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San Antonio Express-News

San Antonio Express-News

November 18, 2001

Americans have pets, will travel


Edition: Metro
Section: Travel
Page: 1L

Index Terms:

Estimated printed pages: 6

Article Text:

Nicky was as smart as they come. Years of traveling as a toy poodle had taught him patience and stillness and faith in his human owners. So when he went on vacation with his folks to Houston, it was old hat. And when he had to stay in a kennel in the parking garage of their tony hotel, Nicky knew that it was only a matter of time before Mom and Dad came down to fetch him.

"Of course we smuggled him up later to the room," says Frances Hamilton, now retired. She and her husband also hid Nicky in the bathroom when the waiter came in with breakfast. "He didn't peep a pip," she says, laughing. "He knew he wasn't supposed to be there."

That was 25 years ago, and Hamilton was way ahead of the times. Over the past three years, says the Travel Industry Association of America, 29.1 million Americans, or about 14 percent of the population, traveled with their pets - mostly dogs. Mostly, also, in vehicles, although, in rarer cases (and rarer still since Sept. 11), on airlines, either in the cabin as carry-on, or down below as cargo.

So far, the attacks have had no effect on regulation of pets in the cabin, but there were disruptions regarding cargo rules. Immediately after Sept. 11, the FAA insisted that only "known shippers" be allowed to use cargo space in planes. That meant breeders and pet owners taking vacations had to turn to commercial shipping companies. But on Oct. 5, the FAA rescinded that mandate, so it's back to normal procedures for pets as cargo.

Cathy Keefe, a TIA spokeswoman, says one reason more pets are traveling is that more people own pets: a record three out of five Americans. She also credits the SUV boom because the bigger the car, the easier it is to ferry Fido. Hotels, meanwhile, are much more welcoming to four-legged guests. "The lodging industry has gone after that market in some cases," Keefe says. And with an estimated 87 percent of travelers going by car over just this Thanksgiving period, pets are definitely in the driver's seat.

In the last three years, both PetSmart and Petco report that sales of travel-related pet supplies have increased, as have the numbers of such products. The biggest sales increases have been in products related to safety, say representatives for both companies: carriers, especially for smaller dogs; seat-belt harnesses; gate barriers for vans and SUVs; and ramps to make it easier for aging dogs to climb aboard.

Special carriers, travel food bowls, herbal carsickness remedies, deposits at hotels for pets - people go through a lot of effort to travel with their animal companions. Why? "The actual benefits are more like emotional benefits," says Chris Kingsley, co-founder of and co-author of the Portable, a Web site and book that list travel tips and pet-friendly hotels across the country.

He says there is also the guilt of leaving a pet behind. More and more, pets have become members of the American family.. That's certainly the case with people such as Hamilton. Nicky died several years ago, but her new dog, also a black toy poodle, continues the pet-travel tradition by flying with her regularly to Mexico as carry-on.

Mary Beth Duerler, president of the Responsible Pet Owners' Alliance, and her 11-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, Taz, have spent only one night apart. Duerler says she's noticed more people than ever toting their pooches along with their luggage. Her alliance, (210) 738-2273, is a local nonprofit group dedicated to pet-owner education and assistance and resuce for all species and regularly fields questions about pet-friendly lodging. "Our organization believes in the human-animal bond and taking our pets with us wherever we can. My dog goes with me everywhere," she says.

The Humane Society/SPCA of Bexar County has had similar experience of an increase in pet travel. A spokeswoman for the society says the number of calls asking for hotel recommendations and travel tips increases every year, prompting the group to put a list of suggestions on its Web site, www.humanesociety

But vacationers aren't the only ones who travel with their furry best friends. For some folks, taking a pet is a requirement. And sometimes it's from these have-pet-must-travel experiences that some of the most comical (now) stories emerge.

Deena Borden, general counsel for Christus Santa Rosa Health Care, was relocating to San Antonio from New York 24 years ago. The move required a five-day trip with her three cats and an Afghan hound. The cats, who had always stayed indoors, weren't enthusiastic. In fact, "They totally freaked out at every stop," recalls Borden.

One morning in Memphis, Tenn., she noticed Isabella, a Himalayan mix, was missing. "There's not too many places in a motel room (to hide). I thought, 'I've lost my cat in the middle of Memphis and I'll never see her again.'" She checked under the bed one last time and noticed a lump hanging from the box spring. It meowed.

Later, after a quick lunch in Arkansas, Borden returned to her car (it was a cool day and she'd left the windows open) to find Isabella's sister Theresa AWOL from her carrier. Theresa finally was found in a crawl space between the driver-side floorboard and the engine. "I thought I was going to have a heart attack before I even got to Texas," Borden says.

For 20 years, Judy King has traveled by van, taking her Dobermans to dog shows. For her, the trouble isn't really on the road but once she and her doggies settle into a hotel room.

On one trip, she left $50 in cash on the coffee table of her room. Let's just say her dog has expensive taste. "I still travel with cash, but I'm more careful about what I do with it since then," King says.

Then there's Wayne Hickman, owner of the live mascots for the San Antonio Iguanas hockey team and a man who bravely concedes not only to sporting a mullet a few years ago but to having it permed. He also liked to let his reptiles crawl around on his shoulders. One day, walking along the aisles of a pet store, Hickman realized the iguana accompanying him had climbed into his perm and was entangled.

Hickman laid down on the floor, thinking the iguana, named Wolfgang, would find his way out. A store clerk happened along and started to call 911. They had a good a laugh later.

The lessons here? Make sure your cat carriers are closed tightly, because anywhere Kitty can go, Kitty will. Don't feed your dog cash or anything else within three hours of traveling, because anything that can be regurgitated will be. Don't mix iguanas and mullets.

And do recall the good times, those so famously recounted in the classic pet travel book, "Travels With Charley," the tale of an aging John Steinbeck touring the country with his poodle. It seemed to come down to the little things, the intimate ones that perhaps only pet owners can truly appreciate. "It felt very good to have (Charley) with me," wrote Steinbeck, "... peering ahead at the unrolling road, or curling up to sleep with his head in my lap and his silly ears available for fondling."

More resources

For more tips and destination information, check out these books:

-'Fodor's Road Guide USA: Where to Stay with Your Pet' (Fodor's, $18)

-'The Portable The Complete Guide to Traveling with Your Pet' (Howell Book House, $19.99)

-'The Texas Dog Lover's Companion' by Larry Hodge (Avalon Travel, $20.95)

And these Web sites:

Road tips

Todd Beckett, a veterinarian at Central West Animal Hospital, offers these suggestions to help make trips with pets fun and safe:

-Keep your dog on a leash. Dogs act differently in strange environments than they do at home, no matter how well trained and obedient they normally are.

-Don't leave your pet unattended in a car. The temperature in an enclosed vehicle can reach a danger point in just a few minutes. If you leave the windows open, your pet might run off or get stolen.

-Make sure your pet has accurate ID tags. Better yet, have your vet implant a tiny microchip (about $15), usually between the animal's shoulder blades. It can be scanned and your pet's information downloaded. Beckett says about 75 percent of the nation's animal shelters are equipped to scan pets now.

-If you travel to a different state, make sure to bring your pet's health certificates and proof of vaccinations. The states have different health requirements.

-Do not feed your dog within two hours of a car trip, and then only a small amount. If your dog is susceptible to carsickness, do not feed it before traveling.

-All animals, cats especially, should travel in a crate, for their safety and yours. An animal doing laps in a car is much more distracting than a cell phone, and if you're in an accident, the crate will keep the animal from being thrown and from attacking rescuers.

-Never put your dog uncrated in the bed of a pickup. All it takes is one good bump for your dog to bounce out, as happened to the dog of one of Beckett's clients. It cost several thousand dollars to repair the animal's broken pelvis and legs.

-While some medications such as aspirin and Benadryl can be given to dogs, always let your vet determine the dosage. Medications that are safe for dogs are not necessarily safe for cats.

-Never assume that you will figure out what to do with your pet once you get to your destination. Research which hotels accept pets, under what conditions, and where you'll leave your pet during the day if it can't be with you. Sometimes the kindest thing for pets during a vacation is to kennel them or leave them with a friend.

-Most airlines allow small pets on domestic flights. While individual policies vary, usually the pet must be in a carrier that fits under the seat in front. Fees average $75 each way for carry-on pets.

- Emily Spicer

Judy King loads her three Dobermans into their travel cages. King has shown and traveled with dogs for 20 years.

Copyright 2001 San Antonio Express-News
Record Number: 578770