Pet Parade: Traveling with pets

March 21, 2010 at 6:26 AM
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CHICAGO, March 19 (UPI) -- Whether by car, RV or plane, more people are traveling with pets.

As the summer travel season approaches more families are deciding whether to include pets in their vacation plans or park Fido and Fluffy in kennels, with friends and relatives, or to hire professional pet sitters.

From 2006 through 2009, more than 29 million adults traveled 50 miles or more with their pets, with dogs comprising 78 percent of the total.

Some 2 million live animals were transported by air in 2006 -- and that's not counting guide dogs for the blind, which are not considered pets. The U.S. Transportation Department said 12 animals died during the summer months of June, July and August. Four animals were lost.

Airlines have had to report mishaps involving pets transported as cargo since 2005. Travel can be stressful for pets -- as well as people -- but there's plenty of good advice available to make the experience smoother. Many hotels and motels are "pet friendly," and airlines are getting better in their treatment of pets, once considered just breathing baggage.

The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not recommend transporting pets in a commercial airplane's cargo hold. If you want to put your pet in the plane's cargo hold it's better to stick with direct flights and to avoid holiday travel.

The new extended-stay Residence Inn at Miami Airport South welcomes dogs, cats, birds and fish, and has amenities including a pet walk and waste receptacles. Pet-friendly rooms come with a "Pet In Room," sign to keep the pets, guests and hotel staff safe, but owners must sign a Pet Acceptance Agreement at check-in and pay a non-refundable $100 cleaning fee. A maximum of two pets is permitted during any one stay and the hotel reserves the right to remove any pet deemed dangerous or unacceptable.

A pet-friendly policy is a big step for a major U.S. hotel chain. Although La Quinta, Motel 6, Sheraton, Kimpton, Embassy Suites and other chains accept pets, the United States has lagged far behind Canada and Europe in opening facilities to pets.

We had no problems in the past when our fox terrier accompanied us on vacations to historic Galena, Ill. In fact, merchants invited us inside their establishments and gave him bottled water.

San Francisco Vacation Homes recently announced it would accept pets in all of its vacation rentals. The properties have fenced in yards, green areas and lots of room for active pets.

"Travel is expensive enough without having to pay exorbitant room rates plus all the extra fees the hotel will tack on for hosting your pet, walking your pet and possibly feeding your pet," said in a release.

Thirty years ago I took my dog to Canada by car. When we crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie, customs just asked to see proof of vaccination and the border guards all petted him.

We stayed at a motel in Ottawa and at the airport Hilton in Montreal where the desk clerk gave us a room by the parking lot.

The only incident occurred when the dog barked at a maid who opened the door to come into the room. We all laughed about it.

I must admit Linus was a true road warrior. He was used to driving six or more hours without stopping on our trips and loved to stick his nose through the sun roof, a behavior we called "snorkeling." He never got car sick.

Other pet owners are not as lucky. Stories of trips spoiled by sick pets and doggy flatulence are common.

When making a road trip, canine expert Cesar Millan, the National Geographic Channel's Dog Whisperer, told the New York Times a driver should plan on stopping every four hours to walk the animal to let it experience the sights and scents of new environments. He says small dogs are better suited to fly than larger breeds, and calmer dogs do better than nervous or high-strung animals.

He also advises owners to take a pet for a long walk once at the day's destination.

AARP recommends stopping every two hours to let dogs stretch and relieve themselves.

There are horror stories about traveling pets like the cat that escaped while going through security at Newark Liberty International Airport -- the same airport shutdown Christmas week by a man who ducked under a security rope to kiss his girlfriend and see her off at the departure gate.

Fluffy escaped from her cat carrier at the X-ray machine and hid under a bomb-detection machine, causing the cat's owner and several passengers to miss flights.

A cat or dog in the cabin also can wreak havoc on passengers who suffer from allergies to pet dander.

Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, deputy scientific editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said in a February editorial 10 percent of the population has allergies to animals and the association called for a ban on pets in aircraft cabins.

Air Canada began allowing small dogs, cats and birds in aircraft passenger cabins in 2009.

Most airlines allow a few animals in the cabin on a flight. Southwest allows as many as five animals, at a charge of $75 each. American Airlines allows two animals in first class and five in coach for $100 each, and Delta allows two pets in first class and four in the main cabin, charging $125 for each pet, the (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald said.

Pets must be at least eight weeks old and inside carry-on carriers or crates that fit under a passenger seat. Owners should arrive at the airport at least four hours before the flight and should travel with copies of health certificates, proof of vaccinations and a photo of the pet.

It's a good idea to have a veterinarian check out any pet before it travels, especially if it will be sedated. Walk the dog and give it water before the flight.

AARP advises pet owners to start now to prepare pets for a vacation trip. Drive pets around the neighborhood for no more than 15 minutes and take them on progressively longer trips to make sure they won't get car sick. Make sure all pets have collars with rabies and identification tags. Dogs and cats can be implanted with a mircochip for less than $50 and cats and dogs should be restrained inside a vehicle when it is in motion.

And don't forget familiar bedding, treats and a few favorite chew toys for when you leave your four-legged travel buddies alone.

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