Travel Pods for Pets?

Seasoned car travelers

I have quite a bit of travel coming up, and the plane trips require leaving Cali behind. So when I saw this article on about a new travel idea, my mind went right to dog travel. Safe dog travel, not the current nightmare scenario.

The article is about an aerospace designer, working with Airbus, to create custom cargo pods with bunk beds. The airlines be shaped to put the special cargo pods aboard or not, depending on the needs for a particular flight. When used, they’ll be accessible to economy passengers who wish to rent a bed for the duration of a long flight. That means that there will be a way for passengers to move between the main cabin and the pod.

So … why not design a similar pod for dog kennels?

The article states that the pods are being designed for economy passengers, since business or first class fliers already get beds on long flights. The cost will have to be less than the cost of a first class ticket, or why bother, right? The article describes on other uses for these designable, modular pods: lounges, kids’ play areas, conference rooms.

So, seriously, why not kennel space? They’d need a way to secure the dog crates — not a problem since airlines that transport pets already do that. For any of the uses described, the pods would need to be climate controlled, have decent airflow, and be accessible from inside the plane. I personally would be much more comfortable flying my pet if I could spend the entire flight (other than takeoff and landing) with her, even if she had to stay in a crate. As for cost, well, a two-week vacation can already run about $500 (or more!) for dog-sitting; wouldn’t you rather spend that money to take your pet along? I would. And I’d certainly see value in flying Cali cross-country rather than subjecting her and myself to a weeklong car trip, should the need arise. (We’ve driven cross-country several times; Jana experienced about a dozen cross-country drives in her lifetime.)

I wonder why flying pets wasn’t one of the uses Airbus mentioned. Maybe I should suggest it!



Travel Nightmares

United Airlines is, once again, drowning in terrible publicity. This time, it’s about major screw-ups with canine passengers. I’ll put the news-averse among you out of your misery: In two of the three incidents, the dogs survived.

I’ll start with those. One dog, who was supposed to go to Akron, wound up on a flight to St. Louis; earlier in the week, a German en route to Kansas traded places with a Great Dane bound for Japan. Traveling with a dog checked in as cargo is nerve-racking enough without having to worry about whether the dog is headed to the same destination you are. But there really has to be a better way to arrange pet travel.

Which forces the conversation to the third incident on United: The puppy who suffocated. I don’t know who to be more angry with: The flight attendant who ordered a frazzled mom to put her puppy into the overhead bin — which is against policy, not to mention common sense; the mom who did it; or the other passengers who watched, heard the puppy crying … and did nothing.

Here’s my rant: You are your dog’s only advocate and voice. If someone tells you to do something that would harm your dog, there’s a simple response: Refuse. Don’t do it. I wasn’t there, and it sounds like the mom had more than she could handle. But that doesn’t let her off the hook. I’m sure that being a flight attendant is extremely stressful. That doesn’t let the flight attendant off the hook. And the other passengers? I don’t even know what to say.

Everyone let that puppy down, but the primary responsibility is with the owner. If you have a dog, you have accepted the enormous responsibility of being that dog’s advocate and protector.

United has the most incidents resulting in pet loss, injury, and, especially death. The airline has a terrible record. But the numbers (which anyone can look up here, on the FAA’s consumer complaints site) don’t tell the whole story. Why not? Because some airlines won’t accept pets as cargo. Others won’t accept pets on board. Some won’t accept pets at all. Many pet-owners have bypassed the system by pretending that their pets are emotional support animals, though airlines are beginning to close that loophole.

People who need to get pets from one place to another have few options. No trains or buses. Driving isn’t always feasible. I heard recently that Pet Airways, which closed down a few years ago, is coming back to life. I don’t know what their plan is or whether that will become a solution, but … Maybe we should all just stay home!


Better and Better

Montana just gets better and better.

Cali and Jana’s cousins came to visit recently. Ziggy and Hannah live in Kansas, where summer is full of scary thunderstorms and terrifying lawnmowers. Up here on the hilltop in Montana, there are no lawnmowers at all. Thunderstorms are rare. There’s a huge play yard and lot of places to go hiking. Ziggy was excited.

Cali, Jana, and their cousins went to Missoula to visit Scarlett and her sister, Gracie. Then they went for a walk by the river, saw a huge carousel, met some really friendly Montana kids, and then, best of all, they got to go out for ice cream. The nice lady at the Big Dipper gave each dog her own cone! Ziggy and Jana and Cali ate theirs really fast, but Hannah showed her good breeding and manners, licking her cone delicately and not dripping it anywhere.

Hannah and Ziggy quickly learned to use the automatic dog door, and they each got their own key. Hannah thinks that it opens when she barks at it. She likes to bark, so that suits her just fine. Jana’s friend Molly came for a visit, and she remembered how to use the dog door right away, even though she hadn’t been over to visit in a really long time! She’s super-smart because she’s a poodle. She knows that barking is not what makes the door open.

Molly likes to bark too, but with all the girls barking, Jana and Cali’s mom couldn’t get any work done, so she told everyone to be quiet. Meanie!

The cousins and Molly loved playing out in Cali’s big play yard. They chased the ball, chased Cali or Alberta chasing the ball, ate grass, barked at deer, chased each other some more … when they got tired, they went back inside and piled onto the dog beds or stretched out on a rug. Hannah and Ziggy thought that Montana was pretty awesome. Molly, a native Montanan, couldn’t agree more.

After Hannah and Ziggy and Molly went home, Cali, Alberta, and Jana finally made plans to go to Packer Meadow. Jana loves this place and told Cali and Alberta all about it, but Cali and Alberta had never been there. It’s huge and very green. Jana remembers being there when it was so full of purple flowers that it looked like water. Speaking of water, there’s this really great stream that runs through the meadow. Brrrr. The water is very cold. But a dog can jump in and climb out and jump in and climb out and jump in and … all day (or until her mom makes her leave. Meanie.).

Unfortunately, the day they went, Packer Meadow was closed because it was too close to some huge forest fires. Good thing that Mom always has a backup plan; the girls had a great afternoon at Jana’s second-favorite place, Fort Fizzle. Jana found the first of her heart-shaped rocks there. She loves splashing in the river, finding rocks, rolling on the bank, and chasing sticks. Cali chased tennis balls; one almost got lost way out on the rocks, and Alberta wouldn’t bring it back, but Cali finally agreed to go and get it. She got a bunch of cookies for that. Maybe Mom is not such a meanie after all.

And guess what! They still get to go to Packer Meadow in a couple of weeks. Montana sure is a great place to be a dog.


Montana Girl

We’re back in Lolo, Montana for a couple of months after three years’ absence. I knew that Jana would be happy to be back. She loves splashing in the river at Fort Fizzle, where she found her first heart-shaped rock several years ago, and barking at the abundant wildlife.

But it is Cali’s first trip to Montana, so I was really looking forward to her reactions. Turns out Cali is even more of a Montana girl than Jana! She loves the huge play yard outside Deni’s house — her own private dog park! — where she races over the ground, feet pounding the dry dirt, after her beloved tennis ball. The dry, stiff grass and stubble don’t seem to affect her at all, though poor Alberta winces with every step.

Cali is enthralled with the bunnies, chipmunks, and squirrels and fascinated by the deer. So far, we haven’t spotted anything bigger than a doe with twin fawns, but for Cali, that was a major life event. Every car ride is a source of great excitement and even greater smells, as sits up, looking out the window, not wanting to miss a thing. And if, oh joy!, the window is open, she glues her nose to the window and whuffs deeply, taking in the rich mix of scents.

The house has the most perfect windows, which are very tall and reach way down to golden-retriever-nose level, so Cali can watch the birds soaring as she looks out over the valley — or bark at the deer and squirrels who wander into the front yard.

Best of all is her new friend Scarlett’s house. Scarlett, aged six months, has a huge yard with the greenest, softest grass Cali has ever seen! And a play pool. And so many flower beds to dig in when Mom isn’t looking … If only she could get into that fenced veggie garden, she could help herself to more of those delicious peas and squashes. Cali thinks that Mom’s being awfully stingy with them. What kind of mom refuses to give her kid veggies?

For the first time ever, Cali has tried out Jana’s routine of stretching out on her back and exercising her abs. Sure feels great in that cool, soft grass. Jana’s enjoying the grass, too. Her new spa routine is a soak in the doggy pool, a luxuriant roll in the grass, then an abs workout. A short nap in the sun, then repeat. All day long.

When Cali is not working out, she’s happy to join a chase game that she, Alberta, and Scarlett have invented. They race in big circles around that garden (the one full of forbidden peas). Then one stops and the other two keep running. They switch out a few times, changing direction occasionally. Finally, they stop running, always ending up with Alberta in the middle as tug toy; Cali and Scarlett each attached to one ear. So far, the ears haven’t come off, but I watch nervously every day …

Cali hasn’t even experienced some of the best Montana treats, like dog cones at the Big Dipper ice cream store or the very cold stream at Packer Meadows or hiking… everywhere. Even so, she’s already sure that she was born to be a Montana girl!

Potty Parity for Pets, Pros

A new era for traveling dogs

Jet-setting working dogs, along with small traveling pets, have reason to rejoice! They are on their way to potty parity.

A recent trip took me through several large airports, and I noticed something new in Detroit: A service dog and traveling pet relief area inside the secure area. Update: A new relief area was opened at O’Hare airport in October! From the pictures, it looks a lot like the Detroit one.

Now, according to the law, this should not be a novel find. Air carriers are required to ensure that all traveling service dogs, whether departing, arriving or connecting, have access to appropriate facilities. The relevant law, 14 CFR Part 382 (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel) Subpart D, 382.51(a)(5) states: “In cooperation with the airport operator and in consultation with local service animal training organization(s), [air carriers] must provide animal relief areas for service animals that accompany passengers departing, connecting, or arriving at an airport on your flights.”

Sadly for all those dogs running between flights with their legs tightly crossed, if these facilities exist at all, they are most often outside the terminal — meaning that they are on the wrong side of security if you are transferring to a connecting flight. Solutions have included teaching dogs to use pee pads, then taking them into the family restrooms that are commonly found in airports to squat alongside their human partners; running them outside — then trekking back through security; or asking airline personnel for an escort to the tarmac, where many a service dog is too distracted by the unusual scents and sounds to, uh, deliver the goods. A tight connection can make either of the last two options impractical. The outdoor pet relief area might be at the very far end of a terminal — or even a few terminals away, making for a very long trek.

The situation is finally improving, though, with a few airports now providing potty facilities inside the terminal.


The first one I discovered was in Seattle; I found it — and I am being very generous — rather disappointing. When I was there, a few years ago, it offered essentially a large litter box, some pee pads, a dirty concrete floor and a trash can. A dog I was traveling with turned up his nose and decided to hold on until we reached our destination where, he hoped, some grass — or even a patch of dirt — might be available.

Detroit’s offering elevates indoor canine commodes to a new level. I hadn’t been through the Detroit airport in a while, and the new facilities, in the center of the main Delta concourse, were quite a pleasant surprise.

IMG_1815First of all, the service dog relief area contains two stalls, each offering the dignified or shy dog a reasonable degree of privacy. A shared hand-washing area, presumably for the humans’ use, divides the stalls. Each stall offers a small fire-hydrant-shaped urinal (female dogs might find these distasteful, but we must all adjust to this dawning era of non-gendered relief facilities, mustn’t we?). The hydrant occupies the center of a smallish patch of fake, very green, grass. Bags and trash cans are also provided. The nicest touch, however, was the built-in sprinkler system. With the push of a button, cleanup is accomplished, leaving the stall fresh and green for the next working dog in need of a restroom.

Let’s hope this becomes the new standard for powder rooms for peripatetic pooches.

The Great Outdoors

We’re about to embark on our first camping adventure. It will be camping-lite, with lots of people and dogs heading to a group campsite at a family “camping resort.” Nothing too ambitious for us city girls.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to borrow needed equipment from friends who will also be on this adventure. But what about Jana and Cali?
What great luck, then, that I got an email from doggyloot (visit at your own peril; the site can be dangerous) titled “Make your pooch one happy camper!”
With great relief, I opened the email to see what gear my girls would need for their weekend in the woods.
doggy tentHow about a dog bed that converts to a sleeping bag? Add to that a comfy dog-size tent. The tent has windows on three sides (with nylon covers to block the light) and a zip-close door, also with mesh screen and solid flaps. Does each dog need her own, I wondered. Can they share? Why can’t we all bunk together? A less-fancy option is a shade shelter, which is essentially a tent with one fully open side — no door, mesh or otherwise.
For hiking, an insect-repellent bandanna is recommended, a travel first-aid kit, and perhaps a doggy backpack to carry the gear. And, since tenderfoot pooches work up an appetite on the trail, some Turbopup doggy meal-replacement bars, available in bacon or peanut butter flavor. Yum. Add some doggy wipes for on-the-trail grooming needs and an insect-repellent blanket for use in camp, and they will be all set …
And I was just planning to pack some beef-bison jerky (they are addicted), a couple of chew toys, and their swim suits. Silly me. Maybe I should revisit my original idea — a doggy camper, like these, featured on HuffPost not long ago. After all, my princesses are not used to roughing it.

Precious Precocious Puppy

grand canyon

Not every five-month-old-puppy can handle a 3,800 mile drive, so I was a bit nervous about driving from California to Florida with Cali and Jana. Fortunately, my mom came along to help. Cali, like big sister Jana, turned out to be an excellent traveler, though.

Cali took the Grand Canyon at sunset in stride. This was after a morning spent at The London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, AZ (a consolation trip, once we discovered that the Hoover Dam does not allow pet dogs on site at all, ever, no matter what). Near the river in Lake Havasu City, Cali and Jana also encountered a weird piece of sidewalk that spouted water. And had ducks. Very cool, they thought.

IMG_0317Cali liked the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, too. Kansas City and a visit with cousins Hannah and Ziggy was a huge success. Cali then slept through a few more days in the car, and we were home. In Florida.

Scary, scary Florida.

We arrived home on a Wednesday. First thing, Mom and I opened the windows and turned on the ceiling fans. I turned around, wondering where my puppy had gone in this huge house, so different from our one-room studio in Valley Ford, CA. She was hiding under a table in the dressing room. Would not come out, even for food. Well, after some coaxing, Cali was able to dash into the kitchen for her dinner, but she kept casting nervous glances at the dining room ceiling. Ah. Ceiling fans. Terrifying. Who knew?

The truth is, it is pretty normal for a puppy to be afraid of a weird thing moving overhead and casting all sorts of weird shadows. I just hadn’t thought about it.

After dinner, it was time to visit the back yard. Which requires navigating a bead curtain. Again, very scary.

By bedtime, Cali had conquered her fear of the curtain. The fans took longer. But, by dinner time the next day, Cali was willing to hang out in the same room as the fans, though she still gave them a wary look from time to time.

That same Thursday afternoon, we took her (poor kid) to the beach across the street. Not surprisingly, calm, shallow, warm, waveless Tampa Bay is much more to her liking than the ferocious Pacific Ocean. She bounded right in. When the ball floated out to sea a bit, she bounded after it. Until, on landing from her leap, there was nothing under her paws.  A panicked look at me — then she quickly realized that her paws were paddling of their own accord. “I can swim!!” her happy expression said.

What else did Florida throw at this poor puppy? A dog door lesson. She’d been watching her all-powerful big sister Jana use her magic to open this amazing portal. Now it was Cali’s turn. She got her key (our dogs wear magnetic “keys” to open the dog door; this keeps out cats, opossum, and other local wildlife) and we headed to the back office.

With my helpful mom standing on one side and me on the other, both armed with treats, the lesson was quick. About 12 seconds, I think. I called her. Out she came. Treat. Mom called her. In she went. Treat. Four or five repetitions and Cali was a dog door pro. She loves going in and out, just because she can. (Her reaction is not so different from Wylie’s, when we first installed the dog door.)

Is anyone counting? Cali has conquered ceiling fans and bead curtains, mastered electronic dog doors, and found out that she could swim. All before she turned 6 months old. Actually, all in about a day. The resilience of youth!

While we were on the road, Cali was showing some hesitancy around things she’d seen before — statues, motorcycles — and I was worried that she’d hit a fear period. Puppies go through stages in their development where they suddenly become fearful of new things, or not-so-new things, and a fear period and a cross-country drive are not a good combination. But she seems to have passed through the fear period quickly and without a scratch.

Since arriving in Florida, Cali has also discovered things like neighbors and traffic. While our neighborhood is relatively quiet, it’s a far cry from our rural home in California. People come and deliver or remove things — mail, trash, dry cleaning — regularly. Cars pass by. Pedestrians, too — many with dogs. Cats wander through the yard. Other critters too, though we had our fair share of those in California. Lizards are everywhere here, and endlessly fascinating to a puppy. There are so many people to meet, so many things to bark at in Florida!

Cali’s next challenge is convincing her new sister Albee to play the way she wants. Albee invites Cali to play tug by whacking her on the head with a tug toy. Cali invites Albee to play by choosing a toy and playing keep away. Neither is getting what she wants — yet. Both love to play ball and Frisbee, though, so we’re confident that they will figure out how to communicate about other games.

Cali is lucky that she gets to experience so many new and exciting things. I am lucky that she is mostly confident and curious, and that, when she is fearful, she overcomes it fairly quickly. This combination is setting her up to be a confident and calm dog who won’t be easily overwhelmed by new sights and sounds — a dog who could, someday, be a service dog working comfortably out in public.