As I write this, I’m sitting in an empty house after a 1,200-mile journey courtesy of a Permanent Change of Station move. The drive consisted of two days, two cars, my husband, over 600 pounds for our partial Do-It-Yourself move, our two pets — Sasha, an almost 3-year-old Dachshund and Josie, our 4-year-old cat — and me. Needless to say, it was a bit stressful at times.
Sasha rode with my husband, sitting in the passenger seat, cuddled up in her bed. I had the incredible fortune (please note the sarcasm) of driving with Josie. We keep her in a crate, which she threw herself against in distress. She also chomped on any available surface. Fortunately, it only lasted about 30 minutes.
For many people like me, traveling with pets can be difficult. Whether it’s a dog, cat or that fish your child just can’t bear to part with, military families often have to make arrangements to travel with their furry or scaly friends. While I can’t guarantee traveling with your pets is easy, I can give you some pointers to make the trip less stressful:
Prepare any necessary items before the actual trip.
When I start booking hotels for a trip, that’s when I begin preparing my pets. My husband and I almost always take Sasha with us when we travel. She does well on planes and cars, and traveling with her is cheaper than boarding. If you need to board, get recommendations from friends or search for reviews online. You can use a website like Angie’s List.
If you choose to travel with your pet, then prepare early. If the pet requires medications, make sure you have enough for the duration of your trip. A few extra doses is even better in case you run into trouble and can’t get home by your expected time. I also prefer to keep extra leashes, collars, bowls and food on-hand that are reserved just for traveling. I keep these items in a small container so they’re easy to grab when packing.
Plan your route and accommodations.
It’s getting tougher and tougher to find pet-friendly hotels. It can be even harder to find hotels that accept cats. I’ve found that many hotels like Holiday Inn Express and La Quinta Inns & Suites often allow pets. For our PCS, my husband and I used La Quinta Inns & Suites— they allowed both animals and didn’t require any pet deposit or fee. We’ve used Holiday Inn Express as well, but they usually require a non-refundable $50 pet fee. Keep in mind that just because one hotel in a chain accepts pets, that doesn’t mean they all do. Search the hotel’s website or call if you aren’t sure. Do not try to sneak your pet in hotels — that often results in a hefty fine and you leaving.
If you’re flying with a pet, you’ll need to notify the airline. Most airlines only have a limited number of pets allowed in cabin. If your pet is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you and up-to-date on all shots, they can ride in cabin (you’ll need a health certificate from your vet). I always use a Sherpa carrier, since they guarantee the carrier will fit under the seat and be approved by the airline. If not, they refund your travel fees.
If you have a large pet, they won’t fit in-cabin. You’ll need to fly them as cargo. There are limitations on the time of year pets can fly, the crate dimensions, food, medications, etc. Call the airline to ensure you do everything correctly — you don’t want to incur extra fees.
While driving, don’t avoid all the rest stops. Your pet needs to stretch its legs as much as you do. Have some plastic bags on hand for cleaning up after your dog (please do it, even if the rest stop doesn’t require it — it’s just common courtesy. I don’t like trying to avoid stepping in doggy doo). I also keep a bottle of water on-hand so I can let the pets drink whenever we stop, even while flying. If you think dehydration is hard on you, imagine what it’s like for your pet.
Prepare your pet.
Not every animal travels well. Some get car sick, stressed or hyper after being confined. My dog does great in the car, but on planes, I’ve always been concerned that she’ll start whining and disturb other passengers. Our cat hates cars and pants the entire trip. To help keep the animals calm, I use a light sedative called Acepromazine. Now, this is up for debate. I’ve heard people say you shouldn’t sedate animals on planes or in cars for tons of reasons. For me, I disagree with them and the sedative has worked without any negative effects. It’s light, so it makes them drowsy, but doesn’t knock them out. It can’t be healthy for a pet to be stressed for multiple hours at a time. I asked my vet and they approved the medications I’ve used. Ask your vet and ensure they weigh your pet to calculate the correct dosage.
If you’re driving, have a carrier or special place in the vehicle for your pet. If you have a cat, consider a large dog carrier so you can keep a litter box in with them. For your dog, keep them in a carrier to keep them safe and secure. If your dog is too big, then give them a special place in the car to relax. Don’t crowd them with luggage or other travel items.
While driving or flying, give your pet a blanket or favorite toy. These items smell like you and your home — your pet’s safe place. These can help keep them calm.
This is the most important rule of all. Not all animals travel well. Your cat may meow a lot until they get used to it and your dog may have trouble sitting still. They may be poky while looking for a place to “do their business.” They may pace around your hotel room. Remember that you’re uprooting them from what is familiar, taking them multiple miles away and plopping them in a new, scary place. Being with you is not always enough to keep them calm. Take a few deep breaths, give them some cuddles and pats and know that they will calm down. Eventually.
Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from the northeast, living in the Southwest near Fort Huachuca, AZ. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning two local awards for her work, and now freelances for military spouse support sites. She enjoys spending her days on the shooting range or at home with a good book. She considers herself a bookworm, pianist, wine enthusiast and artist.