When traveling with a four-legged family member, plan ahead to ensure a smooth and enjoyable time for all.
By Alana Phillips Schneider
“Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear.”
— Dave Barry
You’ve plotted and planned the perfect family vacation. You’ve driven many hours and many miles. But when you arrive at the RV park, you discover that your pet is not being welcomed with open arms. In fact, it is not allowed at all. Why?
Your dog may truly be a member of your family and possess better manners than last year's Westminster Kennel Club’s Best In Show winner, but many campgrounds still do not accept guests of the canine persuasion, and for some very understandable reasons:
Noise: No matter how perfect your dog may be, at some point it is going to communicate in dog language. There will be the occasional bark or yelp if it gets excited, annoyed, or just plain bored.
Maintenance: The best landscaping and grounds-keeping efforts can be destroyed in just a few minutes by a digging or frantically pacing dog at the end of a cable tie or tether.
Type of facility: State parks may welcome all guests, but parks maintained by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service may not allow pets or may enforce tight restrictions on where they are allowed. Private parks can set their own rules, from total acceptance to complete denial of pets.
Sanitation: No one wants to walk through your dog's doo-doo. Most dog owners are responsible and considerate. But pet owners who do not police the area after their dogs can ruin it for everyone else.
Canine Rules Of The Road
Fortunately, there are many more RV parks that allow canine family members than those that don't. But even the most welcoming and pet-friendly parks will have rules and expect common courtesy. Although there is typically no extra charge to have a pet with you at your campsite, you should adhere to the following guidelines:
- Keep your dog on the leash at all times except when in a designated "off lead" area.
- Do not allow prolonged barking or aggressive behavior such as growling, snarling, or lunging.
- Do not leave your pet unattended for extended periods of time. Even the best-behaved dog will get bored or lonely if left by itself for hours. Remember, this is your pet’s vacation, too.
- Always clean up after your dog and confine your dog's personal needs to the proper, predetermined doggie comfort zone.
Before You Leave
By taking a few precautions before leaving on your journey, you increase the chances of a fun and uneventful trip for you and your dog.
- Make sure all of your pet’s inoculations are up-to-date.
- Tell your vet where you will be traveling and ask if there are any special precautions you need to take.
- Perhaps the best guarantee for a stress-free vacation is to ask the right questions when you call to make your campground reservation. Many parks have specific campsites set aside to provide maximum comfort and relaxation for dog lovers as well as those who would prefer not to be around dogs. In addition, some campgrounds may restrict the size, breed, or number of dogs that are allowed to stay. At Jellystone Park in upstate New York, for example, visitors are restricted to only one dog or cat, and pit bulls, Dobermans, Rottweillers, and certain other breeds are not permitted.
Let the campground reservationist know that your pet will be with you so he or she can offer the best accommodations for everyone. It’s much better to find out that pets are not allowed before you make the 200-mile drive, not after.
“Let us know about your dog when you make the reservation. Then we can make the best arrangements and reservations for you and your ‘family member,’” advised Sharon Cosser, owner of Wildwood Lakes and Campsites in Fairhaven, New York.
According to Ms. Cosser, the most common problem is a dog being left unattended outside. “Barking is distracting, disturbing, and disruptive to other dogs. It’s unsafe and just unfair to the pet,” she said. “For the most part, we have had no bad experiences. Dog people are really nice people."
What To Take
Just as you would pack certain necessities for yourself when preparing for a trip, you should consider the needs of your dog as you load the motorhome. Make sure to include the following items:
- Any medications your dog is currently taking or may need.
- If possible, bring whatever water your dog is used to drinking, suggests Dr. Gayanna Gilbraith at the Cicero Animal Clinic in upstate New York. If you choose not to fill your fresh water tank at home, Dr. Gilbraith recommends bottled water to be absolutely safe. “If you are someplace where you don't feel comfortable drinking the water, don't feed it to your pets,” she cautioned.
- Bring your dog's regular food. “Remember, even if it is a brand-name food, manufacturers may be regional,” Dr. Gilbraith said.
- Make sure you have identification firmly secured to your pet’s collar with your cell phone number clearly visible.
- It's also not a bad idea to bring photos of you with your pet in case you need to prove it is yours. No one wants to consider a worst-case situation, but photos also could be vital should your pet disappear and posters become necessary.
- Don't forget your pet’s medical paperwork, including proof of rabies shots and all other inoculations and vaccinations. Has your dog been tested for Lyme disease? If you don’t know, ask your vet. It may have been part of a previous screening or blood work. "If your dog becomes ill while on the road, it's important for the attending vet to know that Butch or Lassie had a clean bill of health before you left. That can help the emergency vet to rule out many possibilities and focus accurately on the problem," Dr. Gilbraith said.
Always be on the lookout for dangers that may impact your trip in a negative way.
- Do your homework! Be particularly cautious when traveling to areas with a high incidence of Lyme disease. Always consult your vet beforehand.
- Alligators, yes, alligators, can be a real danger for your dog. Some parks along the Gulf Coast do not allow guests with dogs to stay at waterfront campsites for this specific reason. These water-dwellers can become “landlubbers” in an instant. You don’t want them paying your pet a surprise visit. Obey all recommendations and warnings.
- Never leave your pet alone in a locked vehicle, such as a towed car. Temperatures rise very quickly in buttoned-up vehicles. (In a motorhome, of course, your pet can remain comfortable with the air-conditioner or furnace running.) Another concern is that your vehicle can be broken into. It’s sad to say, but pet abductions are not as rare as you would think.
- During the travel portion of your trip, it may be tempting to let your dog roam the motorhome. This is not a good idea. You also should never allow your pet to travel standing or lying in your lap as you’re driving.
- Safety belts for your pet? “They make some excellent and reliable safety belt-type systems now,” said Dr. Gilbraith. She recommends looking for a belt with sufficient padding, secure stitching, and ease of use. “If it’s too complicated, you won't use it,” she warned.
- Other safety alternatives include a reliable harness device or a sturdy crate or cage that can be secured inside the motorhome. A panicked dog loose inside a motorhome can be injured or prevent paramedics from rendering assistance after an accident.
Pets That Should Not Go
As much as you may miss your pet when you’re away on a trip, there are times when it may be better if it stays home. Here are several instances when it would be best to leave your dog with a sitter or at a kennel.
- Very young puppies with insufficient training or social skills.
- Older dogs that tend to be uncomfortable away from home and familiar surroundings.
- Any pet that is pregnant, sick, or injured.
- Female dogs in heat.
Finally, honestly consider how much time you actually will have to spend with your dog and how often it will have to be left alone. It's no vacation for your pet if it spends more time alone than it would have at home.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” — Roger Caras
Health And Safety
RV Parks & Pet Travel
Pet First Aid Kit
For travel and other times, it’s a good idea to put together a first aid kit for your pet that includes medical supplies you may need to treat minor mishaps. Label the outside of the container with the following information:
- Your name, address, and phone numbers
- Your vet and his or her contact information
- The closest emergency animal hospital to your expected location
- Poison control hotlines
- Your emergency contact person's numbers, in case you are incapacitated
Inside the bag, include the following supplies:
- Tweezers (flat slant tip instead of the rounded variety)
- A 10-cc syringe with no needle (for administering medications)
- Rubber gloves
- Paper towels
- Blanket (a compact thermal blanket works well; uses include keeping an injured animal from going into shock)
- 3-inch-by-3-inch sterile gauze pads
- Rolled gauze (for bandaging, stabilizing joints, making a muzzle)
- Adhesive first aid tape (in narrow and wide widths)
- Antibacterial wipes or pads
- Betadine brand solution (a topical antiseptic)
- Antibiotic ointment
- Styptic powder (to stop bleeding of torn toenails, etc.)
- Muzzle (an injured or scared animal may try to bite)
Motorhomers’ Web Site Provides A Pet-Friendly View Of Travel
In 2008 Amy and Rod Burkert decided to plan a trip to Canada with their two dogs, Ty, a Shar-Pei, and Buster, a black German shepherd. What they thought would be a fun and easy experience turned out to be a daunting and time-consuming task. Trying to find acceptable accommodations with pet policies that met their needs was a hassle, as was coming up with activities the whole “pack” could enjoy together.
Believing that others were having the same experience, the couple left behind their successful business appraisal firm and created GoPetFriendly.com. Their goal: to connect pet lovers with businesses and service providers that will help make their travel experiences with their furry friends exceptional.
Since that time, the Burkerts have created a database that includes up-to-date pet policy information for more than 4,000 campgrounds and 20,000 hotels and bed-and-breakfasts throughout the United States and Canada. The site also includes a Road Trip Planner feature that allows folks to see all of the pet-friendly establishments along the way.
In February 2009, the couple partnered with Winnebago Industries to take their venture on the road, literally, through the use of a 2010 View motorhome. They enjoyed motorhoming with their dogs so much that in January 2011 they sold their house and committed to 12 months of travel. That commitment has now spilled over into 2012 as the couple continues on their quest to uncover pet-friendly establishments and services that can be added to the ever-expanding list.
GoPetFriendly.com also includes destination guides, travel tips, and a regularly updated blog that recounts the Burkerts’ travels and experiences.