Traveling with a Dog : You can take the Mastiff out of the city, but you better make a stop in the country.

By Alan Haskvitz

Guilt, thy name is a dog not taken on a family vacation. The evidence is overwhelming as research shows that 98 percent of animal owners call to ask about their pet and 26 percent actually talk to the dog. Further evidence of the guilt brought by such ventures is the fact that 65 percent of owners bring a gift home for their pet. According to a survey done for Starwoods Hotels 40 percent of people think their dog is sad when they travel and nearly 80 percent consider their dog a family member and feel that the canine should enjoy holidays, too.

If you need more proof, how about that fact that despite an abundance of dog sitters, good kennels, and relatives, 30 million Americans take their dog with them on trips of 50 miles or more with the majority riding in vehicles while others travel on plans and ships. Even the Queen Elizabeth 2 has dog kennels.

The emerging question is not whether to take the dog on a trip, even though 30 percent are left at relatives and a considerable number are kenneled or cared for by house sitters, but the two-fold issue of where to find places that are pet friendly and how to prepare for the journey.  With that in mind The Car Family booked a Mazda MPV mini van, blanketed the interior with sheets to keep it clean, and journey forth to Carpenteria to visit the ever so cool Island View nursery and furnishing center. (1036 Casitas Pass Rd, 805-684-03630)

It was a great starter trip to get our Mastiff used to travel and better yet, Windy, who owns the place, is our relative meaning that if we had problem finding a dog friendly place we could arrive unannounced at his place in our desperate and homeless mode. (It is always better not to warn relatives of your arrival when the dog weighs 150 pounds.)

Of course, the really great fun of the trip was to check out the route of the nation’s largest dog parade, Santa Barbara’s Annual Big Dog Canine Festival, which is scheduled for June 3.  And, obviously since we had a big dog it was a great excuse.

To prepare for this epic journey we had to get Charlene, our Mastiff, ready. In this country that can be done with a little bribery such as a dog cookie or golfing trip to the Caribbean. We choose the cookie route. Of course she refused to cookie, but having raised two children we knew what would work from experience. I pushed her to the car while my wife sat inside pretending to eat the dog cookie. Charlene could not resist and fell into our trap. We quickly introduced her to the tether that was attached to the van’s safety belt. This is a must as it allows for some freedom, but prevented her from being a missile in an accident or jumping out. Scientists have found that an unsecured object in a car travels at over twice the speed and force of the vehicle that was hit meaning that even a 20 pound unsecured dog could be moving at well over 50 miles per hour doing damage to all concerned.  In addition, a dog that escapes after an accident can run away due to stress or run into traffic. In other cases they can prevent medical personnel doing their job.

Although many dogs enjoy having their heads out of the window this is not a good idea since the wind can dry out their eyes and foreign objects can inflect serious injury on them. Just check out the front of your hood for evidence of that or follow a gravel truck.

Since the dog is going to be in a new place there is a need to have good identification in the form of an implanted microchip or your cell phone number attached to the collar.

Other things to consider are having the dog’s claws clipped, checking the vaccination records, and even a dog booster seat. Make sure that the dog is wearing a flat collar rather than a choke chain in the car and take the animal on a long walk before departing. If your dog suddenly is restless or heavily drooling they may be getting carsick so pull safely off the road and let them out.

We had a resealable plastic container with paper towels, disinfectant, medication, cookies, a favorite smelly blanket, and several hundred-dog toy remnants. Since our dog was well trained to wait for our command before leaving the car we didn’t foresee any problems. Wrong. She simply didn’t want to leave the car. Having raised two children moderately successfully, they both are living on their own but apparently wash machines are illegal in their communities and driving several hours to use ours is their only alternative, we resorted to what worked for the kids. My wife pulled and I pushed and Charlene popped out of the van after a 15-minute labor.

Windy’s place is stunning. There are beautiful plants, of course, but he has imported the most unusual furniture and art from Fiji and Asia that we have ever seen. The place has been written up in Sunset and other publications, but the pictures don’t do it justice. It is truly a destination nursery. We ended up buying a beautiful book on nature that featured natural twig type fences. You can have a useful fence, a view, and a piece of art at the same time. As night fell we started looking for accommodations using the book we bought at the Automobile Club, Traveling With Your Pet. The book lists more than 10,000 AAA-rated, pet-friendly accommodations in the United States and Canada. We also recommend Have Dog Will Travel, California Edition: Comprehensive Guide to Over 2,200 Dog-friendly Accommodations by Barbara Whitaker

Before we settled in for the night we enjoyed a long walk the dog nagged us into and fell asleep exhausted. Even the gentle snoring of Charlene was reassuring and we never worried about someone breaking into the room knowing that a dog the size of a Mastiff can trip anyone.

Taking a pet on a trip is never an easy decision, but if you do the upside is that it saves on long distance phone calls to the dog kennel owner. In addition, you might not come under suspicion from Homeland Security should they be monitoring the call and hear such actionable phrases as, “Did she get out of the pen? “I hid something in the toy.” “ I ran her to drop her energy level.” And, the always dangerous, “ Usually, she’s a terror.”

Here are some places to take your fiddo and listings worth checking out if you decide to venture to Ventura or elsewhere in the United States.

One way to start getting ready for a trip is to visit a California National Forest where they are always welcome

Also the National Park listings

Pet friendly accommodations by destination city and along the way.

Listing of dog friendly hotels

Airlines that accept pets and their policies

For a list of free educational resources check

The Car Family