Passports & Pets
I know some of you may have noticed how much I travel with my dog. Traveling with pets is increasing at high rates as more families are choosing to bring their pets along for the ride. Sometimes boarding and/or pet sitting might be impossible to find depending on your buddies breed or at times flat out expensive. It is no secret that traveling with pets takes a little bit more work and research. There are limitations to what you can/can't do therefore being mindful of that, prior to your trip, is very important. When I travel with my dog, Moe, I make sure that my destination and purpose of trip is conducive to him. Even though "rules" don’t technically apply to him I always remain mindful & considerate of my surroundings for both of our safety.
From the very beginning I want to be clear that Moe travels slightly different than most animals in general, due to his status as an ESA; Emotional Support Animal. Let me tell you a bit about Moe and hopefully, open your mind to possibilities & opportunities that your dog/pet could possibly partake in.
Moe is an American Staffordshire Terrier whom we adopted a little over a year ago. He is what many generally consider to be a "Pitbull". When we decided to adopt him we both knew, unfortunately, things would be a little different for us given the many restrictions Pits come with. So we wondered how could we work this out to help both Moe and ourselves; what training could he get that could potentially serve multiple purposes and help break the ugly stereotypes they carry heavy on their backs? In speaking with a friend of mine whom is a licensed therapist and also my PCP, we discussed having Moe become my Emotional Support Animal (ESA) due to my diagnosis of anxiety that I've had for years. My anxiety is specific to when I travel/fly. I know that may be hard to believe because I travel so frequently but it's true and it's bad! That being said, I've never had a dog to assist me before so, why now? Well, I've always depended on prescribed anxiety medication to get me through flights but when Moe started traveling with me I noticed I felt calmer. I was able to hug him tight if turbulence got aggressive and it helped. Holding on to him actually makes me feel better because he is able to remain calm, he counteracts my reaction to a shaky situation. It works! Though at times I still need my prescription, he has made traveling that much smoother for me.
I'm sure you're asking well, how did he become an ESA?, what does it require? Let me first define three acronyms I will refer back to through out entry. ESA stands for Emotional Support Animal, this is an animal that is to assist an individual with a mental health disability. SA stands for Service Animal, this is an animal that is to assist an individual with a physical disability. TD stands for Therapy Dog, this is a dog that has been trained/certified and works with an agency as a therapy dog for a specific population and/or purpose. I will specify on ESA, as this is Moe's status.
For an ESA a mental health diagnosis is required of the owner, along with a letter from your doctor that specifies the animal as your Emotional Support Animal. This is signed by your doctor in letter head and it is good for up to a year for the airlines. I will say that some airlines require a very specifically worded letter, otherwise it will not be accepted, so make sure to check individually on line for their requirements. The animal must be trained to be in public places, walk short distances without a leash and follow basic commands. If your pet is rowdy/barks a lot/hyper/bites the airline holds the right to not allow the animal on board for the safety and consideration of others. These status animals fly in cabin with handler so they take this seriously, especially on long flights. Though not required, a good training/certification for your pet to have while trying to achieve ESA/SA/TD status is the Canine Good Citizen Training & Testing http://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/canine-good-citizen/training-testing/ This link will explain exactly what the testing items are and you can look to see where it is being offered nearest you. To be clear, this test is for ANY dog, regardless of status. Once this is completed your next step is to register your ESA with a known agency within the states. Moe is registered with United Service Animal Registry (USAR). Keep in mind if your dog is trained as a Therapy Dog this also applies.
To fly with an ESA/SA/TD you call the airline no less than 2 days ahead to give them a heads up and check in at the desk once there. They will take your documentation and the animal's documentation to both confirm and verify. Note that this is limited to domestic travel; international travel is a lot more demanding as it depends on your destination and what that country requires from the animal regardless of service status. There are time sensitive vaccinations that have to be authorized and signed specifically by registered veterinarians so prior to any international travel look up your destinations requirements. We were able to get Moe a Pet Passport for International Travel which contains all of his vaccinations in one place along with his rabies certificate. We got ours from www.pettravelstore.com This is a great website that helps outline specific requirements by country for your pet. This website includes all pets regardless of status. Once at the airport you will go through TSA and your pet will have to be able to walk through security without a leash/collar/harness while handler directs him/her. Pets equipment will be put through X-ray machine, unless of course you have TSA Pre-Check, which makes the process much smoother (highly recommended when traveling with pets). If your dog does not have ESA/SA/TD status the airlines usually charge $100 one way, per dog. Larger dogs are required to go in cargo. I recommend flying JetBlue whenever possible when you're traveling with your pet. They're an amazing airline and make the process that much smoother for you.
Wondering where to stay? Looking for dog friendly hotels? If your pet is an ESA/SA/TD you can pretty much stay anywhere you want, as fancy or as budget as you'd like regardless of it being pet friendly or not. However, this being said, I don’t take advantage of that liberty, unless I really need to. I first prefer to look for pet friendly accommodations and activities. I use either BringFido (see below) or TripAdvisor to look for restaurants and activities in the area we are traveling to. I have a list of pet-friendly restaurants and activities we were able to do in Montreal (his first international trip) and other places we have visited that I can share for those personally interested, just send me a shout.
I always make sure to read up on our destinations BSL, Breed Specific Legislation. If your dog's breed falls under this legislation it is VERY important you look this up prior to travel for your dog's safety. When we went to Canada we read up on this and found they have some of the ugliest BSL out there. For example, Ontario is a no go for bully breeds. In August 2005, the Ontario government enacted the Dog Owner’s Liability Act outlawing the possession, breeding, importing and transferring of pit bulls in Ontario. Montreal is now on its way to banning "bully breeds" as well, starting Sept 1, 2016. Traveling with him is always tricky regardless of his ESA status. He remains a dog whom is feared by those who are unfamiliar with the breed or don't believe a Pit can be an ESA/SA/TD. When we traveled to Puerto Rico however, the experience was completely different. The approach to animals in Puerto Rico is very laid back, sadly many still train Pit-bulls to fight & be aggressive guard dogs (Moe was attacked by one who was off leash while we were there, no worries both dogs are ok) but the overall feeling is acceptance for the breed & animal. We were able to take him everywhere we went in PR. In preparation for travel, we looked up specific requirements for PR through the airlines website. They required a complete Health Certificate, Rabies Vaccination, a name tag on his collar matching the address of his ESA license and doctor's note. We were able to obtain all this and our flight to and from went incredibly smooth.
A good source of information for preparing to take your pet on vacation is actually through this pet insurance's website http://www.gopetplan.com/pet-travel-guide/car-travel.aspx This is a great guide to different links for booking pet friendly hotels and preparing for a trip whether it's driving, train or flying. A couple good apps for your phone on pet travel; BringFido (excellent app to find local activities, pet friendly hotels & restaurants), VetFinder (it uses your current location to help you find a nearby veterinarian in case of an emergency), Dog Park Finder (pinpoints using your current location, dog friendly parks and parks where dogs are not allowed), CamScanner or GeniusScan (these apps aren't really pet travel apps, they're more for business use, however, they're incredibly helpful for keeping track of your pets documents on your phone, it also allows you to scan your documents as well as giving you the opportunity to print them, email or fax them right from the app if necessary), Red Cross Pet First Aid (it costs a $1 but great app. It provides tips on preparing your pet for travel, a place to save pet's documents as well as medical aid/tips depending on situation). I'm sure there are many more out there but these are just a few that I've come across. If you have pet insurance and they have an app I would suggest downloading their app to have all their information at hand.
Moe eats raw so his food prep takes a bit more preparation. When we go on road trips/camping trips etc. we've taken a small cooler to store his food. It is prepped in individual bags for each day and we keep it cool with ice. Flying gets a bit more creative. If your dog eats dry food then you're all set, you can bring it through TSA in a tight dry food bag. We sometimes opt for this option because it's cost effective and that much easier, however, our other option has been to pack his cooler (same one we take on road trips) get dry-ice or a bunch of frozen water bottles, tightly pack the cooler and check it in. This will cost you the same amount of money as regular checked bag depending on airline. The cooler we have is small enough to carry about 5 bags worth of food and it has a body strap to be able to easily carry it. The reason we hardly do this is because we'd be checking in/paying for an empty cooler coming back, so to us it's not worth the cost or hassle. We've just gotten Moe accustomed to dry raw food while we travel. We've also gotten him his own traveling/carry-on bag, which keeps his essentials all together, i.e. brush, treats, first aid kit, food & water bowl, etc. You can look on Amazon for some pet traveling bags, there are so many options!
Traveling with a pet isn't so bad, it takes preparation, research and creativity but it can be done. I hope this post helped some of you decide to travel with your pets more often. I hate leaving Moe behind!