The Fur is Flying

Forget the cat-sitter or the kennel. More people are bringing their pets on vacation - and having an easier time doing it.

Focus On Pets

June 25, 2000|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun Staff

His friends call him Sparky. At 8 years old, he's already traveled coast to coast. He's seen Paris lights, Vermont ski slopes, Florida beaches and the Grand Canyon. He has his own page on the Internet and a job: He's a "roving reporter." But, perhaps, that should be rover-ing reporter, because Sparky is a beagle.

"When we adopted him," says Wendy Ballard, Sparky's owner, "we tried to take a vacation and bring him along, but the welcome mat was yanked out from beneath us." That was in 1993. Times have changed.

The American Animal Hospital Association estimates that 53 percent of the nation's pet owners will travel with their pets this year -- more than ever before -- on trips to the shore, the mountains and even five-star resorts.

Ballard was among the first. After Sparky's initial rejections, she launched DogGone, a travel resource for canine owners dedicated to "fun places to go and cool things to do with your dog." But today she has lots of company. The Internet has thousands of pages dedicated to traveling with pets, and entire books are devoted to the subject. Pet supply stores carry doggy life jackets and leashes for cats, carriers for plane travel and pet seatbelts. Airlines have even turned attention toward animal travel by recently revamping their regulations.

"Pets have gone from sleeping in the backyard (when I was a boy) to the bedroom," says Marty Becker, author of "Chicken Soup for the Cat and Dog Lover's Soul" and veterinarian for more than two decades. "Today seven out of 10 Americans think of their pets as children; they can't bear the thought of leaving Fluffy behind."

Last month, Becker, who is "Good Morning America's" vet expert, helped launch Petopia's Pet Travel Center (www. petopia. com), a one-stop online information hub for travel advice broken into categories by species.

No matter what your pet -- even if it's a ferret or gerbil -- its travel needs are probably listed there.

"We want to make sure peo-ple have safe and enjoyable trips with their pets," says Becker.

Before you go

"It's good to get a tuneup for your pet before you go," Becker says. "Make sure his vaccinations are current and you have the appropriate documentation to take with you."

If flying, the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service requires a health certificate issued within 10 days of travel.

Tell the vet the vacation destination, Becker says. The doctor may be able to prescribe preventive medicine to combat foreign parasites and can guide you in the particulars of traveling abroad.

Becker also suggests getting an I.D. tag that has room for the local address and phone number as well as your home information and bringing a recent color photo of your pet. If you get separated, this increases your chances of a speedy reunion.

By car

Gradually acclimate your pets to car travel by taking them on short trips and eventually longer ones, Becker says.

The 2000 edition of "Traveling With Your Pet: The AAA PetBook" recommends feeding your animal four to six hours before traveling and never in the car, or your upholstery may suffer the consequences. But if the animal is still very young, it might need more regular nourishment. Check with a vet.

Also keep dogs' heads inside the windows, cautions AAA. Road debris can damage eyes and ears, and, if the driver stops short, the dog could be severely injured.

In fact, you should really keep your animal secured in the car, says Becker. Cats are more comfortable in a carrier and dogs might be too if they're restless. But if they're too big for a carrier in the car, you can try a vehicle restraint harness, which sells from about $10 up to $70 for the ultra-padded, deluxe versions.

And by now, everyone should know to not leave any animal unattended in an automobile. "Sometimes a car is really an oven cleverly disguised," Becker says. "If you stop somewhere, plan on taking your pet with you."

By plane

As a rule, buses and trains don't allow animals to travel on them, so trips with pets are limited to cars or planes. Generally, small cats and dogs may ride in the airplane cabin if properly confined in a carrier and if they adhere to the airlines' favorite rule: fitting below the seat in front of you. The alternative is riding in the cargo area with the baggage.

In which case, "you want to humanize your precious cargo," says Becker. He recommends writing on the kennel carrier, (which must be of sturdy construction with room for the animal to move): "Hi, my name is Rover, please take good care of me."

And regardless of the trip's stress factor, say no to tranquilizers, says Becker.

"Airline officials believe that when deaths occur, they often result from the use of sedation," says Patricia Olson, director of the American Humane Association. "When a kennel is moved, a sedated animal may not be able to brace and prevent injury." A tranquilized animal also has a more difficult time regulating its body temperature, and cargo area temperatures tend to be extreme.

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