Last month I found that I needed to go home to South Dakota to deal with some pressing family business. My mother died almost two years ago, and it was time to wrap up her estate, and sell the family home. Ray and I are together 24 hours a day, every day. I do not go anywhere without him. So, if I was headed to South Dakota, so was he. If I was getting on a plane, so was he. And not in cargo.
In order to fly with your animal in the cabin of the plane, there are three paths you can take. 1. If your dog is small, they can ride as your carry-on in a pet carrier. You have to pay the fee, which averages around $125. 2. If your dog is a trained service dog you can travel with them at no expense. or 3. If you have a psychologist verify, in writing, that the dog offers you emotional support when you are traveling they can accompany you at no cost. I have severely ADHD, along with some depression and anxiety. My counselor was more than happy to write a letter asking that Ray be allowed to accompany me on the plane.
But just because you CAN bring your dog with you like this, doesn’t mean you should. It takes a special personality for a dog to be comfortable and well-behaved in the turmoil of a large airport and the strange smells and noises of an airplane. You do not want to infringe on others comfort by being accompanied by a dog who is stressed or out-of-control. We’ve all seen people who have dogs in the airport that are plainly untrained and the furthest thing from an emotional support animal. Many of you may have seen the story about the emotional support pig who defecated up and down the aisle of a plane a couple of months ago. There is no excuse for that behavior. And it makes it harder for people who have a valid reason for traveling with an animal.
The first time Ray and I flew together, I was a nervous wreck. The last thing I want to do is put my dog in a position where he is unhappy and/or uncomfortable. I am not ashamed to admit that I got very little sleep the night before. It is important to me that Ray be seen as a positive ambassador….and this could have gone very wrong, very quickly.
Imagine my surprise when Ray took to traveling with absolute aplomb. The first leg of our journey was a two-hour shuttle ride from St. George to the Las Vegas airport. He curled up on the floor of the shuttle and snoozed the entire trip. When we got to the loud and busy Las Vegas airport the only time he showed any stress was at security, because of all the beeps and buzzing going on. But he walked through the entire process like a pro. As we waited to board, he slept at my feet. When we got on the plane, he slept at my feet. And because I was more concerned about his safety and well-being than my own, it was the best flight I have ever had in my life.
I am very lucky that Ray’s personality makes traveling together a breeze. I have never had a dog who was so well-behaved in such unusual circumstances. To my surprise he handled escalators like a pro. He stepped on the people mover walk-ways as if he had done it all his life. Elevators were a snap. Ray’s calm demeanor attracted a lot of attention. The flight attendants made a point of telling me what a pleasure he was. Other passengers asked questions, and it gave me an opportunity to educate them about pit bull terrier type dogs.
When we got to the hotel where we stayed for 10 days, Ray made it a point to meet everyone on staff. He became a favorite of everyone from the parking valet to the desk clerks. This little brown dog, from such a horrible beginning, has become a seasoned jet-setter. And because he is calm and happy he helps me be calmer as well. I am incredibly blessed to have such an amazing traveling companion.
No matter how you travel with your dog, there are important things to remember:
- Check over all leashes, collars and harnesses. Make sure they are in good condition and fit properly. You don’t want a leash failure to happen when you are far from your dog’s familiar territory.
- Make sure your dog has a collar tag with up-to-date contact information.
- If you haven’t done it before, now is a good time to get your dog microchipped. Make sure and registered the chip with your contact information, and keep it current.
- Have a file folder with a copy of your dog’s rabies vaccination record and a completed Health Inspection certificate. I have never been asked for this form, but it is required. An airline can deny travel for an undocumented dog.
- I always bring one of Ray’s blankets along. It is something that he knows is his. It keeps his tummy from getting cold on the airplane, and it shows him where it is ok to lay down.
- I make sure and pack some of his food both in my suitcase and in my carry-on. Life is hard enough without dealing with tummy upsets from eating unfamiliar food.
- I always have a collapsable water bowl in my purse. That way it is easy to give him a drink, no matter where we are.
- Immediately before we go into the airport, and immediately after landing I make sure and take him outside to do his business. A small container with plastic bags attaches to his leash, so we are never caught unprepared.
- When staying at a hotel make sure to keep things picked up and neat for housekeeping. You don’t want the fact that a dog is staying in the room to make things harder for staff. I always pack a cheap placemat that I can set his bowls on in the hotel bathroom. I bring along small plastic bowls that are easy to wash out in the sink. Empty dog food containers are sealed in a baggie and placed in the garbage, which I put on the counter.
- Never, ever leave your dog alone in the room. He is in a strange place and will be on edge without you. You don’t want separation anxiety to cause him to destroy the room or disturb other guests by barking or howling.
- Lots of walks every day. At home your dog has a pretty reliable schedule, but you are in a strange place. Accidents can happen if you aren’t vigilant about meeting your dog’s potty needs. It can be hard for a dog to comfortably relieve himself in a strange area.
- Be aware of circumstances that your dog may not be familiar with. We live in an extremely rural area. When we were traveling we stayed at a hotel in the center of the city. The sounds, smells, and amount of traffic were disconcerting for Ray at first.
- And most importantly, treat everything as matter of fact as possible. If you are stressed, your dog will pick up on that.