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Reader’s report: Tough Traveler’s Dog Perch Backpack

Earlier this month I posted a picture on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page of a colleague of my husband’s carrying Winston, her Boston Terrier, on her shoulders after he’d signaled that he’d had enough of that particular day hike, thank you very much. Reader Tracy added a comment recommending the “Tough Traveler dog perch backpack,” and I spotted an opportunity: I’d heard about the Dog Perch, and I suspect I could get one sent to me for evaluation, but you’d be better off hearing about it from someone who’s used it extensively, and positively enjoys hiking. Tracy’s relatively new to the Dog Jaunt community, and was likely surprised when I pounced, but she unhesitatingly and kindly agreed to share her thoughts about the product:

We have two Japanese Chins, Josie and Charlie. We take them everywhere we can and have always had a stroller for them to ride in at events like outdoor festivals where they enjoy being off the ground and not in danger of getting stepped on by crowds. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from the Dallas, Texas area we were excited to get near some beautiful hiking trails in a more temperate climate.

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Tracy carrying Charlie the Japanese Chin in a Dog Perch backpack

Because they are brachycephalic, Josie and Charlie overheat more easily than some other dog breeds. In addition, Josie is also half the size as Charlie so has to walk twice as fast to keep the same pace. They both can get tired or hot on hikes. We would often end up carrying one or the other for part of the hike and when they were hot, that just made them and us warmer. In addition, even carrying a small dog becomes quite a load. We needed a solution to be able to hike year round and keep everyone comfortable.

I’ve owned front packs for dogs but the ones I have found do not have a secure floor for the dog to stand on, and neither of them like the packs where their legs dangled. I didn’t like the packs that look like regular backpacks because (1) either the dog is basically being carried backwards in a cage, or (2) is bundled up and too warm.

I did quite a bit of research on packs looking for something that would be comfortable to wear, comfortable for the dog to ride in, and also allow me some access to them while they were in the pack. Although it was pricey we decided on the Dog Traveler Dog Perch Backpack.

Josie peeping over Tracy's shoulder from the Dog Perch

Josie peeping over Tracy’s shoulder from the Dog Perch

Not only can I now carry them comfortably but it also has a pocket for things like my wallet, keys, water etc….  Josie is 11 pounds and Charlie is 22 pounds. They both fit comfortably by themselves and seem to enjoy the ride. I have crammed both of them in together when we got off track on the internal trails in Point Defiance Park and had to walk much further to where we had parked than we meant to (if you haven’t walked those trails, it is ridiculously easy to get lost).

They walk most if not all of the trail and I just wear the pack. When and if one of them needs a ride, we load them up and away we go. It makes it much easier to choose to do an unknown path because we have a method of transportation for them if we need it.

Thank you so much, Tracy!! Please note that the Dog Perch backpack at the top of the Tough Traveler page Tracy and I have both linked to is designed for people between 5′ and 5’11” tall, and is optimized for dogs “up to about 22 lbs.” If you are taller than 5’11”, or your dog is larger than 22 lbs., you have alternatives: The company’s child carrier comes in a number of sizes (including one — the “Stallion” — which fits folks up to 6’6″ tall), and it can accommodate a “Dog Perch Seat” accessory that comes in two sizes (the largest pet size I see mentioned is 26 lbs.). The options could be clearer, frankly; I suggest calling the company (1-800-468-6844 or 1-800-GO-TOUGH) and talking through your needs with them before placing your order.

Expansion of Amtrak’s “Pets on Trains Pilot Program”: Or, Chloe’s going to Portland!

After his 20-year snooze in the Catskills, Rip van Winkle’s first spoken words, appropriately for this blog, refer to his beloved pet Wolf: “‘My very dog,’ sighed Rip, ‘has forgotten me!’” Chloe and I have been gone nearly as long, it seems, but we haven’t forgotten you, and you (bless you, Dog Jaunt Nation!) haven’t forgotten us. Thank you for all the comments and travel reports — this is the week that I will start posting them and responding.

As those of you who follow Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page know, the hottest news in pet travel is the recent announcement by Amtrak that it is expanding the Pets on Trains pilot program it started over a year ago in the Chicago area. Those suburban trains will still allow pets (cats and dogs only) on board, but now the list will also include a few trains/routes in the Northeast; weekend Acela trains (for a limited, trial period); and on “most” long-distance trains (though not the Auto Train, and only on trips of 7 hours or less).

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I lost no time making a reservation for me and Chloe on the train to Portland. It’s ostensibly only three hours away from Seattle, and I’m a woman who enjoys driving, but there must be some kind of time-space warp along I-5 that makes the trip both endless and spooky. Compare and contrast my past train trips to Portland, which have been pleasantly relaxed and included beer. Here’s what I learned.

First, you need to call Amtrak to make a reservation that includes traveling with a pet (the number is 1-800-872-7245), or you could walk into a staffed station to make a reservation in person. There is no online reservation option. Unlike airline travel, however, that’s not really a problem, since there’s no financial penalty for making a train reservation over the phone. Just keep telling the automated “Julie” who “answers” your call that you want “something else,” whenever she offers you her helpful options, and you’ll eventually hack your way through to a real live customer service rep.

You’ll want to read the new policy closely, and talk your proposed train choice through with a customer service rep. Because I live on the West Coast, far from suburban Chicago and the Northeast, my immediate interest is in the part of the expanded pet policy that refers to “long distance trains.” Not every train that goes a long way is a “long distance train.” The Seattle-to-Portland route is serviced by two different trains/routes: The Amtrak Cascades, which does not qualify as long-distance (even though it covers most of two big states and is anchored at one end in Canada), and the Coast Starlight, which does.

Amtrak’s policy requires that your pet must be a cat or a dog; s/he must be small (the “maximum size for pet carriers is 19″ long x 14″ wide x 10.5″ high” and the “Maximum weight of pet with carrier is 20 pounds”); and only one pet per carrier per passenger is allowed. Your pet must be “at least 8 weeks old,” fully vaccinated, “odorless and harmless,” and “not disruptive.” Easy enough to check all of those boxes — we’ll use Chloe’s beloved large SturdiBag, and she meets all the other requirements.

Right after “not disruptive” is a requirement is that your pet “require no attention during travel,” which covers two issues: First, your pet must remain entirely in her carrier during the trip, including inside station buildings, and, second, bathroom breaks are not guaranteed. The customer service rep I spoke to told me that a conductor may, in his or her discretion, announce a smoking break (usually of about 5 minutes’ duration), and, if so, you can attempt a pit stop, but you should not count on it.

A maximum of five pets can travel on a particular train, and although it is not mentioned in the information page, all of those pets will be traveling in the same assigned car. Please note that even though I, for example, am traveling coach to Portland (because other seat level options are not available to me with Chloe), I cannot hop into any coach car; she and I have an assigned seat in what will turn out to be the designated pet car. That’s fine with me — I’m delighted to have a guaranteed pet reservation, unlike too many airlines, and I’m also happy to provide train travelers with pet allergies the comfort of knowing that all the traveling pets will be in one, known car (though they’ll still need to keep an eye out for service animals, who can accompany their human charges anywhere on a train, and are not, unlike pets, contained in pet carriers).

The pet fee is $25 “for each travel segment.” Be sure to arrive “no later than 30 minutes before train departure time” to sign the form you’ll be given, and “to confirm pet eligibility.” Eligibility presumably includes a visual assessment of your pet’s size, carrier, and amiability. What about proof of vaccination? I called back to ask about the phrase “Passengers will be required to certify that the pet is up to date on all vaccinations,” and was told that neither a health certificate (a more formal document, signed by your vet) nor a shot record (the list your vet will print, on request, of your pet’s current vaccination status) is required. Instead, you’ll be given a Release and Indemnification Agreement to sign, which includes your representation that your pet is fully vaccinated.

Chloe and I are scheduled to travel by Amtrak in early May, and will report instantly with pictures. Many of you will already be veteran train travelers by then — please post your reports and thoughts in the comments below!

Reader’s report: Sabine and Zadig’s favorite dog-friendly French châteaux

Sabine not only reads Dog Jaunt, bless her, but she also writes a delightful dog travel blog of her own, called Zadigloves and featuring Zadig, her young Westie. We’ve corresponded for years (Sabine has kindly sent me a couple of the scoop law signs I love so much), and we share an interest in the dog-friendly châteaux of the Loire Valley. When Sabine told me that she and Zadig have been working their way through the list of châteaux that will allow pet dogs through their gates, I begged her to write a guest post for Dog Jaunt. Here is her reply, kindly translated by her from its original French. Please note that she has provided a link to the website for each château she mentions at the beginning of her descriptions.

“Asked by Marie-Alice, I’m glad to write this article to share with you my amazing time in the Loire Valley with my 3 year-old westie named Zadig. I hope this will help you for future holidays. Enjoy your time with your dog!

We spent two weeks in this part of France. One in October, 2014 near Amboise and one, more recently, in April, 2015 near Saumur. We decided to go there off the tourist season because the Loire Valley is very busy during summer. Both of the time, I prepared our visits by checking on internet if dogs were allowed and, few time, I emailed the castles to get clear answers.

We did not go to famous places as Blois, Chinon, or Cheverny because dogs are not welcomed here. For Chambord and Loches it’s only possible to be outside these castles with your dog on leash.

My favorite visit: the Castle of Langeais

Langeais is the place where Anne of Brittany (two times queen of France) married secretly her first husband Charles VIII. Nevertheless, this castle is not so famous so, I guess, you will be surprised, it’s my favorite visit.

Not only the castle and garden are beautiful, but we were allowed to follow the guided tour inside the castle with Zadig just on leash. Yes! In all the other castles we visited, my dog was tolerated but in a bag. As Zadig weighs 10 kilos, all these visits were really quick for me. But here, in Langeais, I enjoyed the 45-50 minute guided tour with Zadig at my feet ‘listening’ to the visit.

Zadig and I in front of the entrance of a castle

Zadig and I in front of the entrance of a castle

My favorite garden: Villandry

Without hesitation, it’s the gardens of Villandry. These gardens are breathtaking. You will spend hours walking through the different gardens (called the ornemental garden, the water garden, the sun garden, the kitchen garden or the herb garden). A team of ten gardeners maintains the gardens of Villandry daily throughout the year. It’s a must see for you and your dog.

Zadig in the garden of Villandry

Zadig in the garden of Villandry

My favorite castle: Chenonceau

This castle will make you feel like a princess in a fairytale. Nicknamed the ‘Château des Dames,’ it was successively embellished by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici (the mistress and the wife of Henri II, King of France).

Zadig at Chenonceau

Zadig at Chenonceau

You have to see once in your life this bridge castle, jumping upon the Cher river, and the sunlight on these old stones. This is magic!

In the park, you will find lots of “canine blocks” with bags and trash can which is very good to help dog owners to keep the place clean.

The owner of this castle is Madame Meunier (from Meunier brand, which is an old chocolate brand in France), who is well-known for saving old dogs and feeding errant cats.

My favorite park: The Clos Lucé

The Clos Lucé is the place where Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519.

Zadig and I in the Clos Lucé park

Zadig and I in the Clos Lucé park

You will walk throught nature (we were there in October and the colors of autumn were amazing) and the inventions of Leonard de Vinci. We tried several, including the tank and the swing bridge.

I recommend you to go in the park before the castle because the inside is a bit less interesting.

The one I don’t recommand: The castle of Rivau

Even though the castle and the park were good and the team very nice, I will not come back. It’s because there are a peacock and ducks free to go outside. Zadig was between excited and afraid and the afternoon was very long.

We ate at the castle restaurant and the peacock used to go near the tables to grab some attention and food. Zadig was crazy and we had a very long lunch trying to calm him and eat simultaneously.”

Sabine reports that three other châteaux were “also dog friendly and great visits: Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau and Montsoreau.” Thank you so much, Sabine, for your report!! For more details, check out Sabine’s longer posts (also translated by her) on Zadigloves about visiting Chenonceau, Amboise, VillandryClos Lucé , Azay-le-Rideau, and Montsoreau with Zadig.

SHOLDIT travel scarf: Alternative way to stow stuff you’ll need while flying

It’s a problem I’ve been writing about since I started this blog: Travelers with pet dogs are typically limited by airlines to a pet carrier and a small personal item (or, more rarely, to a pet carrier and a carry-on), and once you’ve stowed your pet under your seat, there’s typically no room next to her for anything else — so either you spend your flight, especially a turbulent flight, looking hopelessly up at the overhead compartment or you come up with some way to keep your book, your water bottle, your stuff, accessible. In the past, I’ve recommended a travel vest — most recently, the SCOTTeVEST travel vest — which remains a splendid idea, but I’m starting to question a solution that shines during plane trips but otherwise takes up valuable suitcase space.

If you’re going on safari, or you’re traveling to a place where it makes sense to keep your valuables concealed around your torso, stick with the SCOTTeVEST. You’ll use it throughout your trip, and it’s designed to keep a variety of objects comfortably within reach. If not, give some thought to the SHOLDIT travel scarf, which started as an impulse purchase (I cannot resist travel gear of any kind) but has become my go-to travel accessory.

The SHOLDIT scarf (the maker refers to it as a “Clutch Wrap purse,” but to me it seems useless as a clutch, and I just can’t with the “shrug” option) is essentially two layers of fabric, sewn together at the edges and seamed to form a continuous loop. There is a large pocket behind one stretch of side seam, and another smaller one (in the “ORIGINAL design,” which is the model I recommend) behind the short, joining seam.

Both pockets are made of a very flexible knit material, as is the scarf, and in a pinch you can fit really a heck of a lot of stuff in them. I typically put my cell phone, a pack of gum, Advil, hand lotion, a power bar, a nail file, a pen, and a measuring tape in the small pocket. The large pocket holds my Kindle and a small Ziploc bag of Chloe’s kibble, and sometimes a water bottle. I believe my neck pillow would also fit in there, but I haven’t yet taken the scarf on a flight where I planned to sleep.

None of that is what the SHOLDIT folks want to hear. In their FAQ section, they implore you to cut back: “The Clutch Wrap™ purse is NOT intended to carry everything that I needlessly haul in my traditional hand bag or tote. I am not a pack mule. For best results, I solemnly swear to keep items small and limited.”

It’s not hard to understand why. When I’ve loaded up the scarf with all the gear I might want during a flight, it looks less like a chic scarf than a baby sling, complete with baby. I started out looping the scarf twice around my neck, but the infinity scarf look worked only temporarily:

This was taken just post-hoick — I'd just readjusted the fully-loaded scarf so it looked as much like a regular infinity scarf as possible. Steps later, the weight of my Kindle had dragged one loop low, leaving the other hoop high in strangulation land — like those portraits of Elizabeth I with her long pearl strands, except, alas, totally different.

This was taken just after I’d readjusted the fully-loaded scarf so it looked as much like a regular infinity scarf as possible. Steps later, the weight of my Kindle had dragged one loop low, leaving the other hoop high — like those portraits of Elizabeth I with her long strands of pearls, except, alas, totally different.

I’ve decided that when the scarf is full of gear, it works best draped over one shoulder like a beauty pageant sash:

Here it is in sash mode — still weighted down by my Kindle and water bottle, but essentially fine.

Here it is in sash mode, layered under my jacket — still weighted down by my Kindle and water bottle, but essentially fine. There’s Chloe, over my right shoulder (in the Teafco Argo Petagon), and there’s my substantial personal item, over my left shoulder.

Once you get to your destination and re-stow your crucial belongings in your travel purse or messenger bag, the SHOLDIT scarf returns to working well as a scarf, which is nearly always useful — and recall that this is a scarf that can discreetly conceal your passport or other small, light valuables. If you just don’t need a scarf at all, the SHOLDIT still occupies less suitcase room than a travel vest.

I bought the “ORIGINAL design” scarf in the “titanium” option — textured gray on one side, black on the other. It also comes in marine blue, plum, “torn red,” and black.

Amazon link: SHOLDIT Clutch Wrap Purse

Lummi Island’s Willows Inn: World-class dining, dog-friendly lodging options

I’d known for years that the Willows Inn, on a small island about two hours north of Seattle, is a destination for folks who love eating well, and then I learned that it allows pet dogs to join guests in two of its rooms. Sign me up, I thought — this’ll be an epic dog jaunt. Long story short: It is, but with a couple of caveats. Please note that we paid for our stay at the Willows Inn — I will always tell you when someone else has paid for any or all of something I’m reviewing.

Willows Inn has a variety of lodging options, but folks traveling with pet dogs have a less complicated selection to make. There are two pet-friendly rooms, both located “on-site” — that is, either in or within steps of the main inn building. We stayed in The Cottage; the other pet-friendly room is called Sucia. There is a $30 per stay pet fee.

Here’s what we loved about our weekend at the Willows Inn: The food; dear God, the food; the whole dining experience, including the ambiance of the dining room and the warm, attentive service; the short but quintessentially San Juan Islands-ish ferry ride; the view from our deck; the tiny size and charm of Lummi Island; and the cheerfulness of the Beach Store Café, an unrelated establishment right by the ferry landing.

Waiting on the dock to board the Whatcom Chief, the 20-car ferry that scoots back and forth between the mainland and Lummi Island

Waiting on the dock to board the Whatcom Chief, the 20-car ferry that scoots back and forth between the mainland and Lummi Island. Usually, a ferry fills your windshield — this one is so petite that its wheelhouse is barely visible.

The tiny passenger cabin from the side. Dogs are not allowed inside but must, rather, remain leashed on deck or (like Chloe) sacked out in a car.

The tiny passenger cabin from the side. Dogs are not allowed inside but must, rather, remain leashed on deck or (like Chloe) sacked out in a car.

Approaching the dock on Lummi after a crossing of maybe five minutes, tops. Going to Lummi is an adorable dollhouse version of going to San Juan Island or Orcas.

Approaching the dock on Lummi after a crossing of maybe five minutes, tops. Going to Lummi is an adorable dolls-house version of going to San Juan Island or Orcas. The fare (charged only as you head towards Lummi) is $20.

You drive off the ferry, turn right, and circle the island until you see the sign for the Willows Inn. It’s that simple. It’s so simple, in fact, that there’s no gas station on Lummi (be sure to plan ahead), and the one grocery store sticks to the basics. The only other restaurant on the island — the Beach Store Café — is either a blur in that last picture, or just out of frame to the right.

The Cottage at the Willows Inn. It's set higher up on the hill behind the main inn building, and there is plenty of lawn around it to amuse your pup.

The Cottage at the Willows Inn. It’s set higher up on the hill behind the main inn building, and there is plenty of lawn around it for bathroom breaks with your pup (be sure, as always, to clean up after her).

And when I say "hill," I mean it. Here's Big Red, Chloe's gigantic suitcase, at the top of the vertiginous staircase leading up to The Cottage. I recommend walking up the path instead of the staircase, and I strongly recommend packing lightly.

And when I say “hill,” I mean it. Here’s Big Red, Chloe’s gigantic suitcase, at the top of the vertiginous staircase leading up to The Cottage. I recommend walking up the path instead of the staircase, and I strongly recommend packing lightly.

The pay-off for all that hauling, though, is a delightful sense of seclusion, and this great view from The Cottage's front porch.

The pay-off for all that hauling, though, is a delightful sense of seclusion, and this great view from The Cottage’s front porch.

Just below the inn is a dog-friendly beach that Chloe could not get enough of — my, how that dog loves a beach:

This started out as just a scenery panorama — I pushed the wrong button and added Chloe, at my feet, instead of turning off the phone.

This started out as just a scenery panorama — I pushed the wrong button and added Chloe, at my feet, instead of turning off the phone. It works, though!

Here's a more deliberate picture of her. The beach is good-sized, and we had it all to ourselves.

Here’s a more deliberate picture of her. The beach is good-sized (you’re seeing maybe a quarter of it), and we had it all to ourselves.

The innkeeper who checked us in was wonderfully helpful in directing us to other dog-friendly beaches on the island, and she also pointed us to a couple of dog-friendly hiking options.

I failed to take any pictures of the main inn building or of the lower garden. Neither is particularly eye-catching, except for the wood-burning grill and the smokehouse — the focus of a lot of activity, starting in the late afternoon. Walk up the inn’s stairs to the restaurant, however, and you enter a realm of enchantment (we left Chloe snoozing in her crate — the restaurant is not dog-friendly).

The interior is essentially Arts & Crafts style — a cocoon of wood trim and mellow lighting — and the service is kind, attentive, and informed, without the smallest trace of uppityness. And the food is unsurpassed. Course succeeded course, each small but perfect. Here, for example, is the salad (the menu, which they gave us for a keepsake, advises me that it was “steamed spring shoots and sweet woodruff”):

You may be thinking that you'll starve on portions like that, but believe me, you won't. There were 18 courses altogether, and we ended the meal full to the brim, but not over-full, if you know what I mean.

You may be thinking that you’ll starve on portions like that, but believe me, you won’t. There were 18 courses altogether, and we ended the meal full to the brim, but not reaching for the Rolaids.

The Willows Inn has mastered the art of beautiful presentation (not shown: the crispy halibut skins, filled with a delicate clam purée, resting on slabs of mollusk-covered rock, or the birch tea served in a stunning birchbark pitcher), but it stops at the restaurant door. Our room was a let-down, alas — a hodge-podge of awkward and uncomfortable furniture and decor concepts. Here’s the panorama I took before we dashed down to dinner:

The bathroom is around the corner to the left. Just out of view on the right is a wicker armchair and a sideboard kind of cabinet.

The bathroom is around the corner to the left. Just out of view on the right is a wicker armchair and a sideboard kind of cabinet.

The Cottage had its good points (the automatic “wood” stove was charming, and the shower had terrific water pressure), but that couch (half of a sectional, it turns out) requires you to sit upright, facing the (beautiful) view; the bed squeaked; the bedside tables were purely decorative; and there were limited places to unpack clothes into (we ended up slotting them onto the shelves of the sideboard). The official front door doesn’t lock with the provided key; instead, deadlock it from the inside, and use the key on the patio door instead. The room Sucia may be better — if you visit it, let me know what you think. If you find yourself in The Cottage, I suggest that you push the couch against that far wall and add some bed pillows to lean against. Once we’d borrowed the floor lamp from the wicker chair corner, and deployed a throw that we’d brought, we had a cozy reading nest going. The inn does provide a basket of sheets and a towel for use by dog owners (we travel with our own, and used those, but I noticed the inn’s basket as we were packing to leave).

As you’ll see when you start doing your own research, the Willows Inn is a pricey place. I have no hesitation telling you that the dinner is worth the stratospheric cost, but I think we’ll look elsewhere next time for lodging. It’s a very small island, so your options are limited — my current thought is to try a vacation rental for a couple of nights (HomeAway has several listings for “Pets Considered” properties), eating on one night at the Willows Inn, and the next at the Beach Store Café, which I’ve mentioned before. It’s located just across from the ferry landing, and when we stopped in for a quick coffee, we wished we’d set aside time for a real meal. It’s cozy and friendly, the plates we saw going by looked tasty, and pet dogs are welcome to join you at the tables on the front porch.

Reader’s report: Oscar the Dachshund in a large SturdiBag (on an Air Canada 777-200 LR)

For years, I’ve been sending Dachshund owners to the Sleepypod Air, an unusually long and low carrier with Sleepypod’s usual great design and quality. And that’s what I did with reader Jenny, who dutifully bought one for Oscar, her Dachshund (followers of Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page will remember that Jenny and Oscar are the co-founders of Cheeky Dog Bakery, based in Dublin, Ireland). Jenny liked the Air, up to a point, but felt that it didn’t give Oscar enough room to turn around — so her next purchase was the large SturdiBag I recommend so often. She wrote to me to enthuse about how it had worked for her and Oscar, and to provide pictures of it in action under an Economy seat in an Air Canada 777-200 LR plane.

Here’s what she said: “Hey! I would absolutely recommend the large SturdiBag for doxies! Oscar had so much room he even had his stuffed dog in with him and could curl up in a ball to sleep. When we were walking or in the airport he could pop his head out the top and I could feed him treats at take off and landing to adjust his ears.”

We’ll start with Jenny’s picture of the carrier in place under her seat. Here’s a link to SeatGuru’s diagram of an Air Canada 777-200LR — as you can see, there are only First Class and Economy seats. Jenny and Oscar were in an Economy seat on the left side of the plane, on the aisle:

Large SturdiBag, containing Oscar the Dachshund, under an Air Canada 777-200LR Economy class seat

Large SturdiBag, containing Oscar the Dachshund, under an Air Canada 777-200LR Economy class seat

And here are Jenny’s pictures of Oscar inside his SturdiBag, and cruising around the airport:

A picture through the top hatch of the SturdiBag, to Oscar curled up inside. Dachshunds! They'll KILL you with those mournful-looking eyebrows!

A picture through the top hatch of the SturdiBag, of Oscar curled up inside. Dachshunds! They’ll KILL you with those mournful-looking eyebrows!

Peeping out the top hatch to view the baggage claim area.

Peeping out the top hatch to view the baggage claim area.

"He fit perfect in the top of the luggage cart too ha ha"

“He fit perfect in the top of the luggage cart too ha ha”

Thanks so much to Jenny for making it easier for other folks with Dachshunds to choose a good carrier for them, and for the picture of the large SturdiBag in actual use on a plane/airline combination I’m not likely to fly on myself. I’m tagging this post so that it appears in Dog Jaunt’s growing collection of pictures of carriers on planes, so other travelers can refer to it. For more great pictures of Oscar, check out Jenny’s blog on the Cheeky Dog Bakery site!

Amazon link: Studibag Large Pet Carrier

Large, but still workable, in-cabin pet carrier: Teafco Argo Petagon

Those of you who follow Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page will know that I first saw this carrier in a celebrity shot in the Daily Mail: Julianne Hough was carrying it through an airport, and my eyes lit up because in it was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel just like Chloe.

Photo from the Daily Mail

Photo from the Daily Mail

Workable in-cabin carriers for larger small dogs are rare. I figured out the bag’s brand and model, bought one, and took it on a flight — and then my life got very complicated indeed, and I forgot everything I’d learned about the Teafco Argo Petagon. I have these pictures to show you, to prove that it fit acceptably on our Virgin America A-319 plane, but all my thoughts about it just melted away:

The large Teafco Argo Petagon, with Chloe, under a Virgin America A-319 seat

The large Teafco Argo Petagon, with Chloe, under a Virgin America A-319 seat

And a close-up of it, showing that it ended right where the seat support ended.

And a close-up of it, showing that it ended just about where the seat support ended.

But there’s always the next trip, and my forgetfulness just means that now I can report on the Petagon’s performance on two different airlines. Here it is in the window seat of a Southwest 737-700 plane (the emergency card has two options, but I happened to notice that it was in fact a -700 series plane):

My seat mates hadn't yet arrived, so I could get this shot showing how the end of the carrier is just parallel with the seat support.

The large Petagon under a window seat on a Southwest 737-700 series plane. My seat mates hadn’t yet arrived, so I could get this shot showing how the end of the carrier is just parallel with the seat support.

I call that a darned good fit for a pet carrier (better, in fact, than its fit on the Virgin America flights we first used it on), so I was surprised when a Southwest flight attendant questioned its length. This fit would normally go unremarked, and I say that after years of flying with various bags, and seeing readers’ pictures of their carriers in action. I believe that it was just a quirk of this particular flight attendant (every now and then I’m reminded forcibly that airlines are a collection of individuals). He backed off, in any event, and no other flight attendant on the following three Southwest flights I took looked twice at it. I wouldn’t anticipate that it’d normally raise serious objections.

The large Petagon (with Chloe inside but, dangit, invisible) under a window seat on a Southwest 737-800 series plane. No problem at all with the carrier on this flight or the two preceding ones.

The large Petagon (with Chloe inside but, dangit, invisible) under a window seat on a Southwest 737-800 series plane. No problem at all with the carrier on this flight or the two preceding ones.

It’s worth taking that bit of risk with the bag, because it’s large enough to accommodate a pet larger than Chloe, and that’s rare in an in-cabin carrier. The manufacturer states that the large Petagon (please note that it also comes in a medium size)  measures 21″ L x 12″ W x 13″ H; measuring tape in hand, the bag I have clocks in at 21″ L x 12″ W x 12″ H. With regard to its width, please note that its long sides slope inwards, so the bag is 12″ wide at the bottom, and 9″ wide at the top. In practice, under an airplane seat, the top of the bag squashes down a bit, and the sides bell out, providing more actual width than the 12″ bottom width suggests.

The first picture in this post, of Julianne Hough carrying the bag, makes the Petagon look enormous, but recall that she’s not much over five feet tall. I’m just shy of six feet tall, and here’s how it looks over my shoulder:

That's not an unreasonable-looking bag.

That’s not an unreasonable-looking bag.

My recent trip with the Petagon refreshed my memory about its pros and cons. Here’s what I liked: The bag has plenty of mesh panels (including one across its top); they’re double-thickness, and the inside mesh layer is woven finely enough that I believe it would resist even a cat’s claws; there are two very substantial side pockets, and a useful end pocket; a zipped hatch opening at the other end provides easy patting and treat dispensing access even when the bag is stowed under a plane seat; and there is a strap along the non-pocketed long side through which a suitcase handle (or a car’s seat belt) can pass. There is an internal tether, which is, generally speaking, a plus; I just wish that this one weren’t sewn in, and could be detached or tucked away. There is a padded bottom tray that can easily be removed and cleaned. Its surface is slick and shiny; I recommend that you add a soft pad of your own to it.

All that said, I won’t be swapping my large SturdiBag for the Petagon. I worry that the double-thickness mesh panels don’t let as much air through to Chloe as the coarser-grained SturdiProducts mesh, and I disliked how the Petagon panels caught and reflected light back at me, preventing me from seeing through them. Chloe was essentially invisible to me throughout our trips, except when I zipped open the end hatch to pat her or give her treats or ice cubes.

The two handles were long enough that they pretty much stayed on my shoulder — but the outer handle of any two-handled shoulder bag is always going to be a bit slippy, and the Petagon is no exception. I prefer a bag that also has a long strap that can be adjusted to go over a shoulder or across your torso. Unfortunately, there is no way to add your own shoulder strap to the Petagon, if you had an extra one lying around — there are no loops on the bag to clip it to.

My main objection to the Petagon is the silvery sheen of its mesh panels, but right behind it is the construction of its top. On the bright side, it has three different fastenings, making it unlikely that your pet can pull a Houdini escape on you. Zippers along each of the long sides are tugged closed with a joined handle; there’s a line of Velcro on the short end of the top flap; and a substantial plastic clip can be snapped closed, to give the Velcro solid reinforcement.

The top of the Petagon — I'm holding the red joined zipper handle, and turning back with my thumb the top flap to show you the zippers' path, the Velcro strip on the short end, and the plastic clip.

The top of the Petagon — I’m holding the red joined zipper handle with my ring finger, and turning back with my thumb the bag’s top flap to show you one of the zippers’ paths, the Velcro strip on the short end, and the plastic clip.

That’s good thinking, but the parallel zippers made me crazy. Chloe has long hair, and there is no mechanism (e.g., a shielding layer of fabric) to keep it from getting caught up in the zippers. That meant that I had to slowly zip each side closed with one hand, sliding my other hand under the bag’s top between the zipper and Chloe’s fur. Because the zippers are joined with a pull handle, you can’t close one at a time, but rather have to switch back and forth between them. That was annoying and slow. It wasn’t a disaster, because Chloe’s not an escape artist, but I can imagine it being a problem with an agitated dog, or a cat.

Please note that the only way to load a pet into the Petagon is through the big top opening. For some of you, that’ll be a plus (I sometimes hear from readers who don’t like the SturdiBag’s side “door”).

Despite those drawbacks, I will be recommending that folks with larger small dogs consider the large Teafco Argo Petagon. Overall, it’s a well-made bag, and offers useful additional length while still fitting plausibly under an airplane seat. Please note that the large Petagon is currently out of stock, both on Teafco’s site and on Amazon. I spoke with a Teafco customer service rep who told me that they expect the bag to be back in stock at the end of June or the beginning of July 2015. It is by no means discontinued; he described it as “one of our favorite carriers.”

Amazon link: Teafco Argo Petagon, Large, Black

Chloe and the world’s largest chili pepper (with bonus Las Cruces, NM hotel)

We haven’t done Photo Friday in a while, and what better way to get back in gear than a picture of Chloe with the world’s largest chili pepper?

The chili pepper is in a fenced enclosure, complicating Chandler's efforts to get the whole vegetable in the frame

The pepper is in a walled enclosure, complicating Chandler’s efforts to get the whole vegetable in the frame

It’s a vast concrete sculpture in the parking lot of the America’s Best Value Inn in Las Cruces, NM, designed, as Roadside America puts it, “to entice travelers to notice this hotel rather than the ones lacking giant chili peppers.”

It’s a hoot in itself, but the bonus is that the hotel it ornaments gets some darned good reviews on TripAdvisor, is extremely affordable, and welcomes pet dogs. Given those reviews, the pleasantness of our reception (despite being obvious lookie-loos), and the appealing goofiness of the lobby and the internal courtyard, I’d certainly stay at The Big Chili Inn the next time we drive on Interstate 10 or Interstate 25.

New favorite traveling pet water bowl: Cycle Dog’s Trail Buddy Bowl

I keep a collapsible water bowl in my purse, and in our cars, and for years my choice was Canine Hardware’s Hydro Bowl — as I said back in 2009, “it’s small enough to fit in my purse or a pocket. Unfolded, it’s sturdy enough to stay reliably upright, it’s shallow, and its opening is wide and holds its shape pretty well. (Chloe gets spooked when her bowls close their jaws shut on her muzzle.) It’s also definitely waterproof.” After years of use, the Hydro Bowl finally wore out along its fold lines, and started leaking. That’s not a complaint — five years is a darned good run for any pet product — but the need for a replacement prompted me to take a new look at the collapsible pet bowl scene.

The problem is that a lot of collapsible pet bowls are really big, and Chloe’s a small dog, who only needs a few ounces of water or food at a time. She also, as I mentioned above, really doesn’t like it when a bowl acts like it might close back up on her while she’s drinking from it. And finally, after learning the hard way that all of our cats are allergic to plastic, I have no interest in finding out that Chloe is too. We avoid plastic pet products.

That’s a lot of requirements for a collapsible bowl, but Cycle Dog’s Trail Buddy Bowl meets them all. Here’s a picture of it in my hand, so you can get an idea of its size when it’s folded up:

The bowl's exterior is made of recycled bicycle inner tubes, and a bit of inner tube is sewn into a handle that also secures the bowl when it's folded closed.

The bowl’s exterior is made of recycled bicycle inner tubes, and a bit of inner tube is sewn into a handle that also secures the bowl when it’s folded closed.

And here’s a picture of it unfolded, next to Chloe:

The interior of the bowl is a BPA-free silicone, with enough "body" that it pushes the bowl open as soon as it's unfolded

The bowl itself is a BPA-free silicone, with enough “body” that it pushes outwards as soon as it’s unfolded — no fear of it gradually closing back up around Chloe’s snout.

It dries out very rapidly — typically, when Chloe’s finished drinking, I pour out the leftover water and then whack the bowl against my leg a few times to get rid of droplets. That leaves, at most, a thin film of water, which I either wipe off or let evaporate. A hard-working product made in the U.S. from recycled materials — what’s not to love?

As you can see, I bought the bowl in the Red Tri-Style pattern, which is what my local pet store was carrying. Now that I’ve seen the other options, I’ll be ordering the even cuter Brown pattern and Apple Green Retro Flowers pattern for our car kit’s water bowls. (The other options include a variety of solid colors, as well as a couple more patterns.)

Amazon link: Cycle Dog Trail Buddy Collapsible Dog Travel Bowl

Form of health certificate for pet dogs traveling to E.U. has changed

Reader Gail, getting ready for her next trip to Italy with Puccini, her Cavalier, learned in February  that the form of health certificate for pets traveling to an E.U. country has changed, as of December 29, 2014. She let me know promptly, and I’ve been trying to get my act together to write a post about it ever since.

Here’s a link to the new form [PDF], and here’s a link to an annotated, explanatory version of it [PDF]. For comparison’s sake, here’s my post with pictures of the old form, completed and endorsed by the USDA (from Chloe’s last trip to France and the U.K.). Gail, who’s just finished filling out the new form — and got it USDA-endorsed, so she’s done it correctly — reports that “As far as I can tell, the major differences in the new form are that there are lots of places to line out and initial. Plus, there’s a section to be completed by the official at the point of entry. That suggests that one should pass through some sort of control with one’s dog at the airport. Hmmm, I sure have never done that previously and certainly won’t be searching for a place to do so now.”

To save you from having to root back through old posts, here’s how you find the current import form for the country you plan to visit. Start with this main page from the USDA’s site, about animal and animal product exportation (recall that the USDA governs animal exports from the U.S., while the CDC governs animal imports to the U.S.). Click on “IRegs for Animal Exports,” and on the resulting page scroll to the bottom and select the country you plan to visit.

If you choose “France,” you’ll scroll down to the section on “Pets” on the resulting page and follow the directions. Please note that if you choose the “United Kingdom” instead, for example, you’ll end up with the same basic import form (since both France and the U.K. are E.U. member countries), but you’ll also be given a link to additional, U.K.-specific information (particularly including their rule about tapeworm treatment). Be sure to look at the information provided for each country you plan to visit, even if you plan to stay within the European Union.

Thank you, Gail, for the heads-up! Please let us know if someone at your destination airport shows an interest in seeing Puccini’s new form — and have a great time together in Italy!