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See Spot sail: Pet owners embrace alternatives to flying

By: Andrea Sachs The Washington Post
May 6, 2018 Updated: May 6, 2018 at 4:15 am
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German Schnauzer Pepper is shown at sunset in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Harald Franzen

In 2010, Pepper and Nikki Moustaki embarked on a European adventure that did not involve one plane ride. They sailed round trip from New York to Southampton, England, on the Queen Mary 2 and bounced around Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands in cars and trains. During their two-month stay in Paris, they relied on their feet (or paws, in Pepper's case) and Metro to get around the City of Light.

Pepper is a schnauzer, and Nikki is his person.

"Personally, I'm not a fan of flying. Just the stress of thinking about what could go wrong in the air ruins the beginning of what could be a great trip," said Moustaki, a dog trainer and author who splits her time between New York City and Miami. "But I love taking my dog with me wherever I go. So I need to find suitable alternative means of travel."

Flying with four-legged family members is the opposite of a relaxing belly rub. The major U.S. airlines flew more than a half-million animals last year; of those, two dozen died, reports the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A French bulldog puppy perished in the overhead bin on a United flight in March. The airline also accidentally sent a German shepherd to Japan instead of Kansas City and placed a dog named Dudley on the wrong connection from Newark.

Animal rights advocates urge owners to consider all other modes of travel first.

"In general, air travel is safe for your pets, but it's better to travel by train or car," said Amy Nichols, vice president of companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States. "Think of what's best for the animal and not what you prefer."

Several options on land and sea allow you to bypass that big bird in the sky.

Not all pets travel well. Seniors, puppies and ailing dogs are better left at home, as are brachycephalic (short-skulled) breeds, which often suffer breathing difficulties.

Weather is also critical. You don't want to expose your animal to extreme temperatures at any point. Also, remember that some international hotels prefer fans over air conditioning - not the best cooling for an animal that doesn't sweat.

"Summer is not a good idea for any pet," said Susan H. Smith, president of PetTravel.com, a guide for domestic and international pet travel.

For international trips, know the country's entry requirements for live animals. Don't be a Johnny Depp. Two years ago, the actor and then-wife Amber Heard did not declare their two Yorkies to Australian customs officials. A Down Under drama ensued. Some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, quarantine incoming pets; others, such as Germany and Britain, ban certain breeds.

For all destinations, pack a copy of your pet's most current health report. In Europe, you will need an E.U. health certificate issued by a U.S. Agriculture Department-accredited veterinarian and endorsed by your state USDA office. The document must contain vaccination records, plus proof of a tapeworm test, depending on the country. You also must microchip your pet, in case Bandit decides to run off with the Romanian circus.

By train

Since Amtrak introduced its pet travel program in Illinois in 2013, about 66,000 dogs and cats have hopped along by rail, including a record 5,322 in December. The $25 service is available on 35 routes in the East, West, Midwest and Northeast quadrants of the country, including such popular lines as the Capitol Limited, the California Zephyr, the Cardinal and the Northeast Regional.

Trains on 10 itineraries feature a pet-friendly coach car. Amtrak allows only five to eight animals weighing no more than 20 pounds each per trip, so book early and don't stuff your pet with peanut butter treats before the trip. The voyage can't exceed seven hours.

Our neighbors to the north are less liberal with pet policies. On Via Rail Canada, cats, dogs and, yes, small rodents must travel in the baggage car. Unfortunately, not all trains offer baggage service.

On the plus side, baggage cars are heated. On the down side, most are not air-conditioned. So the railway pauses pet service on all trains but the Ocean (Montreal to Halifax) between June 1 and Sept. 30. The cost is $30 or $50, depending on cage size. On several routes, owners can visit their pets if accompanied by a railway authority.

For the most part, trains in Europe are incredibly generous to pets. Some countries let the fashionably furry passengers ride free and even on their owners' laps. Mark Smith, a British cat owner who founded travel website the Man in Seat Sixty-One (seat61.com), created an informative page about pet travel on trains and ferries.

"There are little problems and quirks," he said about rules governing each country's rail service.

Britain's National Rail allows two animals per passenger for no charge. On the Caledonian Sleeper, which fans out across England and Scotland, passengers and their pets can bunk together in a cabin for about $43, plus the people ticket fare. But you can't cross the English Channel on the Eurostar with your pet. The high-speed train that links London to destinations on the mainland does not permit animals.

Smith recommends the Dutchflyer Rail & Sail combo: Take the train from London to Harwich International Port in Essex, then catch the day or overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland, a town in the Netherlands' southwest corner. Your dog can lounge in a kennel for about $20. From there, you and pooch can launch your Grand Tour, Canine Edition, by rail. One warning: If you are headed to Spain, its train system, Renfe, caps the animal's weight at 22 pounds.

"It's cultural," he said. "They think of large dogs as working dogs. It's like taking a pig or a cow."

And, no, dressing your corgi in a slenderizing black jacket won't work.

By sea

Only one cruise line invites pets onboard: Cunard's Queen Mary 2. The ocean liner, which sails between New York and Southampton, England, offers 24 kennels for $800 to $1,000 a pop. A full-time Kennel Master oversees the feeding, walking and housecleaning of the four-legged cruisers, who receive a gift bag including a QM2-monogrammed coat and Frisbee, among other treats.

"Imagine a ship that offers the finest food, white glove service, amazing entertainment and incredible shore excursions," Moustaki said. "Now imagine that you're taking this trip with your dog."

Cunard prohibits some dogs because of size (Great Dane, Irish wolfhound, St. Bernard and malamute, among others) and others because of British restrictions (pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero).

For shorter sea sojourns, many ferries in Europe and the U.S. lower the gangway for pets. Depending on your style of land travel (car or train) and the company's rules, you can walk or drive onto the boat with your pet. Some companies require the animal to stay in the vehicle or a kennel; others invite them to come on deck and feel the sea breeze on their snouts, as long as they are leashed.

Pet-embracing operations in Europe include Brittany Ferries (France and Spain); Condor (France, Channel Islands); DFDS Seaways (France, Netherlands); Irish Ferries; P&O (Belgium, France, Netherlands); and Wightlink (Isle of Wight in England). Rates range from free to about $100. In the U.S., the list includes the North Carolina Ferry System, including the jaunt from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island; the Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket ferries; and the San Francisco Bay Ferry (carrier-only).

By car

Moustaki's dogs are her co-pilots. She and her pups have traveled between New York and Miami more than 60 times over two decades, in addition to rambling car adventures in California, Nevada and the Gulf States.

"I can easily say that I have become an expert in road-tripping efficiently and safely with dogs," she said.

Her advice: Restrain your dog in the back seat with a harness, with the leash clipped on, in case Dash decides to dart out of the car during a pit stop. Pack such essentials as a non-spill water dish for the back seat, potty pads, plastic bags, a blanket and a towel, paper towels, treats and your dog's regular food. She also recommends a hands-free leash that wraps around your waist, so you can carry your luggage without losing your grip on your pet.

Drivers need to stop every few hours for a bathroom and water break. Nichols recommends every four to six hours for adult dogs and more frequent stops for younger and older ones. If your pet starts acting "spacey," Nichols said, dehydration could be the culprit. And though dogs love to stick their heads out and waggle their tongues, keep the windows shut. Debris could fly into their faces and eyes.

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