And Toto too

By SANDRA ECKSTEIN - Atlanta Journal Constitution
Thursday, June 5, 2003

Susan Dane takes her two Chihuahuas, Jo Jo and Julio, nearly everywhere with her. That's easy when she's living in Nice, France. But not as easy when she's spending months in the U.S. with family or friends.

"In France, the dogs are allowed everywhere -- restaurants, hotels, the movies, church -- the French adore dogs," she said.

But when with her family in the Atlanta area, she finds herself leaving them at home much more often.

"I think it's extremely hard to travel or even live with a dog in the U.S.," said Dane, who is spending a month with her sister in Cumming.

But Americans are catching on to the pet travel trend -- buying everything from rolling dog carriers to caviar off the pet menus at high-end hotels. In a 2001 survey by the Travel Industry Association of America, 14 percent of Americans said they had taken a trip of 50 miles or more with their pets in the past three years. That would translate to more than 29 million Americans.

Two thirds of pet-owners have traveled with Fluffy or Fido at some point, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. In fact, 42 percent have taken an out-of-state vacation with pets. With 65 million dogs and 77.7 million cats in U.S. homes, there's an enormous potential for pet travel. And hotels and vacation spots are recognizing it.

"People have always been committed to their pets, and went off and left them only because they were forced to," said Jerry Hatfield, owner of, a web site that caters to people who travel with their animals. "But now the trend is changing, pets are becoming more accepted, and I think more and more people will travel with their pets.

Hotel owners are starting to react to the trend, said Tia Gordon, a spokeswoman for American Hotel & Lodging Association.

"For the last five or 10 years, a lot of hotels are recognizing that travelers want their pets to accompany them, and they can encourage business by inviting the pets in," Gordon said. "A number have established elaborate pet policies."

Manufacturers also have noticed the trend and come out with entire lines of products, from collapsible crates and wheeled pet carriers to disposable litter boxes, packable food bowls and water bowls that won't ever spill.

Sylvia Pickett of Winston-Salem, N.C., couldn't find products for traveling with her Shih Tzu, Tashi, so she made her own. So many people wanted them, she started her own company, Global Pet Products, four years ago to make pet carriers, car booster seats and other travel-related products.

"Travel seems like the fastest growing segment of the pet industry," Pickett said. "We've seen nothing but growth. We haven't had the same problems many other industries seem to be experiencing in the current economic downturn. People don't seem to skimp when it comes to their pets."

Hatfield, whose web site lists nearly 14,000 places worldwide where people and pets can stay, said people seem especially attached to their pets in all the uncertain times since Sept. 11, 2001.

"People seem less willing to split up the family now, even if the family is a pet," said Hatfield.

But that traveling companion is much more commonly a dog than anything else. A 2002 study by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that 16 percent of dog owners have traveled with their dogs, but only two percent of cat owners.

Despite the changes, frequent travelers say it still can be hit or miss with hotels. Robyn Peters, who publishes a newsletter for people who travel with their dogs, said some hotels stopped accepting dogs because of liability fears. But others, like La Quinta and Loews, have recently put pet friendly policies into place. Last summer, LaQuinta ordered all 350 properties to begin accepting pets weighing less than 50 pounds.

"We get a lot of letters from people saying it's been wonderful for them because they can make plans ahead of time," said La Quinta spokesperson Teresa Ferguson.

And Ferguson said they have had no reports of damage from pets.

"Sometimes people's pets are better behaved then people's children," Ferguson said.

But at many hotels, it's up to the individual owners or managers to set the policies. That's true of Cendant Corporation's nine hotel chains with more than 6,400 hotels. Cendant Corp's Hotel Group is the world's largest lodging franchisor. Its pet-friendliest hotels are Days Inn, Howard Johnson and Travelodge, where about half the hotels allow pets, said Emanuel Naim, of Cendant. The company includes Ramada, Super 8 and Villager. He recommends calling ahead to check policies before stopping.

Books, like AAA's Traveling With Your Pet and Eileen Barish's Vacationing With Your Pet, list thousands of pet friendly hotels, B&Bs and resorts. But it's still important to call ahead to ensure policies haven't changed.

Hatfield, who often travels with his Shih Tzu, Ruggles, said it's actually easier to find high-end hotels that allow pets then lower-priced hotels. Some, like Loews, are actively courting pet owners. The high-end chain of 18 hotels in 14 cities has had a great reaction to their pet-friendly program, launched in 2000, said Emily Kanders, a spokeswoman for the chain. Loews program includes an extensive list of dog-oriented services, including pet sitters, access to groomers or day-care centers, dog walkers and even a room-service menu for pets.

The Four Seasons hotel in Atlanta has a similar menu and services, although it limits dogs to under 25 pounds. Marsha Middleton said each pet is welcomed with biscuits baked by the executive pastry chef and provide Fido's owner with a newsletter detailing local pet-friendly places to hang out. The hotel's pet menu is so upscale it includes chopped steak ($12) for dogs, filet of salmon ($8) for cats and a one-ounce serving of Beluga caviar ($90) served with or without the onion, egg, parsley and sour cream garnish. When asked if anyone's ever purchased the caviar, Middleton said "we had so many requests we had to put it on the menu."

A new travel agency is dedicated to planning trips for people with pets who don't want to take the time to scan websites and do it themselves.

"I've been getting busier and busier as people discover me," said Barbara DeBry, owner of Puppy Travel in Salt Lake City, Utah. "I do everything from pleasure trips to transfers with pets."

DeBry said people should be flexible when they travel with pets, and planning ahead is a necessity. Hatfield has upgraded to first class when his dog carrier wouldn't fit under the seat in coach. David York, owner of Barking Hound Villages, four Atlanta area doggie-daycare and boarding centers, admits to chartering a plane if he can't drive his dogs somewhere.

"Those of us who do this kind of thing are a little nuts," Hatfield said. "We're willing to spend the money to do whatever's necessary to keep our pets happy and safe."

The animals in the photos (except the Chihuahuas) are homeless and are available at Fulton County Animal Services at 860 Marietta Blvd., Atlanta, 404-794-0358.

Here, a Pomeranian Chow mix from the Fulton County Animal Shelter at 860 Marietta Blvd. stands close to a collapsible crate.

Trying out a car seat here is a Shepherd mix from the Fulton County Animal Shelter.

Here, a calico kitty from the Fulton County Animal Shelter investigates a travel litter box.

Tips to make a trip with your pet easier

  • If going by car, take some test trips.
  • Take a health certificate showing your pet is up-to date on shots.
  • Put a tag on your pet with information on how to contact you (cell phones and pagers are good.)
  • Microchip your pet, especially if going outside U.S.
  • Confirm pets are welcome at your hotel, final destination.
  • Don't feed your pet in a moving vehicle. Stop often for exercise and water breaks.
  • Never leave a pet in a parked car on a hot day.
  • Take your pet's food, bowls, grooming supplies, any medication, a favorite toy and a picture of your pet in case he gets lost. If your pet doesn't travel well, talk to your vet about using sedatives.
  • Talk to your vet before attempting air travel with your pet. Small pets can travel in the cabin, but the number allowed per flight is limited. Check with your airline.
  • If staying at a hotel, unless you know your pet will be well behaved, don't leave her alone. Check the phone book for pet sitters or doggie day-care centers.
  • Pick up after your pet! (That's what plastic bags are for.)