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For pets, there’s no place like home for the holidays

  • Rachel Achmad of Easthampton poses with her dog, Kobe, and cat, Alley.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Rachel Achmad of Easthampton poses with her dog, Kobe, and cat, Alley.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Rachel Achmad of Easthampton poses with her dog, Kobe, and cat, Alley.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Rachel Achmad of Easthampton poses with her dog, Kobe, and cat, Alley.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

By the time I realized how ill prepared I was for my road trip with pets, it was too late to do anything about it.

I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic on New York’s George Washington Bridge, heading home for the holidays. I had my dog and cat in the car, and we were barely moving forward. My cat, who’d been meowing for hours, was winding around my ankles like a furry snake. My dog was jumping in and out of the sedan’s rear window ledge — filling my rearview mirror with wiggling black fur each time — and whimpering, which meant she was in desperate need of a bathroom break.

A siren blared next to us, as an ambulance tried to navigate through the wedged cars. I felt a headache creeping up the back of my skull, and promised myself, “Never again!” If you plan to travel with pets this holiday season, you don’t have to endure my nightmare before Christmas. With a little preparation, you can avoid the oversights that led to my miserable experience, and easily include furry family members in your festivities.

Car Travel

As everyone now knows, dogs should not travel on the roof of your car. But how should pets ride?

Annette Szczygiel, a veterinary technician and lifelong pet owner in Easthampton, has survived decades of car trips with cats and dogs. She emphasizes that cats and other small animals should always travel in crates. This is primarily to prevent them from fleeing when a car door is opened, but it’s also so they won’t get tangled in the feet of the driver (ahem).

It’s a good idea to keep pet treats on hand, too, in case you need to quickly get your pet’s attention.

Dogs should only ride uncrated if comfortable with car travel, and they need regularly scheduled bathroom breaks. Familiarize yourself with your travel route and anticipate delays. Had I planned a bathroom break before getting on that bridge, I’d have had one less problem.

If dogs do ride uncrated, they should never hang their heads out windows, or stand in truck beds. Doing so can result in eye injury, and they’re far more likely to be harmed in case of collision.

Finally, provide a blanket or cover for their seat, as even a dog that loves joyriding can experience motion sickness.

Air Travel

All airlines transport dogs and cats, and some allow other pets as well. (I’ll never forget the time I glanced at a cat crate on a plane, only to see an extravagantly feathered bird step out.) Animal transport fees can run up to $500, and there are usually limits of one or two pets per passenger.

Small pets are generally allowed in the cabin, but large animals must travel crated in the cargo hold. Most airlines have strict rules regarding crates, so make sure yours is permitted.

Many airlines prohibit certain dog breeds, due to their behavioral traits or medical issues. If your pet is on any medication, air travel can affect it atypically, so check with your veterinarian. All airlines require certification of vaccination.

Train and Bus

Amtrak and Greyhound allow service animals only. Other smaller, local train and bus lines may allow pet transport.

Do some test runs prior to your long trip. If your pet exhibits motion sickness or anxiety, speak with your vet about the possibility of medication for the road. Do not feed your animal two to four hours before departure, as they’ll be less likely to get sick on an empty stomach.

Lodging

Even if your plan is to stay with family, locate nearby pet-friendly lodging as a back-up plan.

When Annette drove cross-country with her pets many years ago, she snuck them into hotel rooms and hoped they wouldn’t bark or meow. Now, many hotels advertise that they’re Pet-Friendly, but check to see what that means. Some hotels have dog beds, water bowls and canine massage; others merely allow animals, so you’d need all your own supplies.

General Safety

Micro-chipping is the best way to ensure that your pet will never be lost, but having an external ID tag is helpful too. Always travel with vaccine certifications. Bring your own pet food, and keep feeding times as similar as possible. Don’t be alarmed if your pets’ appetite decreases, but make sure they continue to drink water regularly.

Finally, make sure your pet exercises. Arjuna Greist, who has made multiple drives from western Massachusetts to Florida with her dog Pepper, recommends locating dog parks along your route before you go. She prefers the website www.dogfriendly.com, which has an interactive map and also lists lodging options and dog-friendly beaches. A tired pet is a happy pet, and a happy pet means you can have a relaxing trip.

Other information

∎ The American Kennel Club Association offers more dog travel tips at www.akc.org/public_education/travel_tips.cfm. AAA sells an annually updated travel book with over 14,000 listings of pet-friendly accommodations, campgrounds, animal care clinics and dog parks. Available for digital purchase for $9.99 at iTunes, Amazon.com and bn.com, or in paperback for $18.95 at local AAA branches. Call (800) 622-9211 to find the branch nearest you.

∎ Worldwide listings of lodging, animal clinics, beaches, dog parks and dog-friendly destinations are available at www.dogfriendly.com.

∎ Find global destination information, air travel trips (including a discussion forum), dog-friendly events calendar and general information on traveling with dogs at www.bringfido.com.

∎ Official Pet Hotels partners with some pet-friendly hotels nationwide, and enables users to search for rooms and make reservations from their site and also lists some general travel information at www.officialpethotels.com.

Pethotels of America offers “12 Tips on Traveling with Cats”, and maintains a database of pet-friendly lodging nationwide at www.pethotelsofamerica.com/blog/traveling-with-cats.html.

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