Dog's Life: Travel
The offbeat, budget-smart frontier of dog-friendly travel
When Barrie and Tod duBois traveled to France earlier this year, their dog Abbie joined them. The well-mannered Fox Terrier went nearly everywhere with them, including a weeklong sailing trip in Corsica. When they dined out, Abbie was there, under the table and out of servers’ way like a native chien. Almost always, someone brought a water bowl without being asked, and one night in Provence, Abbie was served an entire steak and a meaty lamb bone. It helps that she bears a strong resemblance to Milou, sidekick to the hero of The Adventures of Tintin, a beloved French comic book series.
The previous year, the California-based couple left Abbie behind during a trip to Germany and missed her terribly. “We just didn’t feel that our family was complete without her,” Barrie duBois says. “Having her [in France] to cuddle with in the evening, watching her chase squirrels and lizards … was awesome.”
During their four months in France, the couple stayed free of charge in a succession of private homes while the homes’ regular occupants traveled to the U.S. and stayed for free in one of the duBoises’ two residences (one in Campbell and another on a lake in the Sierras). Listed on as many as 10 home-exchange sites, including HomeLink International (homelink.org/usa), HomeExchange.com, 1stHomeExchange.com and the Vacation Exchange Network (thevacationexchange.com), the duBoises are deeply ensconced in the world of dog-friendly home swaps.
Fueled by a multitude of websites and apps, travelers with dogs or those keen to find a pup at their destination are enthusiastically embracing alternatives to hotels, motels and inns. Among these alternative are house swaps, house-sitting and short-term rentals.
“I like being able to wander into the kitchen for coffee in the morning in my pajamas,” says Barrie, who got her fill of hotels while traveling for her job as an organization-effectiveness consultant. In addition to the low cost of swapping, private homes offer distinct advantages for those with dogs. Many have fenced yards and are located in residential areas well suited for walking. Plus, a house can be a more comfortable environment for dogs unaccustomed to the circumscribed environment of a hotel.
Most home-exchange services charge a membership fee, and the exchange itself can be simultaneous, non-simultaneous or even hosted (with residents on the premises during a stay). Some include resident pets in the deal. Using HomeLink and Intervac-HomeExchange.com, Betty and Bob Shiffman of Frankfort, Ky., have swapped homes during trips to Sweden, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. Bob is retired and Betty teaches at a community college. Generally, they board their dogs—a Labradoodle named Howdy (as in Howdy Doodle) and Daisy, a Cockapoo—during these vacations.
“When we go to Europe, we miss having our dogs with us,” Betty Shiffman says. So they were excited about a recent exchange in Norway that included swapping dog-sitting duties. For the Shiffmans, it meant looking after Cassie, a Golden Retriever who’d been rescued from her plight as a breeder dog in an Eastern European puppy mill.
“Cassie became my shadow,” Betty says. “She even followed me into the bathroom.” The Shiffmans fell in love with Cassie, who went almost everywhere with them. “It was fun to be able to take her so many places,” Bob Shiffman says.
It wasn’t until Cassie bolted during a walk along the beach that Betty started to have second thoughts. Cassie ran home safely, but the experience made the Shiffmans more aware of the responsibility. “I’m not sure we’d leave our dogs during a home exchange again,” Betty says.
For all of his 16 years, Ed Kushins’ Lab Nelson was never boarded. When the Kushins traveled, which was frequently, Nelson stayed at their Hermosa Beach, Calif., home and was cared for by home exchange guests—it was simply part of the deal. For the Kushins’ swap, guests had to want to take care of a dog.
“Even from the very beginning, we always had in the application if pet care was required, right up front. That’s because of me,” says Kushins, who is the founder and president of HomeExchange.com. He says around 20 percent of the site’s more than 40,000 listings specify some sort of pet care, and many are dog-friendly.
On the other hand, not everyone has a home to swap, and for years, frugal adventurers have long known how to parlay house-sitting into a way to see the world on a shoestring. Today, many websites connect homeowners and house-sitters, among them, HouseSittersAmerica.com, HouseCarers.com and MindMyHouse.com.
“A large proportion of our sitters are retired couples who, after a lifetime of work, have decided to pick up sticks and travel the world,” says Lisa Logan, a spokesperson for TrustedHousesitters.com. Two years ago, the UK-based company launched its website to connect homeowners with responsible travelers looking for a place to stay, usually free of charge.
In many cases, pets are part of the equation. “Lots of people love pets but can’t have their own for various reasons, so a break away with a dog or cat to look after is the perfect holiday,” Logan says.
Busy schedules and their grandchildren’s needs have kept TrustedHousesitters.com members Dan and Lyn Reece from having pets of their own, and the couple misses the companionship. Several of their best house-sitting experiences during the last three years included a resident pet.
“In each case, exercising the dog brought instant recognition from the neighbors, and led to making quick friends who could direct us to ‘must-see’ attractions in the area, and great restaurants that weren’t on the map,” says Dan Reece, a security consultant whose skills include fixing leaking pipes and scratching dog bellies.
Like other industry sites, TrustedHousesitters.com runs a “police check” on prospective house-sitters. They currently have 500 individuals from 36 different countries—including 70 from the U.S.
Short-term private home rentals can’t compete with free, but they do offer a way to cut costs (cooking at home, no-fee parking and so forth), plus a break from cookie-cutter hotel chains.
Many dog parents swear by VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner), including the Shiffmans, who rely on it to rent getaways for family reunions that can include up to as many as six dogs. VRBO.com boasts an inventory of around 165,000 properties, most of which are in the U.S. Of these, more than 41,000 are pet-friendly, including the duBoises’ lakefront house. HomeAway.com, which is VRBO.com’s slightly larger parent site, has more international coverage in its 260,000 vacation rentals, 73,250 of which are specifically pet-friendly.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb.com is a hip, new player on the block and is growing fast, with more than 100,000 listings for homes, apartments, houseboats, lofts and cottages as well as individual rooms, floors or suites. The service is available in more than 19,000 cities and 190 countries in a wide range of prices. More than 6,000 of the listings are pet-friendly.
Unlike VRBO.com, Airbnb.com includes many hosted opportunities, such as rooms in homes or apartments in houses, with the residents on the premises and part of the experience. Many times, this includes pets, which can mean playdates if you’re cleared to bring your dog or, if you’re traveling without your pet, a little fur therapy to fight off loneliness.
Layla, a lovable brown dog, offers canine hospitality to guests of a shabby-chic tree house in Burlingame, Calif., available through Airbnb.com. “As we present our ‘Treehouse Overlooking SF Bay’ experience to potential guests, we discuss openly that we are animal lovers,” says Doug Studebaker, treehouse builder and host. In addition to Layla, ten laying hens free range in the yard (which may be one reason guest dogs are not permitted). “This attracts other animal lovers from around the world. Funny how animals seem to speak that international language about love and kindness.”
Advocates of sitting, swapping or renting often mention that staying in someone’s home takes them outside the tourist bubble and helps them forge a deeper connection to a community and place. Include dogs in the mix and the experience deepens even more. As Studebaker says, “Animals have a way of creating heartfelt conversation.”
Dog's Life: Travel
Doggie adventures on and off the the slopes.
We were overdue for a vacation when my fourth-grader pleaded that we go away for Thanksgiving break.“Anywhere. Even somewhere cold,” Jacob tendered as a concession, knowing that our Dalmatian, Sketch, and I preferred brisk air, whereas he, a southern California native, tended to chill when the mercury dipped below 70. I had barely felt like getting out of bed, let alone town, since the blistering day months earlier that JP, Sketch’s father, shed his last hair in the parking lot of a Palm Springs veterinary clinic.
In the three years since I’d adopted Jacob, he had grown to love my dogs, and especially JP, almost as much as I did. “I miss him, too. But he’s gone,” he said in the resilient tenor of a boy who had endured more heartache in his 10 years than I in my 40.“Far away.”He looked up to the heavens, and I realized that it was not only grief that had numbed my nomadic nature, but also guilt at the thought of leaving behind the spirit of my spotted traveling companion of 14 years.
* * * * *
Heavy flurries were blanketing the mountainside’s majestic evergreens and slender, white-barked poplars when we arrived in Aspen, Colo., a getaway our family had always found to be welcoming to dogs and kids—and surprisingly affordable for passers-through—despite its ritzy reputation. Sketch bounded out of the car and over a snow bank to greet an elderly Schnauzer,who was exiting the lobby of our hotel, the Limelight Lodge, and nipping at the soft flakes falling all around her. She made an obliging,wobbly effort at meeting Sketch’s playful advances lunge-for-lunge. “Getting old is tough on them,” said her owner, a young-looking, middle-aged woman, wincing at the obvious discomfort the activity caused her pet.
Tougher on us humans, I thought.Sketch still had the temperament and energy of a puppy, and was seemingly not prone to his breed’s hip dysplasia or hyperthyroid conditions. But he was going on nine, and I was determined that he would be the third and last dog I would love … and outlive.
* * * * *
The following morning dawned bright and frosty, and Jacob’s and my sights were set on the powdery slopes. There was no shortage of dog-walkers-for-hire or canine activities at Sketch’s disposal— dog trails, off-leash parks, dog-watching in the pedestrian mall, even an après-ski wine-and-cheese “yappy hour” for dogs and their people at a neighborhood tavern— but I was intrigued by the hotel manager’s recommendation of a day of pampering at Aspen Wags to Riches. The proceeds of the pet salon sustain its adjacent no-kill shelter, which rescues dogs and cats from around the country.
We were greeted by Bo, the shelter’s cheerful, 13-year-old mascot, a retired sled dog. One of his floppy ears stood straight up and he sniffed the air, but he appeared otherwise indifferent to Sketch’s faux alpha posturing and close inspection of his stomping ground, particularly the glass-walled cat room in the reception area. The latter is a zoo-like haven that houses a dozen or so adoptable felines, some playing with toys or comrades, others napping on lush cat beds or window seats … and all, like Bo, unfazed by our assertive dog’s probing nose.
* * * * *
Seth, the shelter’s director, gave us a tour of the facilities and suggested that we take one of the many itinerant (and immaculately groomed) dogs for a walk along the hillside that flanked the play yard while Sketch was introduced to the pack. The shelter encourages prospective adopters—as well as local volunteers, and even visitors who needed a dog-fix—to check residents out of the kennel for leisure time. Jacob chose Lola, a very old Malamute/Lab mix. She was timid, but her eyes twinkled as hopefully as those of her mates.
Once outside, Lola eagerly led us up a steep, unshoveled path. Like Bo, she had worked many thankless years as a sled dog, hauling tourists across the snow, but still had a zest for life on the mountain. She took in the cold, thin air with a more grateful and less winded pant than ours, all the while casting proud glances back down at the fenced-in dogs.Among them was our youthful Sketch, as content in his captivity as Lola was in her few moments of independence.
* * * * *
Later, on Snowmass Mountain, we soared for several petrifying minutes down the practically vertical,double-black-diamond trail that I’d inadvertently steered us to …off the more apt, blue-square intermediate route.
“Yes!” Jacob shouted, as he came to an impressive parallel stop. “We’re alive!” He thrust a clenched fist into the air, exhilarated by his newfound ability.
“For now,” I said tentatively.We were at a fork that would allow us to veer onto a single-black-diamond slope, which I prayed would lead us to a beginner’s green circle!
“Now is all that matters,” he whispered to himself invincibly, propelling his skis toward the white abyss. “Don’t worry. Just…I don’t know…try to think like a dog or something,” he said to me.
Okay…now! I gathered my wits, and plunged.
“But later,” he called back. “Can we adopt one of those old dogs?”
Maybe, I thought.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bird lover follows his dream
Brad Storey and his dog Xena left Jeckyl Island off the coast of Georgia about 8 weeks ago on their way to San Diego. They are walking across the United States to raise money for The Audubon Society. A life-long bird lover, Storey is pursuing his dream of doing something big after years of working as a painter and raising kids. Naturally, his Siberian Husky, Xena, is a part of this adventure. It would hardly be the same if he did it alone.
Do you dream of undertaking an adventure someday? How would your dog be a part of it?
News: Guest Posts
With dog as my co-pilot in Byzantium
After completing my MBA, I decided to get a dog and was united with Maya, a five-month-old Border Collie mix. While living in San Diego, we had many adventures on road trips, at dog parks and dog beaches and everywhere else. In October 2010, I accepted a position in Antalya, Turkey, as a head teacher of a language school. Maya and I spent a year there.
We lived in the city center, near Kaleici, the old city, which was once surrounded by stone walls. It has lots of little shops and bars and cafés.
Maya and I became a central fixture in this community. Many of the shop owners came to know her by name. Small kebab shops line the streets with lamb and chicken roasting in the window. Since our first days, Maya would automatically sit and look up at the men serving the kebabs with her bright brown eyes and they always gave her some chicken. Even if we walked on the other side of the street, they would see her and yell, ”Hi, Maya.”
When I went out with friends, she usually accompanied us. She became so intertwined with my identity, that if she wasn’t with me, it was almost guaranteed that I would be asked, “Where is Maya?” Frequently, toddlers beelined for her (while their parents temporarily stopped breathing in fear); Maya would sit as straight as possible to let children pet her. Maya has set her paws on ancient sites such as Termessos, a city Alexander the Great failed to conquer, and taken road trips along the coast and boat rides on the Mediterranean.
Among my constant concerns in Antalya were the street dogs. Some of these dogs have been strays from birth, while others were abandoned after they were no longer puppies and couldn’t serve the purpose of luring customers into shops. Given that Maya is a social pup, she enjoyed playing with the Turkish street dogs. For the most part, they are friendly and we encountered few problems with aggressive dogs. Considering everything I read before I left, this was a much-welcomed surprise.
I have seen and experienced the best and worst between humans and dogs while in Turkey. There have been times when I was yelled at in Turkish because Maya made eye contact with someone. Maya has been kicked as we walked past and had stones thrown at her. People have screamed and run to the other side of the street, simply at the sight of her. I have seen abused street dogs and those with their ears cut off. But I also saw those dogs fed and other abandoned puppies rescued from the street.
The most amusing thing that I learned in Turkey is how children imitate barking differently. If you ask a Turkish child how a dog barks, she or he will say, “How how.” American children will say, “Ruff ruff” and English children say, “Woof woof.”
People often asked me if I regretted bringing Maya with me because of the complications involved. But the way I see it, if on our journey, she helped one old man smile before he went to bed alone, two traditional Muslim women become a little less afraid after a lifetime of fear, or three children giggle as she gently licked leftover sesame paste off their sticky fingers, if bringing her helped anyone forget about their troubles for just a second as they laughed at her silliness, then the cost, sacrifice and perceived burden was worth every penny, kur or euro.
Life is hard. Life in a foreign country is even more difficult. Having Maya with me was the best thing. No matter how challenging my day had been, I knew that she would always be there with her unconditional love and acceptance, wagging tail and kisses.
Dog's Life: Travel
Have Dog, Will Travel
While fall days find New England country roads clogged with leaf-peepers, southwestern Utah’s high desert is wide open and radiant. Here, the autumn sun illuminating sandstone bluffs rivals any maple grove. And in September and October, still-warm days and cool nights make this a great time and place for outdoor adventures.
An excellent home base for dog-friendly fun is Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah, just a two-hour drive from Las Vegas, Nev. (If you have dinosaur fans in your life, you may know the name; St. George is home to Johnson Farm, where some of the world’s oldest and best-preserved Dilophosaurus tracks were discovered in 2000.) The adobe-style resort and spa offers a full complement of dog-centric amenities — among them, organic treats and food and water dishes upon arrival — plus a 55-acre backyard that looks like something out of Stagecoach and access to Snow Canyon Park, where pups can bound under towering red-rock cliffs. (Remember to carry water and keep an eye out for not-yet-hibernating rattlesnakes).
Red Mountain goes beyond providing merely a dog-friendly backdrop. The resort’s wellness focus incorporates several volunteer- and pet-oriented programs, including a hike for guest dogs (launching later this year) that ends with a picnic lunch, entertainment and canine treats. The $35 charge for the hike goes to support Ivins Municipal Animal Shelter, the only shelter in the state designated “no-kill” by municipal ordinance.
Because most of Utah’s national parks, including nearby Zion, have few or no trails open to pets, hiking in and around the resort is a great way to experience this region’s jaw-dropping beauty without the strict prohibitions and the crowds.
Those unable to bring their pup can take heart. Red Mountain’s Pound Puppy Hike pairs guests with a friendly canine from the Ivins shelter for a hike through St. George Valley and Padre Canyon. Dogless guests are also welcome to join Blondie, a Golden Retriever and certified Canine Good Citizen, for a four-hour trek, or spend time with real-life Mustangs, part of a program supporting care and adoption efforts for these wild horses.
Eighty miles east of St. George — next door in desert terms — is Kanab, home to the famed Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where about 2,000 dogs, cats and other animals receive special care. Some will be adopted; others will live out their days here. Consider folding in some volunteer time at Best Friends during your vacation. (Keep in mind that the focus is on the sanctuary’s animals, so bringing your own pets is discouraged.) You’ll return home with a sense of accomplishment and moving stories instead of a camera full of leaf photos no one really wants to see.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Petfinder rates the best airlines for pets
Flying with pets can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you travel with a large dog. I go through great lengths to avoid putting my dogs on a plane, even if that means driving over 1,000 miles from New York to Florida!
But for those of you who have to travel by plane, Petfinder just released their annual list of most pet-friendly airlines. The airlines were reviewed based on the following criteria: most pet-friendly overall, best amenities for pets (and pet parents), best for transporting pet variety, best for budget-conscious consumers, best for flying multiple pets in cabin, and best for big furry friends.
Most important, all airlines that made the ranking were required to have zero pet deaths in the past reported year (according to official government reports).
Here are the top airlines for 2011:
I hope that reviews like Petfinder's list will encourage more airlines to become more pet friendly. Maybe one day all pets will be able to travel in the cabin alongside the humans. One can only dream!
Have you flown with a pet? Who would you nominate as the most pet friendly airline?
News: Guest Posts
Bark reader creates a campgrounds list for dogs that need fenced, off-leash options
I frequently write about people who are volunteering their time and expertise to help rescue dogs and cats, or taking measures to support therapy and guide dog programs and more. I really love how dogs inspire random (and not so random) acts of kindness and generosity.
Another way people contribute is through information—compiling free listings of parks and services, spreading the word about events and organizations on their personal websites. It’s amazing all the great stuff you can find on the web. Add to that list, a new directory of campgrounds and RV parks with at least one fenced dog run. Bark reader Molly Lorenz, who keeps the personal website/blog, Vegan Flower, pulled together the 145-strong listing as a hobby. It’s the sort of hobby, like a gorgeous front yard garden, that benefits many.
Molly, who lives in Wisconsin—with human, Mike; two cats, Crystal and Sophie; and two dogs, Emma and Rowan—likes to take road trips to explore state and national parks and spend time outdoors with Mike and the pups. “We grew tired of the hotels and resorts, as nice as they can be, and have longed for a better way to travel,” she says about how her directory got started.
But they have one travel challenge, their dog Emma. “She won’t do her ‘business’ on a leash and cannot be trusted off-leash,” Molly explains. “Having an enclosed area that’s safe for her to be off-leash is a must for us when traveling, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones.” So Molly started to do some research and was pleasantly surprised to find a campground with a fenced dog area.
“It got me wondering if there were others out there. After a while, the list grew pretty large and I decided to organize it to share with others,” she says. “I was very surprised at how many places have dog runs, but then again, many campers travel with their dogs, so it only makes sense!”
Check out Molly’s list and, if you have a suggestion, send it her way.
Dog's Life: Travel
When Irish dogs are smiling
If you’ve ever had the good fortune to visit Ireland, you undoubtedly found yourself standing at the edge of a cliff or the top of a grassy hill looking out on what seemed like a glimpse of heaven. During a recent trip to Ireland, I had an opportunity to spend some time on a tiny slice of bliss known as Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands in County Galway.
Inisheer, or as the Irish refer to it, Inis Oírr, meaning “east island,” is a sparsely populated cluster of rock-walled farms whose inhabitants still speak the original Irish language. The landscape is rugged and breathtakingly beautiful. I had many “heaven-glimpsing” moments on that island — among them, of the dogs who call Inisheer home.
These weren’t strays; rather, they were loved and cared-for pets, complete with collars and tags. I’d often pass by them on my evening walks; they’d be lying curled up on rugs in the doorways of their homes. But during the day, they roamed the island, perhaps meeting a few friends down at the playground, thumbing their noses at the signs reading Cosc Ar Ghadhair, illustrated with a dog in a red circle crossed by a diagonal line. Though I guessed what it said, I couldn’t read it and, obviously, neither could the dogs. However, no one on the playground seemed to mind. The kids ran and tossed sticks for the gamboling canines, who playfully greeted each and every person. When the dogs tired of the entertainment, they went off in their own directions in search of new adventures.
My family and I ran into a couple of beautiful Border Collies romping in the surf. One had a cinnamon-red coat and a chest of wooly white. The other’s coat was a picture-perfect black and white, and her eyes were as blue as the Irish Sea. Both had sand clinging to their whiskers, and their sea-soaked coats were dusted with salt. As we approached, they ran up and greeted us. There was no body-slamming, jumping up or over-the-top excitement — just “Hey! You’re here! Mind tossing us something wet and slimy?” One of the dogs ran down to the rocks and grabbed a long piece of thick seaweed and politely dropped it at my feet, then dipped into a play bow and looked up at me expectantly. I bent down and tossed the soggy weed into the air, and she dashed off. In no time, she was back, and dropped the limp weed on top of my shoes. I decided that the dogs probably hung around the beach all day, waiting for saps like me to entertain them. Sure enough, a few hours later, a little boy was tossing that same piece of seaweed for the same two dogs.
In the afternoon, we fed bits of cheese to a well-groomed and obviously well-fed Terrier mix, who followed us around until another dog came along with a more attractive offer. Together, they ran off to the playground.
On Inisheer, I saw a lot of contented, happy dogs. What I didn’t see were dogs on leashes barking and lunging, or dogs at the picture window of a home destroying the mini-blinds, trying to get at my family as we walked by. Believe it or not, I didn’t see a single pile of dog doo; I guess if people saw it, they picked it up. There was no aggression, no fighting. The dogs on this island were balanced, socialized and, from the looks of it, extremely happy — they were allowed to be dogs.
Unfortunately, our dogs don’t have that luxury. We don’t live on a small island with more tractors than cars. We need to keep our dogs safe behind fences or controlled on a leash. For the most part, aside from the occasional romp in an open field, our dogs live in our world. They are coddled, secure, warm and fed. Their paws are wiped and their coats are scrubbed clean. No salt. No sand. But when our dogs are curled up on their fluffy monogrammed pet beds at night, I bet they’re dreaming of the dogs of Inisheer.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Was a good time had by all?
Typical advice for happy travels by car with dogs includes some basics such as having your dog up to date on vaccinations and in good health. It also makes sense to have your dog microchipped and to check on any parasites or diseases that may be common at your destination and take the proper preventive measures. For travel safety, it’s wise to have your dog restrained in the car, perhaps riding in a crate in the back of the car.
These simple suggestions belie the true nature of traveling by car with dogs. It’s a lot more exciting with many more unexpected events. In simple terms, taking your dog on a road trip is one of those experiences that never looks quite like it did in the brochure. Everything from fitting the crate into the car to walking your dog at rest stops to cleaning up 20 pounds of kibble from the back seat can lead to tears, laughter, or even tears of laughter.
What experiences—good or bad—have you have on the road with your dog?
Dog's Life: Travel
Have Dog, Will Travel
BONE UP ON HISTORY
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