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Traveling by Amtrak – dogs not allowed

Since Chloe was a puppy (and for many years before that), this post was accurate. But a year or so ago, Amtrak launched a pilot program in the suburban Chicago area, trying out the experiment of allowing passengers to travel with pet dogs and cats, and recently the company announced a wonderful expansion of its pet travel pilot program. Keep your fingers crossed, be polite pet travelers, and let’s all hope that the expansion continues!

Amtrak’s pet policy bans all pets except “trained service animals accompanying passengers with disabilities in all customer areas in our stations, trains and Amtrak Thruway motorcoaches.” Some of you have been traveling on Amtrak for a long time, and may remember when dogs were allowed on board (either in the sleeping cars or, in carriers, in other cars). That policy was changed in 1976.

I had planned to bring Chloe east to see my niece during the long weekend we’re spending in NYC, but since my travel plans ultimately included three short train trips, I left Chloe in Seattle. Instead, this weekend was a reconnaissance mission, to see whether I want to risk traveling with her on future Amtrak trips.

I’ve taken the Adirondack, which only has coach cars; the Empire Service, which has coach and business cars; and the Acela Express, which has business cars and a First Class car (and is Amtrak’s high-speed option). On all three trips, it would have been easy to bring a dog, even one Chloe’s size, as long as the dog is reliably silent in her carrier (and the carrier looks like a purse or a computer bag). Bags are not x-rayed, and the boarding agent who checks your ticket before boarding has a crowd to deal with. As long as you meet Amtrak’s general baggage requirements (number and size of bags), the contents don’t seem to be an issue.

Silence is key, though. Avoid “quiet” cars (meant for travelers who want to escape cell phone users and other extra noise) and choose a regular car, so you have at least some sound cover. The regular cars weren’t a hive of activity either, though — it’s a quiet way to travel, and any vocalizing from your dog would be audible.

On the Adirondack and Empire Service trains, there is a bit of room under the seat in front of you. To use it, your carrier must be no bigger than 9″ tall and 13″ wide (any wider, and you’ll impinge on your neighbor’s underseat space). Amtrak, however, doesn’t require that the space beneath your feet be kept clear, so I could have tucked Chloe’s messenger bag between my legs and the seat. (If you plan to put your dog’s carrier under your legs, please note that there is significantly more leg room in business class than in coach class. Coach, however, is survivable even with a carry-on on the floor.)

The Acela has essentially no underseat space, so you’d need to put your dog’s carrier under your knees. There is a ton of space behind your seat, but I wouldn’t use it for a pet — if someone else slung their suitcase in too vigorously and jostled her, you might hear an exclamation of surprise (besides, she’d probably prefer being closer to you). The Acela also has the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever encountered on a mode of transportation: bring a lumbar pillow, and get ready for a numb bum.

You would also, of course, need to assess your dog’s bladder capacity, and travel only as long as she can be comfortable. The station stops are too brief for a bathroom break. And keep in mind that if you are changing trains and have a layover, you’ll need to find a grassy spot far enough away from the station that her exit from her carrier and her re-entry aren’t noticed by Amtrak staff or other travelers.

Please be aware that this is a risky maneuver! You are, in fact, breaking the rules, and the penalties for being caught may include a fine or being asked to leave the train. On balance, the risks (for me) outweigh the benefits. Who wants to find themselves in Prince, WV, suddenly looking for alternate transportation?

30 comments

  • Star

    I may try this, I’m trying to go to NY from NC. I was going to take a plane but it is so much money.
    It’ll be a little over $100 for me, 100 for the dog, I need a health paper to say she is healthy enough. AND that isn’t even including extra for my luggage. =(

    She is less than 20lbs and this may just work. And I doubt that would/could kick me off the train if they DID find out, I’ll be taking amtrak. I’m underage for 1 (although I will be 18 in Nov.) and thats just extreme to do that. She won’t cause any problems. I just don’t know if she can be 100% quiet for 14 hours…=/

    If all they did was fine me I’d be OK with that =/

    Anyway, great article.

  • Hi, Star — Thanks so much for your comment. Here’s the thing — if my husband weren’t so sensible, I too would take Chloe on Amtrak in her stealth bag, especially in the fall or winter, when a coat strategically draped over your knees would really muffle any noise she made chewing on her toys, etc. However, I’d only do it for a short trip — no more than 3-4 hours, which is how long she’s been completely quiet at a stretch before. 14 hours is a really long time! I worry about her bathroom breaks, and she’ll really need to stretch at some point. I know that plane travel with a dog is expensive, but I think 14 hours is just too long a time for a dog to stay still and quiet….

  • Pingback: Will My Dog Hate Me? » Blog Archive » How Amtrak could become solvent (hint: pets are involved)

  • Kara

    Hi,

    I was just reading about Amtrak’s policy and called them to verify. They told me again no pets unless they are service animals, and therapy pets do not count. I’ve read before of other people buying service vests for their dogs just to take them places they otherwise might not get to go.

    I’m traveling this upcoming week and would prefer to take the Amtrak considering it’s the easiest option for me. I’m tempted to try sneaking my dog on via my disguise “purse”. She’s only 7 pounds, could easily hold her bladder for 3-4 hours, and would love it if I just fed her treats the whole time.

    My only concern is that since she’s still a puppy at 10 months old, she’ll get curious at some point and want to pop her head out or start barking. Thus, I’m considering the option of buying a service vest. Horrible to tell a lie? Perhaps. But Amtrak’s policy needs to get with the times. Almost all other modes of transportation can be somewhat lenient about animals. Like airplanes, Amtrak could allow animals at a fee, still have the crate requirement and force the passengers with animals to sit in the back. Can you imagine the money they could make if they charged for an extra seat per animal?

    True, Amtrak would have to cover animal liabilities, but could do so in a new policy clearly stating that they won’t pay for any injuries, damage, etc. caused by pets and that owners will be charged for such instances, and then include the banning of aggressive breeds.

    I feel like something so simple shouldn’t seem difficult to change.

  • Hi, Kara — Thanks so much for your comment! Believe me, I totally understand your frustration with Amtrak, and I’ve already revealed that I too have pondered sneaking Chloe on board. I’ve never pondered putting her in a service dog vest, however — I realize that sneaking her on board and putting her in a vest are both Wrong Things To Do, but the vest trick seems worse to me. I don’t mind being punished myself for wrong acts, but I would mind harming the interests of people who are legitimately accompanied by real, working service dogs — and I think that’s what the fake service vests do. I prefer to rent the car and vent my outrage in productive ways like writing blog posts, or letters to Amtrak, or comments on travel sites — that way, you preserve the high moral ground, and you get to remind Amtrak that if they had a sensible policy like the one you describe, they’d have your business….

  • malinda

    Hey everyone.

    I am considering travelling from chicago to slc utah. Even though I have a dog she isnt comeing along. full blooded german shepherds arent easy to hide in a carry on…. but! I am considering taking my rat. lol. He wont make noise and he will pee in his cage that conveniantly will fit in my extra large purse. This article has furthered my courage. as long as they dont search my bag i’ll be fine useing the restroom every so often to let him walk around while i do my business. has anyone travelled that streatch before? and if so could you tell me what the customs in chicago will be like?

  • Denise

    I’m in a long distance relationship and at least once a month I drive from Philadelphia to Massachusetts. I drive because I have two small dogs (Bichon-Poos) and Amtrak doesn’t allow dogs. I have been making the trip back and forth for about seven years now.

    When I did the math, using $150 as the round trip estimate, I calculated that Amtrak has lost $12,600. because of their “no pets” policy. When you consider the fact that Amtrak has never become self-sufficient and continues to rely heavily on government subsidies, (i.e.; taxpayers money), their “no pets” policy doesn’t make any sense–economic or otherwise.

  • What a helpful comment, Denise! That is a heap of cash — and cash is what Amtrak sorely needs. A fellow blogger is considering starting a petition to Amtrak to change its pet policy, and I hope she does — surely Amtrak can’t be unaware of people’s interest in traveling with their pets, but we need to move it up on their agenda of discussion items.

  • Jessica

    Bummer!

    I was hoping to take the dogs on an adventure to Portland by train. I knew I could find the answer here – it just wasn’t the one I was hoping for 🙁

  • shirl

    I also called Amtrak, and found out that I couldn’t bring my 8 lb dog on the train. I have been driving from San Diego to LA to see family, but I am almost 80 and the trip is getting too much for me. Any legitimate suggestions?

  • Hello, shirl! Let’s all hope that Amtrak reverses its policy soon…. In the meantime, I’d consider taking Metrolink between L.A. and Oceanside, and the Coaster between Oceanside and your nearest stop in San Diego. Metrolink allows small pet dogs in carrier onboard (http://www.dogjaunt.com/2009/06/traveling-by-los-angeles-area-public-transit/ ) and the Coaster site says the same thing: http://www.gonctd.com/safety_security

    You’ll have to study the schedules carefully to make a good connection, but it looks like it would work. Good luck — please let me know how it goes!

  • David

    So the bottom line for traveling with a dog (sneaking a dog on) Amtrak is: do so at your own risk? I’ve registered my dog as a service animal (papers/wallet card/tag/patch). Does anyone know if this is sufficient for Amtrak? Will they ask my dog to perform some type of service animal-related task? Should I pretend to be blind?

  • As far as sneaking goes, certainly you do so at your own risk. I don’t know about the service-dog gambit (assuming it is a gambit, and not a real need) — that’s not a path I’ve taken.

  • caitlin

    we’re getting a chihuahua soon, so i’m not sure how noisy he’ll be at first 😉 but my in-laws live in grand rapids and we’re used to taking amtrak regularly from chicago. union station in chicago is pretty chaotic and noisy- i’m sure the dog would be fine once on the train, but i’d hate to be stuck in chicago because we were caught boarding. do you have any other suggestions for doggie travel in the midwest? flying to GR is crazy expensive- it’s cheaper to fly to LA- and grand rapids isn’t a big enough city for megabus. the internet says dogs aren’t allowed on greyhound either- the irony!

  • Hi, Caitlin — I understand your vexation with Amtrak (oh, how I do), with expensive flights, and with the big bus lines. It looks like the cities are about 3 hours’ driving distance apart, so my first reaction would be to rent a car, secure your pup in it, and make the drive. You could do it easily in a day, but it wouldn’t be as cheap as Amtrak — maybe about $150 each way. It would be cheaper than flying, for sure. How about advertising on Craigslist for shared driving to GR and back?

  • Kate R

    As a professional service dog trainer:

    Just a note for all those people buying the ‘fake’ service dog vests – you are doing a great dis-service to all of the truly disabled people who depend on their dogs.

    Your pet was not trained or raised to be an assistant – Leave them at home or with a loved one.
    By pretending that your dog is a service dog you make it more difficult for people who need these highly trained dogs in their everyday life. If your pet misbehaves or (god-forbid) bites someone you have just set up another barrier that a disabled person is going to have to try to overcome. When you put a ‘fake’ service dog vest on your dog you are not only committing a crime, but you are committing a moral crime as well.

    The next time you see a disabled person being given the sixth degree about whether or not their legitimate service dog is real – Just remember that all the people who want to take Bobo along on vacation are to blame.

  • Val

    Seeing that Amtrak is subsidized and has a monopoly on train travel, citizens should have some voice in their pet policies.
    They could have a separate area for those traveling with pets and charge an extra fee, or require the passenger and pet stay in one of their roomettes.
    I’m sure this would increase ridership and profits.
    Anyone want to get a petition going?

  • Nellie Seiden

    Please let me know if someone want to start a petition to allow small dogs in amtrack. I would like to participate because I want to take my toy poodle cookie with me on trips.
    Nellie

  • jhoannarose

    Last summer, I was living with my boyfriend’s family in Palmdale, Ca and I was planning a solo trip to visit my family in the Central California using Amtrak train/Bus ..

    I have a yorkie, very well behaved, quiet, lazy dog. I was going to leave her in Palmdale but my motherly instinct of my baby (my dog), I couldn’t bare the thought of leaving her .. I had a zebra doggy purse, which looks like a regular hobo purse. Plus, she is use to being in it, so .. I just said “fuck it”. I definitely took my dog at my own risk and I kid you not, it’s not as bad as you all think.

    If you can be sneaky and low key, than you can pull it off. The train ride was two hours in a half and the bus ride was another two hours. On the train, i sat in a four seater with a table .. I had my bags, including my dog in her doggy bag underneath the table till the ticket conductor came around for my ticket but once he left, i had her sitting in her doggy bag next to me. Just sooo she can see me and not be afraid. I had one hand in the bag, comforting her and the other was used to turn the page on my book. She didn’t peek her head out or make a noise. The Amtrak ride was a success.

    When we got into the bus, I can tell she was a bit anxious to get out. I sat in the middle area, i had my bags loaded and just had my doggy bag and a blanket with me in the bus. once the bus started rolling, I thought I could pull off what I was doing in the train but my dog was getting more bothered being stuck in the bag. She did loud bark ONCE but it didn’t sound like a bark. Nobody looked for the noise, nor did the bus driver. Everyone was in their zone. But after she made that bark noise, I discreetly took my dog out and had her lay on my lap covered in the blanket. She just knocked out and the bus ride was a piece of cake.

    So, that is my experience with the Amtrak train/Greyhound bus & my dog. She is about 10lb yorkie, and I didn’t have any trouble with her. I was super worried and paranoid the whole time but the closer I got the my destination, it just got easier. Just relax, don’t make a scene and you will do goood. Hope my story helps :))

  • I’m so sorry it took me so long to approve this one, Jhoanna! That’s the downside of having a “moderation” step on comments — I get flurried, and comments get buried for awhile. Now then — I suspect there will be people who scold you for sneaking your pup on the train and bus. I can’t get that worked up, myself, because if there had been an issue with a super-allergic fellow passenger, you could have left the bus or train. It would have been an exciting moment for you two, but that was the risk you took, and you knew that going in. Like I say, my husband is way too risk-averse to try it, but I really appreciate hearing from someone more daredevil. Thanks so much for your report!!

  • Fran

    Am soooo discouraged. My 4.5 lb 11 year old Maltese is getting too stressed when we go anywhere. She’s ended up going to the vet on the return of our last 3 trips because she’s out of her environment. My husband even has a script to carry her with him for his anxiety – however can’t get from Syracuse to Chicago. Although we can bring her on the plane, I am having a much harder time flying than I used to (I really hate it) and so wanted to take a train – or even a bus. Now I have a new grandson I am not able to get to. Wouldn’t mind having someone stay at my house but certainly don’t want to have a stranger and everyone seems to be “too busy”. Just sad…….

  • Fran, I’m so sorry to hear all this! Perhaps you could get in a carpool via Craigslist? Or speak seriously to one of your friends and get them to house-sit — I’m sure that when you let them know about the baby, they’ll rally around. But you’re right, of course — how much easier this would all be if Amtrak took a leaf from the airlines’ playbook.

  • Jessica T

    I have a unique perspective, being both a severe pet allergy sufferer AND an owner of two travel-sized dogs. My dogs are American Hairless Terriers, and my dog allergies actually have gotten less severe as I’ve owned them, but I’ve been in the position of having to cope with an animal snuck into public situations (or even validly allowed as a service animal) in which I believed myself safe that gave me an extremely serious allergic reaction.

    It’s important to me that people understand how allergic individuals are affected by this. It isn’t that we just get a bit stuffy and sneezy and itchy and then as soon as we go somewhere else or the pet leaves, we’re back to normal. We are generally not all that healthy to start out with–it’s impossible to have a robust immune system when we’re constantly reacting to innocuous environmental particles like they are bubonic plague or some other extreme emergency. Then, when a bunch of animal dander gets breathed in, we have this massive inflammatory reaction, often with an asthma attack. This further exhausts the immune system, causes our entire respiratory tract to become more vulnerable to infection–lungs, sinuses, throat, eyes, all of it. Often, our sinuses get clogged and swollen shut, causing severe headaches and a mass of gunk that can’t get flushed out, perfect for growing bacteria. We feel tired and uncomfortable for days, despite taking medications that make us dull, drowsy, dehydrated, and make our hearts race. Then, we often get sick with a cold or a sinus infection that our bodies can’t fight off. We miss work, we find our jobs in jeopardy from too much sick time, and our challenging lives get that much less bearable.

    As the city air quality gets worse, more and more people with severe allergies are born each year. We are not at all rare, as you can see from peanut-free school policies popping up across the country.

    Now that I have my dogs, I want to take them everywhere! But, even though they are the least allergenic dog breed out there, they still produce dander and I would never want to make someone sick. When allergy sufferers know that there may be animals, we can avoid that mode of transport or, failing that, at least take extra medication ahead of time (would rather suffer the awful side effects for a few hours during the trip than the aftereffects mentioned) and wear a mask (although I’ve been harassed by flight attendants for wearing a mask, and then it is impossible to stay hydrated or eat anything unless you take it off). When animals are snuck into an enclosed place like a train, though, our health can be seriously impacted and there is nothing we can really do about it.

    I think most people who don’t worry much about allergy sufferers just don’t understand that it isn’t a matter of that person simply noticing that they are allergic to something in this train car and switching to another or asking the authority to kick the smuggler out. The effects persist for at least 3 days, often 3 weeks, and regularly 6 weeks (allergy, cold, then secondary sinus infection). By all means, please do lobby for clear policies on pets, lobby for cars in which pets are allowed and can thus be avoided. But please also know that if you do run across someone who is allergic enough to pets that yours being present will really bother them, it isn’t an issue of discomfort or selfishness for them–it really is one of their entire quality of life. Please don’t be angry at someone who needs a space free of animal dander–with most of us, our allergies are a horrible trial and the need to speak up against someone breaking the rules is the very last thing we want to do, but the fewer allergens we breathe the better our chances are of recovering quickly and not having our plans for the next few weeks ruined. And remember us when you make your choices. I can understand how much a person would want their beloved companion to get to come along with us, I do. But sometimes our choices impact more than just ourselves, and when we break the rules, we can endanger people who probably deserve the chance to have a safe and healthy trip too. Allergies are nothing to sneeze at! =-)

  • It is really helpful to have your insight, Jessica — thank you, and thank you for the measured, persuasive way you wrote your comment. I desperately wish someone would fund a real, scientific study about the efficacy of carriers in containing dander — it would be enormously helpful for airplane travelers, and it would help Amtrak decide whether to return to the days when they allowed pets on board. How do you handle the possibility of being around a service animal? Do you find yourself thinking about taking the proactive medication regularly, in case you encounter a service animal? (Your point about knowing in advance that pets are welcome is a good one, but how do you handle service animals, which can appear anywhere?)

  • marlene

    I would travel on the train with my little dog if allowed. I can’t understand why they are not allowed. They won’t even give this a chance. This country doesn’t care about trains. It’s totally wrong

  • Daisy Paradis

    I snuck my parrot on Amtrak from New Haven to to Boston. I got a funny look from the conductor in the New Haven train station, but he is in a small carrier and stays quiet on long car trips. I think they knew, but if you don’t make it a problem for them…no problem.
    But my plan B was NYC–New Haven–New London regional trains, rent a taxi to Providence, ($160), Prov. –Boston regional train.

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