Special Needs Dogs Hit the Road

“Traveling with a blind dog is not much different than traveling with a sighted dog”; “He adapted to his wheelchair immediately and uses a harness in the car”; “Road trips with a senior dog just require a little extra planning.” These are the comments echoed by the canine guardians of Little Bit, Benjamin and Brandy Noel, respectively.

Their bodies may be injured but their spirits are never broken. Fido’s road can get bumpy occasionally as fate deals its cards, but as potholes are meant to be filled and broken bridges repaired, Fido too just needs some extra TLC to keep his motor running. With a host of products available to assist in his comfort and transport (such as those collapsible wheelchairs from www.handicappedpets.com), guardians have many resources to turn to when it’s time to hit the road.

When South Carolina resident Arlene O’Neil’s Labrador-mix pooch, Little Bit, became blind, she knew it meant adjusting but never giving up. “To accommodate Little Bit’s size and lack of sight, my vehicles always had a full bench seat. Bucket seats were too confusing, as Little Bit could not see where he was in relation to the dashboard or gearshift. He never acquired what is referred to as ‘car legs,’ so the back floor of the car was always built up with blankets and pillows until it was flush with the back seat. This prevented him from falling off the seat onto the floor,” she proudly beamed. “On the few occasions that Little Bit and I stayed in a hotel, a first-floor room was always requested. Upon arrival, I walked the room with Little Bit on leash, announcing and slapping the succession of furniture: door, couch, bed, bureau, etc. Within moments, Little Bit had the room mapped out in his mind and seldom made an error as he moved about the area. Traveling with a handicapped dog is only as complicated as you allow it to become.”

Raegan Hawk of LaVale, Maryland, knows first-hand how life can change in an instant. “Ben and I were out playing in the backyard with a ball. He screamed, fell to the ground, and could not move. He was eventually diagnosed with a ruptured disk.

Forty-eight hours later, he had permanent hind leg paralysis. Vets suggested I put him down.” Hawk soared like her namesake, swooping in and refusing to accept the grim news. Ben uses a dog wheelchair to get around, and he has easily adapted. “I express Ben’s bladder four times a day. He’s so smart and cooperative, lying on his side for me as we use a puppy pad and diaper. We have a routine established. It was an adjustment, but totally doable.

Ben is amazing and has such a passion for life. As a Canine Good Citizen, he visits nursing homes and goodwill industries. I owe him the same loyalty. Ben loves his wheelchair and gets around just great,” Hawk related.

Leave no dog behind® and that means seniors, too. This writer traveled with a loving

Cocker her entire 15 years, even when old age made things a bit more complicated. Thanks to a pet stroller, Brandy Noel was able to travel from sea to shining sea. More frequent pit stops for potty breaks and plenty of water for a thirsty road warrior were both mandatory and doable.

Fate holds the wristwatch, but we as guardians control the direction of the hands. Our dogs add so very much to our lives, from companionship to laughter, loyalty to unconditional love. A few adjustments in the road of life means sometimes taking the path less traveled. Finding an alternate route is sometimes a necessary diversion on life’s highway, and being able to stay on that highway with Fido makes the diversion worth it.

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Hotel Chains Open Their Doors to Dogs

Imagine that the following happens during your next vacation: You enter the lobby of a luxury hotel with your accompanying children, colleagues or friends, and your eyes wide open. Your companions gasp while you stare, jaw agape, at the finery and expensive furnishings. You’re so taken aback by the splendor that you almost drop your dog’s leash.

This scenario might not just be a daydream -- especially the part about your dog. That’s because many hotels now cater to dog owners like you. Now you can stay at hotels ranging from luxury chains, where you can expect royal rover treatment, to reasonably priced hotels, which place more emphasis on functionality rather than flash.

Puttin’ On the Rover Ritz
With few exceptions, nearly the entire Ritz Carlton chain allows dogs. Just be sure to check the pet policy at your particular destination, as rules can differ among various hotels, even if they are under associated ownership. Call ahead to ask if your dog is welcome at that specific hotel, and also keep in mind that each hotel within a chain may offer different pet perks.

At the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans, for example, you can arrange for a dog bed, tags, chew toys, bowls, designer collars and leashes. The hotel even provides door hangers saying “woof,” and the staff will show you the grass, a block away, where your dog can do its business.

“We’ve had several movie crews enjoy long-term stays here with their pets,” said Char Schroeder, a Ritz spokesperson. “Queen Latifah was here for three months with her Weimaraner, Isis. We provide dog walkers and sitters.” Schroeder adds, “To get the most out of your visit, I recommend calling ahead to discuss your pet’s size, age and needs, and we’ll explain what amenities are available.” Although the hotel’s policy applies to dogs 40 pounds or less, it accepts larger dogs on a case-by-case basis. Discuss the matter with your agent when making reservations.

Loews Loves Pets, Too
The Loews hotel chain offers a “Loews Loves Pets” program that begins with a personal note from the hotel’s general manager. It lists all the pet services available at the hotel, plus dog walking routes, veterinary contacts, nearby pet shops and groomers, pet sitters and restaurants where dogs are welcome. Dogs receive complimentary pet treats and a toy. Pets get their own place mats with food and water bowls. Specialized pet bedding is available. Loews’ “Did You Forget Closet” includes dog beds, leashes, collars and pet videos. Even room service caters to pets by offering grilled lamb or chicken for dogs. Loews will help to arrange for special services and, after you leave, the staff initiates a thorough “pet-cleaning process” that includes filtered vacuums to remove pet allergens so that all future guests can enjoy their stay, too.

Read Up and Hit the Red Roof
If you often travel, consider purchasing a guide such as DogFriendly.com's Lodging Guide for Travelers with Dogs (DogFriendly.com Inc. 2008). According to the online resource DogFriendly, many of the larger, widespread chains accept pets. These include Best Western, Candlewood-Staybridge, Choice Hotels, Holiday Inn, La Quinta Inns/Suites, Loews, Motel 6, Novotel Innworks, Red Roof Inn, Sheraton-Westin and Studio 6. Expect a one-time pet fee per stay at most chain hotels. The fee usually ranges from $25 to $150.

The Red Roof Inn’s 350 hotels all accept dogs. The chain attracts dog show attendees, as well as families and individuals traveling with their dogs. “Some people drive twenty or thirty miles out of their way to stay with us, because they know how pet-friendly we are,” said Randy Fox of Red Roof Inn. “If you call ahead, we’ll arrange for a convenient first floor room for you.” Technically, the hotels only allow one pet per room, but their staff understands the needs of dog show people with multiple canines, and they will try to work out a suitable arrangement. In general, however, it helps to travel with just one dog, since it’s hard enough to keep track of one, much less two or more, when on the road.

Red Roof Inn asks that you mention your dog when checking in so housekeeping knows your pet is there. They require that pets not be left unattended, although someone inevitably breaks the rules. “We’ve had cases where surprised housekeeping staff has run after a dog, but we haven’t lost one yet,” says Fox. “We had a big manhunt once where the whole staff got in cars and drove around and found the runaway dog.” Fox adds, “We try to have as few rules as possible to make it easy for folks with pets to stay with us; all we ask is that our guests use common courtesy.”

Ways to Get the Most from Your Stay

  • Call ahead to ensure dogs are welcome, because in some chains, the pet policy is up to the franchise owner

  • Ask what the pet policy is, since all hotels have one. Discuss your situation before you arrive, not when you’re checking in
  • Inform hotel staff of your pet’s size and age Don’t consider sneaking a Great Dane into a hotel that has a 40-pound limit for dogs. Ask about your big dog because decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis, and let’s face it, you can’t sneak around a hotel’s interior corridors with a Great Dane or other large pooch anyway
  • Ask what amenities are available, such as bowls, beds, leashes, pet sitting and dog walking
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended if that’s the policy. Barking could disturb other guests, and the housekeeper could accidentally let your dog out of your room, which can be a nightmare for both owners and hotel staff
  • Respect the hotel’s policy about where dogs are allowed on the premises
  • Consider your needs and develop a detailed itinerary before deciding where to stay
  • Ask the front desk about nearby safe dog-walking routes

Assure a Warm Welcome in the Future
It takes just a few bad apples to spoil the barrel. Some chains have only recently allowed dogs. Inconsiderate behavior could reverse that trend. Be sure to mind both your and your dog’s manners. For example, it’s critical to prevent excess barking, and you must pick up your dog’s feces immediately. The bottom line is that in order for a dream vacation with your dog to stay dreamy, you have to be considerate of others. If you and your dog behave yourselves, you’ll both be welcome back soon.

10 Dog Trip Essentials

Betty Horner, a grandmother of seven in Middleburg, Va., has been bringing pets on family road trips since before some of her kids could walk. "It used to be that the dogs could only come if we were camping out or going to the beach house," says Horner. "Now, if we want to, we can take our dogs to the Four Seasons."

For many families, a vacation is no longer a vacation without their dog present. But bringing a dog along requires serious consideration, from deciding on your mode of transportation to determining where to stay and what to do. Following are 10 things your need to do before you bring your dog on your next trip.

1. Choose your lodging carefully
When choosing a hotel, take time to find out what the pet policies are.  Many hotels have weight limits; some have breed restrictions and most require advance reservations. Most hotels post pet policies on their Web site, but it's a good idea to review the rules when you make your reservation so there are no surprises later.

Also, be sure you know the rules once you arrive. Len Kain, vice president of marketing at DogFriendly, says, "Don't assume you can sit in the lobby and have a drink with your dog or play chess with your dog." Most hotels provide pet owners with a list of rules upon check in. If you don't receive a list, when in doubt, ask about the hotel's policies.

2. Getting there -- plane, train, automobile or bus?
If you plan to travel with your dog in tow, you can cross Amtrak and Greyhound off of your list of transportation options, since the only canines permitted are service dogs.

Driving is certainly the most conducive to bringing a dog because you are in control and you are still in your own environment. When it comes to pit stops, however, you need more than just a clean bathroom. Plan your stops in areas where you can safely walk your leashed dog.

3. Keeping your dog safe in the air
Air travel is complicated enough and when you add a dog to the mix, it can get downright crazy. With a little advance planning, though, it is doable. Horner, who only flies with her small dogs, which can fit under the seat, says, "There are a lot of factors to consider when you bring your dog on the plane. I only fly direct and I dread delays even more so than usual."

Whether your dog is small enough to travel in the cabin or is relegated to the cargo section, the airlines have strict guidelines for flying with a pet, especially when it comes to kenneling, as well as feeding and watering your dog prior to departure. It is imperative that you follow all instructions to help ensure a safe journey for your pet and fellow passengers. You can find pet policies on most airline Web sites or by calling the airline's customer service number.

4. Get a health certificate and refill any meds
If you are flying, you are required to present a health certificate signed by your veterinarian when you check in. This document certifies that your dog is current on all vaccinations and is fit to travel. Be sure to keep this piece of paper in a safe place with your other travel documents. While you are at your veterinarian's office, also stock up on any medications your dog will require while you are both away from home.

5. Prep your pup for your trip
According to Kain, "You should orient your dog to traveling prior to your trip. If the only place you take your dog in the car is to the veterinarian's office, your dog is not going to like the car. Start taking your dog places that are fun for your dog." Additionally, if you are planning an active vacation, make sure your dog is in top condition. After getting a clear bill of health from your veterinarian, try going on long walks, runs or hikes with your dog to prep your pet. If you know you are going to encounter crowds on your trip, make sure your dog is comfortable around people by taking it with you to parks and other dog-friendly places where you can test your pup's people skills.

6. Stick with your dog's usual food and water
While you may be ready to sample the local cuisine, your dog is used to eating the same food every day and will be dealing with enough excitement without a sudden change in diet.

To prevent diarrhea, it is a good idea to bring water from home or try buying filtered water at your destination. "We've been taking our dogs to the beach for almost thirty years," Horner says. "It took a couple of years before I realized that bringing water from home prevented an awful lot of stomach problems and messes."

7. Make sure your dog has a collar with current ID tag
If you and your dog should become separated, you want to do everything possible to ensure a quick reunion. The best way to do this is to securely attach a current contact number to your dog's collar. You may also want to talk to your veterinarian about implanting a microchip in your dog, since collars and ID tags can fall off.

8. Bring a leash
Your dog may be perfectly trained off leash, but according to Kain, using a leash is a good idea when "your dog is in an environment not his own and is exposed to new scents." In addition to protecting your dog, a leash provides a sense of security to people around you who may be fearful of dogs. Also note that some places, mainly in the United States, have leash laws requiring you to keep your puppy on its leash at all times while in public.

9. Bring your dog's bed or crate and a favorite toy
If you have children, you appreciate the importance of packing your child's security blanket. The same goes for dogs that will be much more relaxed if they have their own bed with all its familiar lumps and scents. Also, be sure to pack enough toys to keep your dog entertained.

If your pooch is crate trained, seriously consider bringing its crate. Many hotels require that dogs be crated when left alone in the room.

10.  Know when to leave your pup at home
When all is said and done, if your dog is going to spend the entire vacation cooped up in a hotel room alone, or if your dog is antisocial, aggressive, or anxious in new situations, then your dog may be better off at home with a pet sitter. With a little forethought, a solid plan and some common sense, however, there is no reason your dog can't take part in your next adventure.

City Dog, Country Dog

Andrea Linne's 18-month-old miniature French poodle, Charlie, is accustomed to taking walks on a leash through the New York City streets and to life in an apartment building. During a recent trip to the country, however, this city dog enjoyed running free in a fenced-in yard and walking along the beach. "You can't do that in Central Park," Linne says.

But she made sure to protect Charlie against some of the hazards of country life for dogs. She sprayed him with tick repellant. She also frequently checked his coat for fleas and burrs.

Linne knows that the environment in which Charlie and all other dogs are raised can have a profound sense on the pet's temperament, preferences, and tolerance of such things as loud noises and other animals. A city dog may be used to meeting other canines at a public dog park or run. A country dog may know to avoid eating dangerous plants, like mushrooms, or downing too much grass. But dog owners should be aware that there are factors to consider if you plan to move a dog out of one environment and into another environment, even for a visit.

A country dog in the city
Families that live in rural areas -- or even suburbia -- may be surprised by their pet's reactions on a trip to the big city. Lisa Peterson, director of club communications for the American Kennel Club, lives in rural Connecticut and has three Norwegian Elkhounds, which she sometimes takes into the city. "My dogs will absolutely not go to the bathroom on concrete," Peterson says. "The surface on which you train your dog to be housebroken really has a profound effect on the animal." City dogs are sometimes housebroken in a litter box or are used to being walked along the street five times per day. That is a very different ritual than a dog that simply goes out the back door to relieve itself.

Country dogs may not be accustomed to trucks, car horns or other loud noises. Dogs raised alone in the country may be in for a rude awakening if they are taken to a dog park or run with lots of other animals. They may also not know what to make of pigeons and elevators.

A city dog in the country
While city dogs may delight in being able to run around in a fenced-in country yard, they may not take kindly to being left outside for long stretches of time away from their human companions. City dogs probably spend more time with their owners than country dogs, as they are often walked or exercised several times per day, Peterson says. Country dogs need exercise, too, but they are also more used to spending time outside by themselves.

There are also country hazards for city canines. They may need to be monitored out in the yard to make sure they don't eat dirt, too much grass or any harmful plants and fungi. Fleas and especially ticks are often more numerous in the country than in the city. Before taking your pet to the country to live -- or even for a visit -- make sure you have the proper preventative medicines. Tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, can be prevalent in the country. As for Linne, pet owners need to check their dog's coats daily for ticks, since health dangers are less likely if the tick is removed within the first 24 hours, Peterson says.

Raising a dog that can go anywhere
If you want to be able to take your dog with you nearly wherever you go, you may want to sensitize your pet to both city and country lifestyles. For a city dog that may travel to the country, take steps to housebreak it on grass in addition to street surfaces. For a country dog used to having the run of a yard, socialize it with other dogs and people. For example, bring it to the post office, the shopping mall, and parks. Even if you have an invisible fence or acres of land, leash training is also a must for country dogs that might one day visit the city.

In the end, city dogs may have a leg up on transitioning to the country over country dogs that go to the city. "City dogs are raised with a lot more distractions and noise. It makes them overall more used to new situations," Peterson says. "Dogs raised in the country may be used to quiet. They may not have a lot of visitors. If you put them in a noisier place, they may not handle it very well."

Dogs on Holiday

There used to be no place like home for a dog when the family went away. But these days, there's a place that might be even better than home.

Like so many dog owners, Reba Love, a retired accounting professor from Panama City, Florida, is shunning the old-fashioned kennel when she leaves town. Instead, she is opting to give her pooch a vacation of its own. Love takes her three-year-old Weimaraner, Chloe, to Beaches Pet Resort when she has to travel. The upscale pet boarding facility in Northern Florida offers luxury accommodations including extra playtime with staff. Rooms have tile floors and soft blankets. Love often opts for the larger room with a doggie door so Chloe can go out into the courtyard whenever she pleases.

"You can pay more for a room with a TV," Love says. "But I have no idea what they watch." While she doesn't want Chloe to be a couch potato, Love has been thinking about treating her beloved pet to a bubble bath the next time she goes out-of-town.

Unless you take your dog with you on trips, vacations often mean that man's best friend ends up being boarded. These days, a growing number of facilities nationwide are eschewing the "kennel" label and are donning such nicknames as "Doggie Utopia."  Canyon View Ranch, in Topanga, California, bills itself as a "Canine Shangri la," where dogs can run on manicured lawns, climb ramps and crawl through tunnels in Disneyland-inspired parks.

Camp Bow Wow, which expects to have 50 franchises open in the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2006, offers all-day romping, while overnight guests get tasty "campfire treats" before being tucked into cots in their own cabins. Camp Web Cams help families monitor pups over the Internet from wherever they are -- the beach, the ski resort, or the Champs Elysees.

"Our clients typically humanize their pets a bit. They see them as their kids," says Heidi Flammang, CampBowWow founder and CEO. "The thought of leaving their dog alone in a box for 24 hours a day is too much."

Here's how to decide if a pet resort is right for your pooch:

What to look for Never decide on a boarding facility from a brochure or the Internet. You have to go visit the grounds, meet the staff, and see for yourself how animals are treated. A good kennel is clean, well-ventilated, air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. The staff should interact with pets. "When dogs are at home, they're generally with family members being touched and petted. Suddenly, you put them in a kennel with handlers who never touch them and it can be quite traumatic," says Elizabeth Wilmot, owner of Countryside Kennels, in Owings, Md., and the Mid-Atlantic regional director of the American Boarding Kennels Association. Countryside offers a "Sportsman's Package" for $40-a-night, including a swim in the bone-shaped swimming pool, jogging, Frisbee sessions, and bottled water. Pampered pooch guests receive playtime, moonlit walks, petting sessions, and an orthopedic bed for $35 nightly.

Consider your dog's temperament Many of these kennel redux owners shy away from cages and encourage dogs to play in groups by romping, running and chasing. Cage Free K-9 Camp, of Los Angeles, allows overnight guests to sleep in a 2,000-square-foot, climate-controlled loft on individual dog beds. In the TV lounge, they show Animal Planet.  And over at CampBowWow, despite the fact each dog is given a private dining space, all dogs are temperament-tested. "We have an interview process," Flammang says. A dog needs to enjoy the company of other dogs to be boarded in a communal environment. Otherwise, individual rooms are a better bet.

How to pack Dogs, like children, sometimes do best on "sleepovers" when they have a comfort item to remind them of home. Check with a facility before bringing a blanket, a towel, or a favorite toy, Wilmot says. This is usually fine if your pet has his or her own "room" or run. It may be more difficult -- or provoke aggressive behavior -- in the group environment. For dogs with sensitive stomachs, or special diets, you may want to bring your own food to the kennel. Many luxury kennels provide top-notch fare for overnight guests, such as the "healthy lamb-and-rice diet with Glucosamine" included in the $50-a-night rate at Canyon View Ranch. Medications will also be administered on site at most pet resorts, although some charge extra. No matter where your dog stays, you'll want to spring for a bath and flea dip before bringing your pet back home.

These new-fangled pet resorts may cost a tad more than the old-style kennel, but pup parents say it's worth the price in peace of mind. "This is my baby," Love explains of her dog Chloe. "She's a 70-pound baby, but she's still my baby."