Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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This Summer, Take Cody and Max Along for the Ride


Pet Column for the week of April 30, 2001


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Carrie Gustavson
Information Specialist

At the mention of "car ride?" Cody's ears perk up and her tail wags wildly. To Cody, a six-year-old black lab mix who has been my companion on two cross-country journeys and several weekend camping trips, those two little words mean squirrel-chasing, tongue-flopping fun is in the not-so-distant future.

With the first breath of summer, most folks can't wait to hit the road and visit their favorite relaxing summer destination. But for pet owners, a heart-wrenching decision needs to be made: to take the dog or not? If you've ever had to board your dog at a kennel, you know that the yelps and pleas coming from the kennel may ring in your ears for your entire trip.

Fortunately, your vacation doesn't have to turn into a guilt trip. More and more people have found road trips a way to spend quality time with their human family and animal companions. Throughout the country, you'll find hotels, motels, and campgrounds that cater to travelers with four-legged friends.

"Dogs can be great traveling companions," says Dr. John Haburjak, surgical resident formerly with the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. Dr. Haburjak recently drove cross-country with his dog Rickie, whom he took just about everywhere he went.

"Dogs don't complain about the music or ask, 'are we there yet?'" says Dr. Haburjak. But taking your dog's personality into consideration is key to an enjoyable journey. "Just like you'd never willingly go on a long car trip with certain people, some dogs travel better than others." If your canine is overprotective, or dog aggressive, taking her on vacation with you may be less than enjoyable -- especially if she tries to defend the car or a hotel room when faced with a stranger. That's not so good if the stranger is the police officer pulling you over for speeding or the person handing you food at the drive-through window.

Dr. Haburjak suggests that before loading up the entire family for a cross-continent tour, try out the travel concept by taking little mini-trips.

Still want to take Max? Of course you do! But since traveling with your dog takes some planning, start now. "Be sure your pet is in good health," says Dr. Haburjak. "Visit your veterinarian for a checkup before you go, and make sure all your dog's vaccinations are up-to-date." You may need a health certificate if you plan to cross state or international borders.

Next, be sure to verify that the destination allows pets. Several good books list pet-friendly sleeping spots and eating establishments. Check out the database on the Web at www.petswelcome.com for more of the same.

If you'll want to shop, visit attractions, or eat out, someone will have to stay behind with Max. "Don't expect to be able to leave a dog tied up at a campsite where he can be taunted by strangers or alone in hotel room where he may cry and bark and disturb other guests," say Dr. Haburjak. Practicing good dog-owner courtesy will keep the door open for future guests who travel with animals.

"Consider the weather -- a hot car can be a dangerous place for a dog," say Dr. Haburjak. "Pets left in hot cars can suffer heat prostration in a very short time. Many animals have died as a result of being left in a car on a sunny day. Even if it seems cool outside, the temperature in a car can exceed 100 degrees in a short period." It goes without saying -- just don't leave your beloved animal in a car alone. There's no quicker way to spoil a vacation than a losing a pet.

Consider the need to restrain your dog in the car. A sudden stop may send a dog or cat flying if they are sitting on your lap or sunning in the rear window. Unrestrained pets may also be quick to escape if someone opens the door. Dog seatbelt harnesses and cat carriers assure safe travel for pets.

Packing for Max means including his food (bring more than you need -- just in case), treats, toys, and a dish and being prepared for doggie accidents with plenty of towels. Also include any medications and medical records, if pertinent. Have leashes or carriers ready in the event of a roadside emergency or accident. Don't forget his favorite blankets to sleep on and a jug or two of water. Tweezers to remove ticks and splinters, flea remedy, a brush, and shampoo will help you keep your dog clean and welcome wherever you go. Some hotels may require copies of your dog's vaccination records. And stash a picture of your best friend in your glove compartment, just in case you get separated somehow.

Common sense will go along way in making sure your trip is enjoyable for all. "Make sure your dog wears identification on his collar with a phone number that calls a remotely accessible voice mail or mobile phone," says Dr. Haburjak. "Try not to exercise your dog in the hottest part of the day. You may wear shoes to protect your feet, but for a dog, walking on hot pavement can cause painful paws. Always have plenty of water available and provide a shady place for your dog to rest. Use extra care with young or old animals."

Once you experience the tail-wagging joy of adventuring with your dog, you'll never want to leave her at home again. Nothing is better than driving into a beautiful sunset, one hand one the steering wheel and the other scratching Cody's Labrador ears. Traveling with your best friend can't be beat.