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Traveling with Your PetNotes From the Road

Pet-Friendly Travel
By Debbie Murphy/

What to Know When Traveling with Pets -
In the maybe-not-so-good old days, dogs rode un-tethered in the back of a pickup. Or they traveled with their heads out of a drool-splattered side window, nostrils flaring and ears flapping. A lot has changed, though: Many states have outlawed free-roaming dogs in pickup beds. And owners are now more aware of the dangers of a dog sticking its head into the slipstream. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the desire of pet owners to take their companions along on family trips.

Despite state laws and increased cautions, it’s easier to travel with your pets today than ever before. Today, there are products to ensure your pet’s comfort and safety, along with internet-accessible lists of hotels and motels that cater to pets. However, pet owners aren’t off the hook. The difference between an enjoyable road trip with your pet and one marred by a panicked animal and a stressed out owner is up to you.
Practice Run
First, if this is your pets’ maiden voyage, make sure they’re ready. Do a couple of hopefully “dry” runs to happy destinations—a dog park or a good dog-walk area. Start this process a few weeks before the vacation and lengthen the trips. If your dog never quite settles down in the car or suffers from motion sickness, call your vet for recommendations on prescriptions that relieve travel stress. And if you do need to medicate Fluffy, do so sparingly. I heard of a neurotic Siamese cat that got drunk on tranquilizers and yowled for hours in an enclosed car. Not a happy memory.
Other times with pets have been really fun. My first long trip with my young terrier mix started out with her little pointy feet in my lap and her front paws on the steering wheel. While it probably looked pretty cute to passing motorists, it wasn’t comfortable for me or safe for her. Thankfully, after about 100 very long miles, she was snoozing in the passenger seat.
These preliminary trips can also indicate what additional safety or restraint products you may need. Harnesses (like pet seatbelts), and carriers that can be strapped in and/or barriers to keep pets in the back of an SUV are all good ideas. Quick stops, swerves and curvy roads can all send your pet flying; in the event of even a minor accident, an unsecured 60-pound Lab can injure itself, you or your human passengers. If a dog is in the bed of a pickup, makes sure to remove any loose objects, and secure your pet with a non-stretching leash that doesn’t extend any farther than the edge of rails. Also, lay down a piece of carpet or other soft fabric to provide some insulation and cushion.
Pets Welcome
Use this preparatory period to locate pet-friendly stops along your journey. It’s as easy as Googling “pet friendly hotels.” There’s a broad range of these accommodations—from Motel Cheap to luxury hotels with doggy spas. Find out what they require in terms of shots or other special care, and what kind of behavior they expect from your pet.
While on the subject of injections, it’s always a good idea to make sure your traveling pet’s shot records are up to date. To be entirely on the safe side, find out if any special shots may be recommended at your destination point, especially if your pet will be exposed to the local pet population.
So far, we’ve concentrated on dogs—whoever heard of a cat with its head out the window, ears flapping? (I’ve had a hard enough time just putting one in the car!) Unless your cat is truly exceptional, get a carrier. Cats have an affinity for that nice dark spot under the pedals, if you’re lucky. If you’re not, little Fluffy may decide an escape is called for and start bouncing off every hard surface of your vehicle.

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