotels also allow pets. Check out BringFido.com, whose 250,000-plus database can help you find the right dog-friendly hotel for your needs.

Check out where the rest stops are in advance, so you can take full advantage of their typically excellent grounds for a real walk and rest.

Traveling by sea

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2’s legendary white glove service extends to pets, with a kennel master to pamper pets throughout the cruise in onboard kennels, with outdoor off-leash doggie areas and indoor play spaces where you can visit throughout the day. 

There are many options for pet friendly ferries between European Union and United Kingdom countries. Find a list of them here: www.pettravel.com/cruise_ferry_rules.cfm

Make sure your dog is good on the water. Like humans, some are prone to seasickness. If this is the case, find an alternate form of transportation, or talk to your vet.

Editor’s note: Buzz travel columnist Tracy L. Barnett is a Lowell Thomas travel journalism award winner and longtime travel and environmental writer. 

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