More and more dogs across the country are taking travel to a whole new level – the skies. Breeders, dog fanciers, jet setters, and even rescue workers are beginning to routinely fly dogs. Commercial airlines assert that air travel is safe for dogs, provided owners take certain pre-flight precautions. Although many people fly with dogs with no trouble, even some frequent flyers encounter the occasional travel mishap. Here, a few offer their tips:
The Perfect Passenger
Lee Bartell adopted her Maltese-Poodle mix Stella after the puppy was rescued from being smuggled over the Mexican border. Starting with their first night together, the then 3-month-old puppy slept in a pet carrier. So when her first flight came several days later to deliver her and her new owner to their northern home, Stella was already familiar with her pet carrier.
On flights, Stella “is the perfect dog, doesn’t say a word, just curls up and goes to sleep … under the seat in front of me, and I then put a blanket over the [carrier], both to darken it and to keep her warmer,” Bartell says. “I don’t give her any water or food before the trip, but do give her a squirt of Rescue Remedy,” an herbal formula of flower essences meant to reduce stress. “Those are my tips. I’ve not had any problems, but it’s due to how cooperative Stella is.”
An In-Cabin Disaster
Michelle Christner never had trouble traveling with her Yorkshire Terrier-Poodle mix Mary Poppins, and her son’s Toy Poodle, Lil Bo Peep, except for the time Mary Poppins got out of her under-seat carrier and ran down the aisle while Christner was indisposed in the lavatory. All ended well: A surprised flight attendant returned the pooch.
So Christner was caught off-guard when she took her foster dog Cricket on her inaugural flight in the cabin and the eight-pound Miniature Pinscher barked, barked, and barked. Cricket also chewed a hole through her carrier’s netting and gnawed on Christner’s shoes, with her toes still inside.
Christner’s lesson: Know your dog and know his or her limits.
“The lesson I learned was NEVER fly with a Miniature Pinscher again,” Christner says with a laugh – at least, not with this Min Pin.
“She was a strong-willed wild [dog] and I don’t think she was cut out for flying period. She did not like to be confined and it made her crazy,” Christner says. “I have had 39 years of dog experience and never experienced a mess like that.”
The Seasoned Traveler
Joan Carlson had plenty of experience flying with animals. She once flew an Alaskan Malamute from Florida to Alaska in the dead of winter. She’d accompanied several dogs and cats on a flight for friends moving to Italy, and flown with a puppy to his new home at her cousin’s house. As executive director of an animal shelter – the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County, Fla. – she has shipped lots of animals cargo, including two dozen Hurricane Katrina refugees returning to grateful owners.
A key lesson she learned about how to fly a dog is don’t assume your dog’s carrier will fit into the cargo hold; call ahead – preferably twice – to inquire about maximum dimensions on all of the dogs’ flights. Better yet, call the airline’s cargo department, which has the best knowledge about space requirements, to double-check that your carrier’s dimensions are acceptable.
Case in point: A Sheltie named Buddy was booked on three flights for his return home after a stay in Carlson’s shelter. Lo and behold, a second reservationist noted that one connecting flight couldn’t accept a carrier of Buddy’s size. So, the Humane Society returned to square one and reserved a new set of flights for Buddy so he could return to his owner without mishap.
Another lesson: Flying with a small dog in the cabin is “absolutely” better than shipping in the cargo hold, especially if your flight can be anything like Carlson’s trip to Italy. When friends moved to Italy, they decided to fly several dogs on a Concorde jet. To ensure each dog could fly in the cabin, each dog accompanied a friend who agreed to come along, like Carlson.
“We all got free trips to Europe,” she says. “That was kind of fun. Of course, not all of us can afford to do that.”
Sally Deneen is a DOG FANCY contributing editor and freelance writer in Washington state.