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Alaska Airlines reverses direction: Health certificate no longer required for in-cabin dogs

On November 4, I reported that Alaska Airlines had started requiring health certificates for in-cabin pets and expressed a fervent hope that the other major U.S. airlines would not follow suit. Imagine my surprise to learn today that Alaska has reversed itself, and returned to its previous hands-off policy (“A health certificate will not be required for pets traveling in the cabin, however, many states have specific importation health and vaccination requirements”). You can see in my November 4 post what the relevant portion of Alaska Air’s pet travel page looked like at that point, and here’s what it looks like now:

The crucial bit follows the exclamation-point-in-the- triangle

The crucial bit follows the exclamation-point-in-the- triangle

I don’t know why Alaska has done this Forward/Backward Dance (one reader suggested that the original policy shift was prompted by fears that pets might transmit Ebola, and the timing is certainly suggestive), but I’m grateful that Alaska has returned to the baseline occupied by all of the other major U.S. airlines except Hawaiian.

Interstate health certificate, shot record, international health certificate, pet passport: Sorting out the documents

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about how Alaska Airlines has changed its pet travel policy to require a health certificate for travelers with in-cabin pets. That was newsworthy because for the past several years, no major U.S. airline other than Hawaiian had that policy. Health certificates are, and (essentially) always have been, required for crated pets traveling as baggage/cargo, but for in-cabin pets they were a thing of the past — so much so that there was confusion in Dog Jaunt Nation over what I meant by a “health certificate.” A flurry of posts on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page later, it struck me that it’d be helpful to see what an interstate health certificate looks like, and make it clear that it’s a different beast than a shot record or the documentation you need to take your pet abroad.

Interstate health certificate

This post, though much edited, will tell you nearly all you need to know about interstate health certificates. What’s missing is a picture of the certificate (sometimes formally known as a “Certificate of Veterinary Inspection”). Washington state’s certificate is a half-page document that looks like this:

The different states' forms vary in appearance, but they cover the same info

The different states’ forms vary in appearance, but they cover the same info

It’s signed by your veterinarian after she conducts a brief but thorough physical exam of your pet, and consults your pet’s vaccination records. Getting one requires making an appointment with your vet and, because it involves both tech and vet attention and time, a fairly substantial payment (typically around $50).

Once signed, an interstate health certificate lasts for 30 days; it’s typically required to be signed within 10 days of travel; and those two time periods are normally not a problem except when there’s an unexpected delay on the front end (consider getting your certificate shortly before you’re scheduled to depart) or you’ve planned a very long vacation (keep an eye on your certificate’s expiration date, and be prepared to get a new one, from a vet at your destination, for your return trip).

Shot record

Another document you can get from your vet is your pet’s shot record:

I'm not winning any awards for this picture, and the document got drenched in today's rain, but you get the idea

I’m not winning any awards for this picture, and the paper got drenched in today’s rain, but you get the idea

You’ll note that this document is labeled a “vaccine certificate,” and if your vet has a similar form, you might be misled by that word “certificate.” But as you can see, this is just a list of Chloe’s vaccinations and their current status.

It does not cost anything. Your vet’s front desk staff will print one for you on request (if you discover a need for one while you’re on the road, your vet will likely fax you a copy, but please note that that will only happen during your vet’s business hours).

A shot record is a useful object, and I always travel with the current version of Chloe’s, because you never know when it might be needed. Infrequently, a hotel will ask for it, and pet daycare facilities always do. It is not, however, an acceptable substitute for a health certificate, because it is not a statement signed by your veterinarian vouching for your pet’s health at a particular point in time. (And please note that an interstate health certificate would not address the needs of a daycare facility, since it focuses on rabies and doesn’t mention bordatella/kennel cough.)

International health certificate

When you’re preparing to travel abroad with your pet, you assemble a packet of documents required by the country you’re visiting. In this post, I included photos of the documents we gathered to take Chloe on our last trip to France (please note that the packet included a “Rabies Vaccination Certificate for the State of Washington,” which also includes the word “certificate” in its title and also does not qualify as an interstate health certificate!). This packet will look much the same for all EU countries, but other countries’ forms will vary a bit.

I’ve given you advice on how to find the correct, current forms for the country you want to visit, and I won’t repeat that here. This post is just to show you that an international health certificate (ours was called a “Veterinary certificate to EU”) is a different creature than the interstate health certificate Alaska Airlines now requires. The EU certificate is bilingual (French & English) and five pages long, and here’s one [PDF] from a randomly-chosen non-EU country (Brazil) — as you’ll see, it’s also bilingual (Portuguese & English) and it’s three pages long.

International health certificates require an examination by your vet, and depending on your destination, your vet may also have to perform and record the results of additional procedures, like a rabies titration or a treatment against Echinococcus multilocularis. You’ll pay significantly more for your international paperwork than for an interstate health certificate.

Once signed, your international paperwork typically needs to be presented at your destination country within 10 days (but please do not take my word for it — that’s a crucial detail you’ll want to nail down for yourself). How long it lasts varies by country — our EU paperwork for Chloe was “valid for 10 days from the date of issue by the official veterinarian until the date of the checks at the EU travellers’ point of entry and for the purpose of further movements within the Union, for a total of 4 months from the date of issue of this certificate or until the date of expiry of the anti-rabies vaccination, whichever date is earlier,” while the Brazilian form states that it’s “valid for 60 (sixty) days from the date of issuance.”

What about those pet passports you’ve heard about? They are also for international travel, but, officially, they’re only meant for residents of the E.U. That said, we got one for Chloe when we were last in Paris, and several Dog Jaunt readers have done the same thing. The tech who handles our Seattle veterinarian’s international paperwork recently told me about a client of theirs who  frequently travels to France, and uses an E.U. pet passport to do it [but see Audra's very helpful cautionary comment, below]. Here’s what it looks like; as you’ll see, it covers the same info as the international paperwork you’d typically assemble. On our next trip to Europe, I plan to have our normal international paperwork in my back pocket, so to speak, and attempt using just Chloe’s E.U. pet passport (appropriately updated and signed by her U.S. vet) to get there, around, and back.

As you contemplate upcoming travel, think carefully about what documents you’ll need and their “good for” dates (you’ll want to keep a sharp eye on your dog’s rabies vaccination expiration date too). As an example, my frequent flyer miles are on United, so I could return to the U.S. using the same documents that accompanied Chloe into France (assuming that her rabies vaccination falls into the proper time window), and continue on my merry way to Seattle. But after December 4, travelers who arrive in the U.S. and transfer to an Alaska Airlines flight will need to provide an interstate-style health certificate signed and dated by a vet no more than 10 days earlier, if that’s the first Alaska flight in their itinerary — and what if they were on a two-week vacation? (You’d find a vet at your destination, and get them to examine your pup and fill out a form of certificate that would satisfy the local U.S. authorities, as personified by the Alaska Airlines ticketing or gate agent you encounter. Do-able, never fear, but you’ll need to think ahead.)

How I hope that Alaska Air remains a voice crying in the wilderness on this one — well, except for Hawaiian, but if I was a rabies-free island I’d be careful too. Let me know if I’ve left your questions unanswered. These documents are a tricky business!

Alaska Airlines now requiring a health certificate for all pets

[11/21/14 This turned out to have been an extremely temporary move: Two weeks later, Alaska reversed direction and canceled the health certificate requirement for in-cabin pets (they are, of course, still required for pets traveling as baggage/cargo).]

In what is, I hope, a move that no other U.S. airline will follow, Alaska Airlines has decided to require a health certificate for pets flying in-cabin (Alaska also requires a health certificate for crated pets checked as baggage/cargo, but that’s normal policy for U.S. airlines transporting animals). The new policy applies to flights on December 4, 2014 and following, and states that “All pets traveling in the cabin or cargo compartment on Alaska Airlines, (including flights operated by Horizon, SkyWest and PenAir) will be required to have a health certificate dated within 10 days of outbound travel and 30 days of return travel.”

My first inkling that this was in the works was an e-mail from reader Gery, who wrote to me three weeks ago saying that he’d been repeatedly instructed by an Alaska Air rep to get a health certificate for his in-cabin dog, and wasn’t that odd? Indeed it is: When we first started flying with Chloe in 2009, a handful of U.S. airlines required health certificates for in-cabin pets, but over the succeeding years, all of them dropped the requirement. As of April 2013, I wrote that “only Hawaiian Airlines” still required “a health certificate for in-cabin pets, and then only for travel outside the state.”

When Gery wrote to me, Alaska’s page about pet travel still looked like this:

Alaska's former hands-off approach

Alaska’s former hands-off approach

But now it looks like this:

New Alaska policy

New Alaska policy

And this:

Just in case you were feebly hoping it didn't apply to in-cabin pets

Just in case you were feebly hoping it didn’t apply to in-cabin pets

On the one hand, I appreciate their saving me a phone call by making it clear that the new rule applies to pets traveling in-cabin as well as pets stowed in the cargo area. On the other hand, I don’t really see the point of extending the requirement to in-cabin pets, who don’t face the same kind of stress that pets traveling in the cargo area have to handle.

On the third hand, it’s not a change that affects me, since I don’t fly Alaska, but I worry that other airlines will follow Alaska’s lead. I remember all too vividly how vexing it was to have to remember to plan a timely vet visit (within 10 days of travel) and ensure that the certificate covers the return trip (in the case of long vacations, that means visiting another vet at your destination). Each vet visit typically costs about $50, as Gery discovered and as I recall from the bad old days.

Can you, you know, just…well…not do it? In my experience, no. Back when United required a health certificate for in-cabin pets, I faithfully got one for each trip because the ticketing agent routinely asked to see it when we checked ourselves and Chloe onto our flights. My sympathies to you, Alaska flyers, and I hope that other U.S. airlines will resist the urge to fall into line behind Alaska. Here’s Dog Jaunt’s health certificate requirement chart, now updated, alas, to reflect Alaska’s new policy.

Reader’s report: Bicycle customized for three (and ideas for motorbike carriers)

Reader Liberty posted this picture on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page on September 21, and before the pixels had a chance to settle I begged her to write a guest post about what she’d done to create such a gorgeous and safe-looking bike system for her and her two dogs:

Breathtaking, right?

Breathtaking, right?

She kindly agreed, wrote her post immediately, and here it is, at too darned long-last (the photo captions are mine). Please note, up front, that the silver Road Hound carrier is no longer available, but at the end of the post I provide some ideas for motorbike carrier alternatives — and I’d love to hear what those of you riding motorcycles and scooters suggest.

“It seems for a number of years some major point of my focus has been how to travel with dogs, be it on a train, bicycle, motorbike and airplane. Way back when we just had the one dog called Mouse, who we tragically lost last year to cancer when she was only 8 1/2 years old. Mouse would come everywhere with us including to work in London. When we had had enough of taking her on the packed crowded London tube we decided to get scooters. The first attempt was a small dog crate nailed to a board on the back, covered in tarp because of the wonderful English weather. This worked well and lasted many journeys from South to West London.

Scooters, with Mouse peeping out of her crate carrier

When we both graduated from the 50cc scooters to Triumph motobikes we felt we needed to upgrade her ride as well. I searched for months looking for something big enough and sturdy enough to be mounted on the back of a big motorcycle and to keep her cosy in an English winter. It was then I discovered the Road Hound, made in Texas. They did not deal with the customers in the UK so I had to get it shipped to Holland, where a friend brought it back to the UK for me.

We worked with a welder to make a rock solid support for the back as it jumped around far too much with just the the fixings it came with. This was mainly due to the luggage rack on the Truimph being less than solid. Finally the Road Hound was mounted safely on the bike and took us both to the office everyday.

Triumph and Road Hound, from the front

Triumph and Road Hound, from the front, with Mouse on board

And from the back

And from the back

Mouse in her Road Hound, rocking her goggles. She makes me think of Highway 1 and Ray Bans and, dangit, Steve McQueen. That is one cool dog.

Mouse in her Road Hound, rocking her goggles. She makes me think of Highway 1 and Ray Bans and, dangit, Steve McQueen. That is one cool dog.

Fast forward and we moved to San Francisco where I bought a scooter but the back fixings would not allow for the Road Hound to be mounted, but I knew one day it would be used again, so we kept it tucked away in storage. We then moved to Vancouver BC where, after 18 months overpaying on insurance and the realization that we used the car about once every three weeks, we decided to go car free.

Vancouver wheels, first attempt

Vancouver wheels, first attempt, with Mouse and Badger

We now had Badger the Boston Terrier and our new Mexican SPCAPV rescue dog, Pika. Getting out and about had to work well with both dogs on longer journeys. Initially I had Mouse and Badger on my Townie bike. I then got the Buddy Rider for Pika but this did not work with the shape of my top tube. The space needed between handle bars and seat did not make for a comfortable ride.

Bike Buddy attempt

Pika in the Buddy Rider, Badger in back

After much research I settled on the Yuba cargo bike, as it was big enough to mount the Road Hound on the back. Getting the electric system set up on it in Canada was the most difficult and long winded process, but that’s a different story. Yuba do not directly sell the electric version in Canada yet, so it meant getting custom work done to make it electric. Finally, after many hours of trying, we were able to fix the Road Hound on the back and we were set.

Pika in front, in a carrier I haven't been able to identify, and Badger in back

Pika in front, in a carrier I haven’t been able to identify, and Badger in back

So far, the longest distance I have been in one go is around 15 miles. We have done four trips around Vancouver and there is still battery to spare from the initial charge. The bike is big and heavy and not ideal for an apartment building bike room. I have to take up four bike racks, (luckily they are the stand up ones no one wants.) To fit in the racks the Road Hound has to be taken off after every ride, which can adds to the time it takes to get each ride ready and lock up afterwards.

Once out on the road, the pedal assist works well, especially considering the weight of the bike, Road Hound and two dogs. I am yet to be totally sold on my choice and realize it will be much more of a summer option than a winter one. Still, with joining a car co-op and this owning the Yuba, I think we have everything covered.”

I love this post — how hard Liberty has worked to keep her dogs with her and both safe and comfortable while she’s bicycling! Thank you so much, Liberty, for the inspiration.

I wish, for the sake of those of you with motorbikes or scooters, that the Road Hound carrier was still available, but neither it, nor another hard-sided motorcycle carrier that seemed praiseworthy (offered by Rockstar Puppy Boutique), can be found new (you may be lucky enough to find one on eBay or through Craigslist).

That leaves a handful of soft-sided (but thickly-padded) options. Here are the ones I’ve learned about, grouped by size. I’d love to hear from people who have these carriers, or have considered them, with their thoughts about their quality and workability. For very small dogs, take a look at the Saddlemen Convertible Pet Carrier, the Kuryakyn Pet Palace, or one of the smaller PetEgo carriers that work with PetEgo’s motorbike connection (the Infinita, the Universal Sport Bag, or the small or medium Jet Set). For a larger small dog, the best choices I could find were PetEgo’s Sport Wagon or the large Jet Set (again, using the motorbike connection). Is there a motorbike pet carrier you know about that should be on this list? Please let us know about it!

Reader’s report: Large SturdiBag on three domestic United flights (737-700, 737-800, and 757-200)

Reader Heather recently sent Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page a series of quick reports from the air about the under-seat spaces she and her pup encountered on several domestic United flights.  She kindly agreed that I could re-post them here (thanks, Heather!). Not being a obsessed dog travel blogger, Heather didn’t have a tape measure on hand, but you can get an idea of the spaces involved if you know that her pet was traveling in a large SturdiBag carrier, which is essentially 18″ long and 12″ high and wide, but will flex to fit into a space that’s, say, only 9″ tall.

United 737-700

Heather and pup were seated in the Economy section, and the large SturdiBag “fit just fine. Even on the aisle.”

United 737-800

Once again, Heather was in an aisle seat in Economy, in row 34. “I’m now on a 737-800, no issues on the aisle, but a box on the center seat. The SturdiBag fit pretty decent anyway, but only just.” She sent a picture of the partly-obstructed middle seat space:

It looks to me like Chloe's carrier would fit in that space lengthwise, but if the aisle seat works that's always a more comfortable choice. Please note that Heather did not report on the window seat space.

It looks to me like Chloe’s large SturdiBag carrier would fit in that space lengthwise, but if the aisle seat works that’s always a more comfortable choice. Please note that Heather did not report on the window seat space.

United 757-200

I added Heather’s report on this flight to a post I wrote back in 2010 about the under-seat space available on a United 757-200, because she had a different experience on her flight than I reported. I had found lots of space under the middle seat, and a workable space under the window seat, but Heather wrote that “there are electrical outlets between all the seats, so there is a big chunk from both aisle and middle seats. A good 5-6 inches is taken up. I think the window is unaffected.” She sat in row 36, in the Economy section, and she sent this picture:

Photo taken from the aisle towards a port-side window, showing the obstruction under the middle seat. The window seat space does indeed look clear.

Photo taken from the aisle towards a port-side window, showing the obstruction under the middle seat. The window seat space does indeed look clear.

I initially thought that there was an easy explanation — I was traveling international, and she was traveling domestic — but I when I re-read my post, it was clear that I’d been on both a domestic and an international flight on a United 757-200, and my domestic flight just looked different than Heather’s. It has been four years, though, since I wrote my report; it’s not unlikely that United has changed things up a bit. I’d go with Heather’s report, and choose a window seat when traveling on a United 757-200.

Thank you again, Heather, for taking the time to let other travelers know what you encountered! I’ve added this post to Dog Jaunt’s ongoing series recording under-seat measurements of the various planes we fly on. Keep in mind that most domestic and international airlines have rules about the maximum size of in-cabin pet carriers they allow on board (see Dog Jaunt’s handy charts under the “Taking your pet on a plane” tab above).

Photo Friday: Scoop law sign from Gearhart, OR

You’ve been wondering when I’d post another scoop law sign, amiright? You haven’t seen one on the blog since March, and darn it, they’re the main reason you read Dog Jaunt! Well, here’s a very peculiar one indeed, sent in by scoop law sign scout Jessica from Gearhart, an otherwise charming town on the Oregon coast:

Photo by @springtidepress, whose Instagram feed is not to be missed

Photo by @springtidepress, whose Instagram feed is not to be missed

I’m usually a little spooked by this hot-dog-limbed human, but add a hot-dog-limbed pup, and put them both in a thick mist like Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait  (except that Warren has articulated limbs, a neck, and a track suit)? Now I’m laughing. Hard to say what they’re looking at — perhaps a future where there is no poop to pick up.

Thanks so much, Jessica! To see other scoop law signs in Dog Jaunt’s collection, click on the “scoop law” tag below this post, or type “scoop law” in the search bone.

Reader’s report: Sleepypod Air (and Olive!) on a United 737-900 plane

This started out as a post on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page, but reader Marie kindly agreed that I could repost it here on the blog, where it wouldn’t scroll away. Olive is a cross between a Sealyham Terrier and a Connemara Jack Russell Terrier (officially, a “Heritage Connemara Jack Russell,” part of a project to ensure the survival of the Irish Jack Russell). Marie bought the Sleepypod Air (here’s my review of it) in the dark chocolate color — very pretty, and a nice change from black, but still dark enough to minimize its apparent size.

As Marie says, she and Olive were in an aisle seat; I don’t know precisely which version of the 737-900 they were on, but in all likelihood their plane had this layout; they were on the right side of the plane, probably in Rows 8-12.

“My new puppy, Olive, and I flew from Boston to San Francisco on a United 737-900. This is a photo of her under the seat in front of me in her Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier. She fit just fine even with the ends not folded up. I confirmed with the flight attendant that they were fine with this. We were in an aisle seat in Economy Plus which made the leg room decent. I am not sure I could handle this in the regular seats.”

A nice fit, even with one of those dratted aisle rails narrowing the available under seat space

A nice fit, even with one of those dratted aisle rails narrowing the available under seat space

Thank you so much, Marie! And welcome to your new home, Olive! I’m tagging this post so that it joins Dog Jaunt’s growing collection of pictures of carriers in action on planes.

Blueberry (and Baret) in France: From rescue pup to muse

One of my favorite Facebook friends is an artist I knew long before she picked up a brush. Baret Boisson began painting as an adult, and she’s entirely self-taught. Her work is enchanting, but I also love the delightful, intelligent essays she posts on her Facebook page about objects she’s collected or encountered, or images that spark her interest (including, most recently, photos of what turn-of-the-century ladies wore hiking — way, way too much; and a couple of the Cottingley Fairies photos — all the buzz in the late 1910’s). Baret and her pup Blueberry spent the past 3 months in France, and after seeing the first pictures she posted, I asked if she’d send a quick note and a handful of photos I could share on Dog Jaunt. Here they are — to see Baret’s work and learn more about it, check out her website, and be sure to “like” Baret Boisson Art on Facebook. Her posts will brighten your day.

“Blueberry is a little mutt whom I adopted last year from, fittingly, a rescue group called, ‘Dogs without Borders.’ They had found her at the South Central Animal shelter and called her ‘Crystal’ because of her one blue eye. I took her home, renamed her, and worked on socializing this tiny, timid creature.

I’m an artist living in Los Angeles and decided that I would take the summer of 2014 to travel around France. I would visit museums, get inspiration and paint. Blueberry was with me during the entire journey abroad, and suddenly I found myself photographing her in the context of these marvelous sights so as to create a perspective — how close a river was, or how big a monument was, for example. Indeed, I was using Blueberry in most of my images, placing her, asking her to ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, and then ‘releasing’ and praising her.

The process is collaborative, and Blueberry has become my little muse. We are a team, my little rescue dog and me.”

Blueberry atop a mailbox

Blueberry atop a mailbox

Blueberry in front of Notre Dame, in Paris

Blueberry in front of Notre Dame, in Paris

Blueberry and the allée

Blueberry and an allée in Provence

Held aloft by La Rivière, in Paris's Jardin des Tuileries

Held aloft by La Rivière, in Paris’s Jardin des Tuileries

At Colette's grave in the Père Lachaise cemetery (not dog-friendly, so be cautious re-creating this shot)

At Colette’s grave in the Père Lachaise cemetery (not dog-friendly, so be cautious re-creating this shot)

Blue-eyed pup watches blue-eyed (really!) Lusitanian horses training at Versailles' Grande Écurie

Blue-eyed pup watches blue-eyed (really!) Lusitanian horses training at Versailles’ Grande Écurie

Blueberry and the locks of love

Blueberry and the locks of love (on Paris’s Pont des Arts)

Thank you so much, Baret, for sharing these photos — it’s such a pleasure seeing how much fun you two had together as you traveled around France!

Reader’s report: Recommendation for English-speaking dog groomer in Paris

You’ve met Ralph the Bichon a couple of times now, since his person Anne has kindly allowed me to post pictures from his trips to France. Anne was also the source of a really sensible travel ID tag solution involving an e-mail address that generates an automatic (and infinitely customizable) reply. This July, she wrote to me from Paris with a recommendation for a dog groomer she turned to when Ralph got a glob of gunk stuck in his paw. I’m glad to share her report with you, because finding a good groomer is as tricky as finding a good veterinarian (and in this case, it turns out, the groomer had tools the vet didn’t have).

On a July day about two weeks into their trip, “the temperature hit 92 by mid-afternoon. We were at ‘home’ about 5:30 pm when I noticed that a tar-like gunk was embedded in one of Ralph’s paws. He was totally nonchalant until I tried to remove it; he squealed and the stuff only wiggled. It was really gross — black, thick, and flecked with tiny stones. Hoping there was an easy way to soak it out, I called our groomer in NYC, who said it would need to be cut out.”

Anne took Ralph to Dr. McCarthy, the vet I took Chloe to last fall, and while the experience was positive, his office didn’t have the right tool for the job: “The assistant agreed it would need to be cut out but — lifting a pair of round-tipped scissors longer than Ralph’s leg — said she hadn’t the right equipment and suggested we go to a groomer.”

Anne had already visited Au Paradis Canin earlier in the trip “to pick up shampoo (I had to forget something),” so she knew it was close by. She returned, and groomer Caroline Coutret, “whose English is excellent, remembered Ralph. She looked at his paw, announced (in French) ‘chewing gum,’ and grabbed a clipper from the wall. Three minutes later, the gunk was gone. Caroline refused to take any money. ‘C’est normal,’ she shrugged. So I bought Ralph a toy: on the hottest day of July, he picked a squeaky, bouncy Santa Claus.”

Ralph, celebrating Christmas in July

Ralph, celebrating Christmas in July

A happy ending (“Ralph is fine, I’m relieved, and Caroline is the best”) and a really useful addition to your list of Paris pet resources. Looking back through old posts, it turns out that Chloe and I have been to Le Paradis Canin, but only as shoppers. I’m delighted to learn about Caroline and her grooming skills, kindness, and fluency in English. Thanks, Anne!

Tomales Bay, CA dog-friendly hotel and restaurant: Nick’s Cove

I was contacted by the folks at Nick’s Cove, asking if Chloe and I would like to visit and let Dog Jaunt readers know what we thought of the experience. I instantly said yes, but I felt a bit of a fraud, since Nick’s Cove has long been on my list of places to check out. Then again, it might have taken me awhile to get there: We have generous friends who live nearby, and chances are we would have continued to borrow their house, rather than going to a hotel, however appealing. So take this review with a grain of salt (our dinner, hotel stay, and breakfast were paid for by Nick’s Cove) but make it a small grain, since all the friends who knew where I was heading assured me I’d love the place. I should add that Nick’s Cove did not request that I write a positive review — indeed, they left it entirely up to me to do what I would with my impressions.

A quick orientation: Nick’s Cove is a cluster of cottages with a restaurant — or a restaurant with a cluster of cottages, depending on your priorities — on the east coast of Tomales Bay, in Marin County (just north of San Francisco). Tomales Bay is a long finger of water reaching behind the Point Reyes peninsula, an extraordinarily beautiful place that, thank goodness, is largely parkland of various kinds. All this beauty is only about an hour’s drive from downtown San Francisco, traffic gods permitting, but it feels a world away.

Point Reyes has the waves and the surf; Tomales Bay, behind it, is a more tranquil body of water. Here's part of it on a really perfect summer day.

Point Reyes has the waves and the beaches and the dunes; Tomales Bay, behind it, is a more tranquil body of water. Here’s part of the bay on a practically perfect summer day.

The waterfront part of Nick's Cove, from across Highway 1. I'm standing in front of the other half of the property, looking at the restaurant — the waterfront cottages are to the left, and the boat shack is at the end of the pier on the right.

The waterfront part of Nick’s Cove, from across Highway 1. I’m standing in front of the other half of the property, looking at the restaurant — the waterfront cottages are to the left of the restaurant, and the boat shack is at the end of the pier on the right. Behind me are the “water view” cottages and the Croft (the garden).

Nick’s Cove has been around for a while — people have been eating and relaxing on the property since the 1930’s — and it has the feel of a beloved old favorite (albeit a beloved old favorite that got a nice bit of updating a few years ago, under famed local hotelier/restaurateur Pat Kuleto). The best way I can show that is with pictures of our cottage, one of five along the waterfront (there are seven more across Highway 1, four of which are dog-friendly). We stayed in Al’s, one of the four pet-friendly waterfront cottages (Bandit’s Bungalow is the one waterfront cottage that’s not pet-friendly):

The land side of Al's, with Ruthie's to the right. As you can see, we arrived after the evening fog had rolled in.

The land side of Al’s, with Ruthie’s to the right. As you can see, we arrived after the evening fog had rolled in.

A rose poking through the fence in front of Ruthie's cottage.

A rose poking through the fence in front of Ruthie’s cottage.

The living room of Al's, with a view of the boat shack past the porch. Please note the wood stove, ready for lighting — a source of much coziness later in the evening.

The living room of Al’s, with a view of the boat shack past the porch. Please note the wood stove, ready for lighting — a source of much coziness later in the evening.

The bedroom, also extremely cozy. That's a king-sized bed, and I appreciated the selection of blankets (light cotton as well as a cloud of down, with a back-up hypoallergenic option in the closet) — Marin is a land of many temperatures, and too many hotels would have provided the wrong, or insufficient, blankets.

The bedroom, also extremely cozy. That’s a king-sized bed, and I appreciated the selection of blankets (light cotton as well as a cloud of down, with a back-up hypoallergenic option in the closet). Marin is a land of many temperatures, and too many hotels would have provided the wrong, or insufficient, blankets.

Our bathroom, a nice blend of the updated (that floor may look old-fashioned but it's heated) and the utterly charming (please note the vintage toilet, sink, and bath — all of which worked with modern efficiency).

Our bathroom, a nice blend of the updated (that floor may look original but it’s marble, and heated) and the old-fashioned (the vintage toilet, sink, and bath all worked with modern efficiency).

Moments after we brought our suitcases in, and while I was still unfolding the sheet I pack to protect hotel beds from Chloe’s fur, we were delivered a plate of barbecued oysters. Everybody gets them, not just visiting travel bloggers, and they hit the spot.

The oysters that saved our marriage — so sensible to provide guests with protein, mid-afternoon, rather than something sweet. Here's one place where I got special treatment: Guests normally get a couple of oysters each, but innkeeper Alyssum sized up our need and kindly added two more.

The oysters that saved our marriage — so sensible to provide guests with protein, mid-afternoon, rather than something sweet. Here’s one place where I got special treatment: Guests are normally welcomed with a couple of oysters each, but innkeeper Alyssum sized up our need and kindly added two more.

Nick’s Cove is within easy reach of a variety of outstanding food resources, including some remarkable dairies and farms (as well as oyster beds). They’ve also started a garden of their own, already providing the restaurant with eggs and a certain quantity of vegetables, herbs, and honey, with more vegetables and an orchard to follow. More about the garden later (it’s one of the places where your pet can join you), but all of that means that the restaurant has good ingredients at its fingertips, and our meals, including the room-service breakfast, were excellent. Our dinner (an outrageously good chowder and steak for me, with a tomato salad and a vast pork chop for my husband) was minus Chloe, but she could easily have joined us, in two different ways. There are a handful of outdoor tables, and on a warmer evening (or if we were more warmly dressed), we could have been served at them. Alternatively, that boat shack I’ve mentioned a couple of times is pet-friendly, and you can order take-out, essentially, from it. We walked down the pier to it after dinner, and it’s charming — there are a few tables outside, and inside there are more, warmed by a wood stove and a working piano. Next time we’ll settle ourselves out there, pick up the phone, and order dinner (you choose from the normal dinner menu, and when your order’s ready, the restaurant calls the shack).

Actually, Chloe could have joined us in a third way, but it wasn’t operational during our visit, perhaps because the evening was too cool: Between the restaurant and the waterfront cottages is a small outdoor lounge area where they sometimes set up an oyster bar.

The lounge area: Clearly, I didn’t pay enough attention to the details, but oysters were involved, and your pet dog was welcome. The cottage just beyond the lounge is Ruthie’s, and Al’s is next to it.

The oyster bar lounge area is just beyond that bollard

Chloe, ornamenting a bollard, or maybe it’s a cleat

Other nice touches for travelers with dogs? You’re met with a couple of home-made dog treats and a note explaining the rules:

There is a $50 per pet/per stay fee, I should add.

There is a $50 per pet/per stay fee, I should add.

Our cottage had an enclosed porch and a fenced and gated front yard, which, taken together, meant Chloe could have the run of the place. We latched the front gate and opened both the front and back doors, and Chloe could safely wander at will. (Ruthie’s offers the same opportunity, since it too has an enclosed porch and gated front yard.)

Chloe enjoying the view from Al's little porch (that's the restaurant in the background)

Chloe enjoying the view from Al’s little porch (that’s the restaurant in the background)

The property was very pleasant to wander around, and as I mentioned, dogs may join you as you walk through the garden (in the fullness of time, they’ll be able to join you as you relax and eat up there, too — the hotel has big plans for the Croft).

Ross, the garden manager, surveying chard. Beyond him is a future guest lounge area and an orchard — the garden is just getting started, but it's a sun trap and will thrive.

Ross, the garden manager, surveying chard. Beyond him is a future guest lounge area and an orchard — the Croft is just getting started, but it’s a sun trap and will thrive.

The gardeners among you will understand how pleased Ross is by these early harvests.

The gardeners among you will understand how pleased Ross is by these early harvests.

En route to the chicken coop — all of this area can be explored by guests with pet dogs, but be sure not to let your dog heckle the hens (and of course, pick up your pup's poop).

En route to the chicken coop — all of this area can be explored by guests with pet dogs, but be sure not to let your dog heckle the hens (and of course, pick up your pup’s poop).

Nicolina, another dog-friendly waterfront cottage. Adorable, but tiny — perhaps not the choice for your Great Dane puppy.

Nicolina, another dog-friendly waterfront cottage. Adorable, but tiny — perhaps not the choice for your Great Dane puppy.

Chloe and the boat of nasturtiums

Chloe and the boat of nasturtiums, moored outside the Innkeeper’s cottage

Chloe was perfectly happy at Nick’s Cove, and we were too. If I had to find a nit to pick, it’d be that our cottage, at least, didn’t appear to have working windows, so our nighttime ventilation option was the back door. Leaving it open was safe enough, barring a really determined effort to do us evil, but we feared mosquitos (in fact, there were none, perhaps because of the breeze from the bay — I had an unfortunate encounter with a wasp, the next morning, but that was on the less breezy side of the property). The room music options were also limited (to Reggae Blend, Smooth Jazz, Coffee House, Traditional Country, Soft Hits, and New Age), so next time we’ll bring our wireless Bluetooth speaker with us. There’s no cellphone coverage, but the wifi was adequate to our needs.

My guess is that you, like us, will not miss being powerfully connected to the rest of the world. Nick’s Cove takes you back to a bygone era of vacationing, tempting you to do no-tech things like putting together puzzles, or playing music, or listening to the waves, or watching pelicans make their hunting passes up and down the bay. I appreciated the slightly battered, Adirondack camp feel of the place, and I appreciated, too, the touches of luxury — the vast bed, the heated bathroom floor, the Bulleit bourbon available for purchase in the room. A lot of thought went into providing the packet of lavender bath salts I found right when I was hoping for one; the containers of real cream to go with the (darned good) coffee we made in the room; the extra table, next to the vintage bathroom sink, big enough to hold bathroom gear; the pair of house-made chocolate cupcakes we were handed as we checked out. We liked it all, and we’ll return.

Nick’s Cove is pricey (I didn’t realize quite how pricey until I started writing this post), but if your budget allows, get one of the waterfront cottages. I visited Uncle Andy’s, one of the pet-friendly cottages on the other side of Highway 1, and while it was very attractive, it was a (small, rural) highway away from the water. Other fun things to do with your pup in the area? Check out the pet-friendly trails and beaches on Point Reyes (they’re limited in number and area, but still, good stuff); wander around the charming town of Point Reyes Station (we’ve visited the dog-friendly bookstore, and dashed in to Cowgirl Creamery to pick up a sandwich); or bring your pup with you to Hog Island Oyster Co. or The Marshall Store, both sources of superb oysters (Hog Island has a shuck-your-own option, but shucked oysters are readily available, never fear) and other good lunch/early dinner options. Hog Island is all outdoors; The Marshall Store welcomes pet dogs in its outdoor areas, but not in its building. Keep your pup on a leash in both places, and, of course, pick up after her.