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Reader’s report: Tips from a trip to the Bahamas

Amanda, a loyal Dog Jaunt reader, spends part of every year in the Bahamas. This year, for the first time, she and her husband took Wrigley, their 18 month-old Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix with them. Amanda very kindly sent me an e-mail about their trip, packed with good information, and (thanks, Amanda!!) said that I was welcome to share it with other Dog Jaunt readers.

It will help to know that Wrigley weighs 15 lbs., and that Amanda and her family started in Los Angeles, flew to Miami, changed planes, and continued to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. They flew on American Airlines, and their total travel time was 17 hours door-to-door eastbound, and 13 hours door-to-door westbound. They chose to take an overnight flight from LAX to MIA for Wrigley’s first flight, since “he’s used to being crated overnight anyway.” How sensible!

Choice of in-cabin carrier

Amanda told me that she chose a large SturdiBag for Wrigley, and took the time to get him used to being in it: “We had been taking him on long drives in his SturdiBag for months before the trip, and I think his familiarity with the carrier helped a lot.” He turned out to be an excellent traveler, enduring two very long journeys “without a fuss or a whimper or a bark.”

“Though I worried that the SturdiBag was several inches taller than American’s maximum under-seat dimensions, not one ticket/gate agent or flight attendant on any of our flights batted an eye at it. Having said that, though the SturdiBag Large is a full inch shorter AND narrower than American’s maximum dimensions, it was a squeeze to get it crossway under the seats on both outgoing flights. (I think we were on a 757 for the LAX-MIA leg and an ATR 72 commuter jet from MIA-Marsh Harbour.) I’m curious to know whether others who use the SturdiBag Large stow it crossways (with the side of the container facing you) under the seat or lengthwise (with the end facing you.)”

 [I’ll provide my answer, but Amanda and I would both welcome hearing from other travelers. I used to position Chloe’s carrier left-to-right (with the side facing me) under the seat in front of me, since that way it hardly projected at all into the area around my feet and didn’t attract the flight attendants’ attention. More recently — say over the past few months — I’ve been positioning it front-to-back (with the end facing me), so I can reach into the top hatch of Chloe’s large SturdiBag and pat her during take-off and landing. It makes for a uncomfortable, curled-up take-off and landing for me, but it seems to comfort Chloe. In that position, her carrier does project a few inches into the area that flight attendants like to keep clear, but so far no one has objected. I like to have the option of turning her carrier left-to-right, if a flight attendant does call me on it, so I choose seats where that would be feasible.]

At the airport

Amanda sent a description of two of the pet relief areas at the Miami airport, but I’ll save those for a separate post. I wanted to share with you a lesson she learned during their first pit stop:

“Upon arrival in MIA, I rushed him outside for a potty break, leaving my husband, Tom, in the secure area with our carry-on bags. When I tried to go back through security, they asked for the receipt showing we’d paid for Wrigley to travel as a carry-on pet. Unfortunately, Tom had the receipt, and I wasn’t allowed back through security without it. So, he had to drag all the carry-on bags out in order to bring me the receipt, and we both had to clear security again. In future, we’ll tuck the receipt into the pocket of Wrigley’s carrier, so it’s always with him.”

[I’ve had a similar problem — I left my boarding pass with my husband when Chloe and I dashed out to the Las Vegas airport pet relief area — and I’m confident that neither Amanda nor I will ever do anything like it again. What a pain!]

“Before [our next] trip, we want to train Wrigley to use pee pads. We’ll always schedule enough time between flights to allow a potty break in the airport’s relief area. But if a flight were delayed, or we were stuck in the secure area or on a plane (as happened when we arrived back in L.A.!), it would be reassuring to know Wrigley would still get a chance to do his business.”

And here’s another lesson learned — this one, I’ve never encountered:

“When leaving L.A., we were charged $175 to bring Wrigley on the plane. I told the ticket agent this was higher than I was quoted when I booked the flights, but she just shrugged and said rates had increased. On our return trip, however, we were only charged $125. When I compared receipts from the two transactions, I realized the L.A. ticket agent had charged us the ‘checked pet’ rate — which is $50 more than the ‘carry-on pet’ rate. We’ve begun the process of applying for a refund, but in future we’ll definitely print a copy of the airline’s pet policy/charges from their website and bring it with us.”

Here’s a tip I love. I’ll be updating Chloe’s travel check list and packing list as soon as I publish this post:

“On the return flights out of Marsh Harbour and Miami, it was sweltering on the planes while we were on the ground. And though Wrigley survived it all, it was far from ideal. Next trip, I’ll carry one of those tiny, hand-held fans to help keep him cool. (If you or your readers have any other suggestions, let me know!)”

In the Bahamas

Was it worth it? Amanda’s report was joyous, despite a mishap just before they returned home:

“Once we arrived at our final destination, Green Turtle Cay, Wrigley quickly settled in, and he had a wonderful three weeks! As with most of the Bahamian out islands, Green Turtle Cay is very laid back, and many restaurants have outdoor dining areas, so we could take Wrigley virtually everywhere. He loved being able to run off-leash on the beach, though several times he got distracted by birds, etc., and ran off. He always came back, but we’ll definitely be working more on the ‘come’ command before our next trip. He adored playing and digging on the beach, riding around in a golf cart, and meeting other dogs.

Sadly, Wrigley’s fun ended two days before the end of our trip, when he took a nasty spill off our golf cart. He was yelping and obviously in distress, so we scooped him up in a towel and rushed him to the nearest vet, who was a 20-minute ferry ride and a 30-minute drive away. Thankfully, we’d researched the closest vet before our trip, so we knew exactly where to go, and we were able to get Wrigley to the vet within an hour and fifteen minutes of the accident.”

There is a happy ending: “Wrigley suffered no major injuries or broken bones – just a sprained elbow. The vet prescribed some pain medication and two weeks of crate rest. Now, two weeks later, he’s still limping a little, but is clearly feeling much better.” Amanda and Tom and Wrigley are already planning their next trip, up the West Coast to Vancouver.

10 comments

  • Mia

    Loved this post! SO useful for me since my parents are about to move to the Bahamas. This means I will probably, sooner rather than later, be taking my Callie to the Bahamas with me. I’m wondering–from Mary Alice or Amanda or anyone!–what the Bahamian requirements are for taking a dog there on a short term/vacation basis. I am assuming health certificate and rabies vaccination…anything else? Also–if I stay more than 10 days before coming back to the US, I guess I would need to get a Bahamian health certificate for the way back? Thanks! (oh and I would be taking her as a carry-on, not as cargo, if that makes any difference)

  • Amanda

    Hi, Mia. So glad the info was useful for you! Mary-Alice and the various Dog Jaunt readers were SO helpful to us in planning our first trip with Wrigley, we wanted to pass along some of the things we learned.

    It’s actually quite easy to take a dog to the Bahamas. You need to get an import permit, which you can get from the Bahamian Dept of Agriculture for $10 ($15 if you want them to fax rather than mail the permit to you.) Use the link Mary-Alice provided above… at the bottom of that page is a link to the pet importation permit application. It’s pretty straight forward. One caution, though… the Bahamian postal system is incredibly slow, so either send your application a few months in advance to be safe, or if time is an issue, bite the bullet as we did and FedEx your paperwork to the Bahamas Dept. of Agriculture. When you receive your import permit, it lists the other paperwork you’ll need (namely, a veterinary health certificate from your vet issued no more than 48 hours before travel, as well as a brief form that your vet needs to complete and sign.)

    Coming back to the States is a lot easier. You don’t need any sort of vet certification in the Bahamas — just paperwork showing your dog has his/her rabies vaccine. We also brought copies of Wrigley’s dog license paperwork and original adoption papers, in case the US customs and border patrol folks questioned whether Wrigley was in fact American. I don’t even think they looked at any of it!

    Anyhow, hope that’s helpful. Where in the Bahamas are your folks moving to?

    Amanda

  • Patty

    Hi Amanda!

    Mary-Alice, it was Amanda who first sent me, and Truffles, to your blog! 🙂

    We’re leaving the Bahamas (the Abacos, same as Amanda, and they’re the REAL Bahamas) after our annual ten months here, and heading to Canada. We will be doing Toronto (again – yucky pet options there), Ottawa (will report in), Edmonton (will report in), Victoria (magnificent pet relief option there) and then LAX too, and Seattle briefly.

    Patty

  • Oh, how funny, Patty — it’s a small world. What a shame to leave the Abacos, but you couldn’t choose two better months to be in Canada — safe travels, and thank you in advance for the scouting work. I just love my Dog Jaunt readers!

  • Megan

    Your blog has been such a great resource to me, and this post makes me quite jealous… looks like I may have to make myself a Pina Colada and pretend I’m on the beaches of the Bahamas and hope that will tide me over until I can plan a trip down there!

    Do you have any tips on getting your pup used to going in the Large SturdiBag? Our dog is a Jack Russell/Miniature Pinscher mix, and I suspect he’s quite similar in size to your Chloe. He’s only about 14 lbs, but has long gangly legs that make him just as tall (if not a little taller) than the carrier’s height. We bought the bag last week to start getting him used to it in time for our holiday travels, and he wants nothing to do with it. We’ve been feeding him in it, but he stretches out as long as possible to keep his back two legs and rump out of the carrier. We’ve put treats in, but he darts in, grabs them and runs out. We leave it sitting out for him to explore (normally he loves curling up under chairs and in little nooks) but he avoids it all together. Because of his size and the design of the bag (no way to put him in from the top) trying to force him in doesn’t seem possible, or very pleasant! I’m already having nightmares of a meltdown after security trying to wedge him back in… Any ideas?

  • Amanda

    Hey, Patty, question for you. What paperwork do you need to bring Truffles into Canada? We’re heading home to Vancouver for Christmas this year, and I’m trying to figure out what paperwork I need to arrange for Wrigley. Thanks in advance and safe travels.

    Amanda

    P.S. How long will you be at LAX during your upcoming travels? We should try to meet up! (LAX terminals are great for pet relief, as most of the arrivals areas have grassy strips just across from the exits. Very convenient!)

  • Megan, that’s a tough one. I think the best thing you can do, if you have time, is to keep on doing what you’re doing — feed him in there, put your tastiest treats in there, etc. If you can coax him all the way in, take him on a very short walk to somewhere really fun — for Chloe, that would be the local independent pet store, which is a treat dispenser in her eyes. And so on. Consider spritzing D.A.P. in there — it’s an expensive item, but some people have good results with it. I’m not so concerned about getting him back in after security, because at the airport, he’ll be so uncertain of himself that he’ll likely shoot back into the bag in relief. That’s been my experience with Chloe, in the early days (now she needs a good treat), and with our cat Otto (not a seasoned traveler by any means).

  • Megan

    Thanks for the advice! We are making some small progress… I can coax him in and hold the flap closed while he eats his food. Once he’s done eating, he panics and backs out quickly, though. I will definitely be investing in the DAP to see if that helps. I suspect we may have to zip him in and let him panic a little, calm down, realize it’s ok, and then praise and treat heavily! I’m so glad we bought the SturdiBag almost four months before Thanksgiving and have time to work on this… Can’t imagine dealing with this in the throes of the holidays!

  • I’m glad to hear about the progress, Megan, and I too am glad that you started the project so far in advance. It takes time, as I learned (to my dismay) with Chloe’s pee pad training — which I really need to get back to.

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