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Taking your big dog on New York City’s subway: Options for big carriers

I’ve singled out NYC in the title of this post because I hear about this issue in connection with that city’s subway — and here’s why: The rules for bringing a pet onto the New York City subway say only that your pet must be “enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.” They do not include the words “small” or “lap.”

New Yorkers have noticed both of those things, and they search for workable ways to carry their big dogs on the subway. One option I learned about years ago is a wheeled carrier that Celltei first made for a 50 lb. Portuguese Water Dog — it’s a beauty, but it’s also just shy of $600.

Reader Leann saw the Celltei carrier and had the same reaction most of the rest of us have: Nice, but, dang. She wrote and asked me whether I’d seen the XL Pet Life 360° Vista View House, a carrier large enough that in one comment on Amazon, a user noted it was too large for her 50 lb. shepherd mix. I hadn’t, and I asked her to let me know if it met her needs.

The Pet Life carrier ended up being way, way too much carrier for Leann and Joy, her 40 lb. Vizsla (“It was huge and probably heavier than the dog crate that I used for the airplane ride from Hungary. It was incredibly heavy and had large metal bars. There was no way that I could handle carrying it with my dog”). Back to the drawing board, and this time, Leann came up with an ingeniously simple idea.

She had seen this post on Martha Stewart’s site, about converting an L.L. Bean canvas tote into a pet tote, and decided to do the same thing, but much bigger. Leann bought the same classic tote but in the XL size, and with the extra-long handles. She ended up not cutting the neck notch out, as Martha suggests, because her pup “has long legs and doesn’t need it.”

The verdict? Totally successful: “It works great. Perfect and light. The bottom is sturdy for her to stand in and I will probably buy some faux Sherpa [fleece] to line it. It’s great for subway rides in the city.” Here’s the first picture she sent:

Joy in her XL tote (please note the extra-long handles, so Leann can carry her over her shoulder)

Joy, a 40 lb. Vizsla, in her XL tote

This whole idea knocks me sideways, it’s so smart (granted, it’ll only work if your back has the strength and structural integrity it takes to carry a 40 lb. dog over one shoulder). I have just two issues to raise with it, and neither is a deal-breaker. The first is that those totes (and I have a million of them, roughly speaking) can only be spot-cleaned. If they go through a washer or, worse, a dryer, they get all soft and floppy (wrinkly too, but that’s cosmetic). Spot cleaning works remarkably well, but after a while the spots will win. The totes are reasonably priced, though, so it wouldn’t break the bank simply to buy a new one at that point. You could buy the nylon option (presumably easier to wash), but it doesn’t come big enough for a big dog, and lightweight nylon is much floppier than thick cotton canvas — I suspect your dog would end up feeling like she was dangling at the bottom of a plastic grocery sack.

The other issue is whether an open-topped tote meets the rule that the pup is “enclosed in a container.” It hasn’t been a concern for Leann, so far: “She hasn’t had issues of jumping out, and I thought about getting the zippered version but I think it would have jutted into her neck, when I looked at it.” As you can see in the picture below, “the top of the bag naturally closes over her. If it ever becomes a problem, I envisioned getting mesh fabric and sewing a flap that I would secure with a zipper or snaps.”

The carrier in action on the subway

The carrier in action on the subway

If it were me, I’d buy an XL tote, just as Leann did, but I’d get it from Land’s End (which makes a significantly bigger XL tote than L.L. Bean’s), because I’d get it with the zippered top. Perhaps I wouldn’t use the zipper every time, but if I were challenged, it’d be there to close over my dog’s head. How about airflow, in that case? The New York subway system can be beastly hot, as many of you know all too well. I’d copy a feature I’ve seen in a couple of carriers and put twenty or so huge grommets in each of the bag’s ends.

To satisfy my own curiosity, I bought a grommet kit in the biggest size I could find (I got mine at Seattle Fabrics, an outfitter for adventurous, crafty types, but I’ve provided an Amazon link, below) and I installed a sample grommet in the end of a tote I had lying around. It worked fine, and wasn’t hard at all — be sure to use a mallet, not a hammer (not gonna lie, I also used a couple of very gentle taps from our sledgehammer right at the end, but a hammer is really not a good substitute — it just has too small a whacking area), and be sure to point the bigger piece of the grommet inwards, so the pretty side of the assemblage faces outwards.

Here’s what it looks like when you poke the bigger part of the grommet OUT of the bag — not tragic, obviously, but not as sleek as it could be. Please note, for scale, that this tote’s handles are 1.5” wide.

Here’s what it looks like when you poke the bigger piece of the grommet OUT of the bag — not tragic, obviously, but not as sleek as it could be. Please note, for scale, that this tote’s handles are 1.5” wide.

As you can see, each grommet will create a really substantial hole, and you’ll be able, in a pinch, to zip your pet completely into the tote without worrying that she’ll expire before you reach your destination.

Please note that while the grommet kit is pricey (right around $35), there’s no reason it wouldn’t last, essentially, forever (you’ll need a new piece of wood every so often). The grommets themselves are not expensive. They come in brass, nickel-plated brass, and a darkened, near-black finish too. The biggest size grommet I could find, and I think it’s as big as you’d need, is Size 4, which has a 1/2” opening (the grommet itself is 1″ wide overall).

This is such a wonderfully practical and affordable idea, Leann. I’m confident you’ll be seeing more big dogs in totes on the subway in the future, and it’ll all be thanks to you!

Amazon link:

C.S. Osborne Set-It-Yourself Grommet Kit Size 4

 

30 comments

  • Galahad and Yvaine

    HmmmMMmmm.

    I think I’ve gotten extra-large heavy-duty (last-forever) grommet setting kits, as well as really heavy duty grommets, at local hardware stores for cheaper than C.S. Osborne’s would be (perhaps the farm and lumber store, maybe one of the big box stores, can’t remember–I’ve had it and been using it that long).

    CSO is absolutely awesome if you’re a professional worker in leather or heavy fabric, but it’s not necessary to go all the way with CSO for an occasional use.

    That is a very clever use of grommets.

  • angevine49

    Bonjour,
    En lisant ton article, j’ étais étonnée par le principe de mettre un chien ” en cage ” surtout un gros pour prendre le métro. Bon, je ne rencontre pas ce problème étant donné que je suis à la campagne.

    Pour transporter ton chien, je pensais que cela pourrais éventuellement être sympa de faire un trou de la forme désiré sur le côté de ton sac puis d’ y coudre un peu de tulle et de cacher les découpes ou l’ assemblage avec un joli biais ou ruban. Ainsi, ton animal aurait une bonne aération même avec le sac fermé. Bon je ne suis pas une spécialiste des voyages comme toi mais cela peut être une idée …

    Bon week end

  • I love the idea of the mesh panel trimmed with bias tape or ribbon! I just don’t have those skills, not really — whacking grommets is more my line. The metro system in Paris is a little different — only small dogs in carriers are allowed on the metro, while the RER allows big dogs onboard so long as they’re leashed and muzzled. New York’s metro rules, therefore, are better for big dogs than Paris’s metro rules — somehow you have to find a way to contain them, but they are allowed on board — but not as good as the Ile de France’s RER rules. Every place is a little different — here in Seattle, dogs of any size are allowed on public transit, so long as they’re leashed (no carrier requirement!), but big dogs have to pay a fare.

  • Chris

    I have a 65lb Shepherd Mix, very friendly and well-behaved, and I’ve managed to sneak him onto the NYC Subway now and again , but it’s always dicey–you can’t let them see you get on with the dog, or they’ll make you get off.

    I’ve ogled the Celtei bags for years now, and cheaper alternataives, but aside from the price, the problem with containers is what do you do with them once you get off? If I want to take him to an offleash hours park, or stroll around Greenwich Village, I don’t want to be lugging one of these things around with me. No place you can check one. It defeats the whole purpose.

    Big dogs on a leash are allowed on Metro-North (no muzzle required), but that only goes down as far as Grand Central, and there’s no station within walking distance of where I live. It’s great, but of limited application unless you’re heading north of the city.

    None of it makes the least bit of sense. We really should be able to pay an extra fare to take our leashed dogs on the trains during offpeak hours. In Boston, they allow this, and don’t even charge extra–no problems.

    But since this is New York, and the dog-haters would freak if anybody so much as proposed this, I may look into the tote. Max might just barely fit in it, but I couldn’t carry him very far over my shoulder. The trick would be to make sure you get off right by a handy exit, so you can just scoot right out once you reach your destination–no lifting and toting required once you’re off the platform. This app might prove handy–

    http://www.exitstrategynyc.com/

    Mayor de Blasio, you spent a lot of time in Boston–you know dogs on the trains can work–FIX THIS.

  • KAS

    This is amazing! We’re getting a dog and I’d been agonizing over how to get it from our UES apartment to other neighborhoods downtown for visiting. Ordering the Lands End tote ASAP!

  • ML

    Looks good for the calmer dogs. Mine will likely jump out of the tote. Also, during crowded hours, I’ll prefer to carry the bag, which won’t provide proper support for him while I clutch the tote midair. I’ve tried. :p Back to square one.

  • Robin

    Hi , I decided to get a Newfoundland pup and his coming and I want to take puppy classes and getting around N.Y. to take a class I don’t know if I could carry him for long. Does anyone have any other ideas.

  • Hi, Robin — You’re right, that pup’s going to be more than a shoulder-full really soon. You might look into a pet taxi service — significantly more pricey than the subway, but maybe worth it for this training period. The one you choose will depend on your neighborhood, but a Yelp search for “pet taxi” will get you some good options, like Midtown’s Petexpress.

  • benedita

    there’s a place [in NYC] on 38th street btw 7th & 8th that will set grommets for you with their grommet press. a time saving service. Not sure how big their grommets go… I recall small lacing sizes & medium, but maybe they can do large ones too. Steinlauf and Stoller. they mostly sell notions and tools to the fashion industry, what little there is left of it. [Thanks, Benedita! Here’s the link to S&S’s page: http://www.steinlaufandstoller.com]

  • Rachel

    I bought the bag (thanks for the tip!) and am now working on bag training my pit/lab/vizla mix to sit in it… Any tips on how to do this? She likes the bag because food magically appears in the bottom (hah!) but she gets nervous to get all the way in and sit, making it much more awkward to carry!

  • Patience, treats, and praise are the only ingredients I know of, Rachel. I’m guessing that you have a nice soft pad in there for her to appreciate? You might also drape some old, used tees of yours over the sides, so it smells good to her. But otherwise, I’d keep heaving the delicious treats in and praising her to the skies for hopping in and staying in.

  • Amanda

    I live in New York City and find that MTA employees never, ever enforce dog rules of any kind! I’ve seen small dogs on laps, in the seats, big dogs standing/sitting/laying with their owners, and everything in between! In fact, I’ve actually never seen a dog in-carrier on a subway train!

  • Mariana

    Hello Mary-Alice,
    In your experience which one has a sturdier bottom?
    I have a spaniel mix, she is short but long and weights 30 pounds.
    I’d like to get one but would prefer the sturdier bottom if possible. Did you notice any difference between the LLBean and Lands End?
    Thanks for the advice, love your blog!
    M

  • Ro

    This is immensely helpful. I HAVE seen tickets issued to people who don’t have their dogs in carriers (but I have seen many cases where no action was taken either – it’s just pure dumb luck, I suppose). I find the rule to be a bit of a nuisance, and quite amazing, given some of the things that I’ve seen HUMANS do on the trains.

  • A.D.

    Just wanted to thank you for this amazing idea, which is great for small dogs as well as big. As Chris points out, when I take my dog on the subway, I want to go somewhere where I’ll be doing a lot of walking and I don’t want to lug around a bulky carrier. For this situation, I care more about my comfort than my dog’s comfort since he won’t be in the carrier for long periods of time – never more than half an hour.

    My dog is 16 pounds and he has a tall, skinny build. I checked out the Wagwear tote and liked it a lot but couldn’t justify spending almost $200 on the zippered large version. I ended up buying the Land’s End zip tote (they no longer seem to be selling the dog tote version), but the sides do get floppy if I set down the bag. My dog obediently remains inside, but he doesn’t look at all “enclosed” for subway purposes. I’m going to try zipping it up while his head is poking out whenever I have to set him down. I know people with 55 pound golden doodles who regularly take their dogs on the subway in the extra large LL Bean totes, so perhaps this is a better option. I think LL Bean now makes larger totes with zippers and it’s only slightly more expensive than Land’s End’s version but the sides seem to be more sturdy. The good thing about floppy sides is that the bag is really not at all onerous to carry while walking around a park after the subway ride!

    Rachel, I’m sure you have by now sufficiently trained your dog to get into her tote, but I found this video exceptionally helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN76kcecTOs I found it really helped to turn the bag on its side when training my dog to go inside. It takes some time to guide him into place so his entire body is inside the bag. At first he’d rush to the bag with just his front half inside and then look at me expectantly. I had to guide him into place by making him follow my finger. He also doesn’t mind if I have to give his butt a little push at the end (he always gets paid for it).

  • Ever

    Why not just buy a dog stroller for subways and so you can bring them in stores and such without having to stress and tote around a big or small dog all day… If you look around they are about $40 for the cheap ones

  • The stroller idea is an intriguing one. On the bright side, I think it would fit the rules, since your pup would be enclosed; and heaven knows it would be easier on your back to roll, not carry, your pet. On the other hand, strollers are a pain in the metro for the people using them (you need to find and use the elevator, which is a slice of hell in itself; and turnstiles don’t work with strollers), and they’re a pain for your fellow travelers to dodge around on the platform and in the cars. Maybe choose to use a stroller during off-peak times?

  • Hideously late replying to this, Mariana, but possibly better late than never. To me, the bags seem nearly identical in weight. The L.L. Bean one might have more sizing, so it’s stiffer, but the underlying canvas seems equally thick/sturdy.

  • Veronica

    I purchased the XL LL Bean Boat and Tote bag for my Chow Chow pup. She’s about 20 pounds right now, and the bag is way too big for her. I tried carrying her around and it’s honestly so heavy (maybe I have weak arms), but another 20 pounds and I don’t think I’d be able to tote her around easily. I’m expecting her to grow into it, but I might purchase a large bag in the meantime, because this bag really is pretty large. Be prepared to have arms of steel within a few weeks, even 20 pounds is no joke on your shoulder.

  • Arya Stark

    Nope. The only dogs allowed on the subways are service dogs, and that doesn’t include therapy or emotional support dogs. You must have proof that you are disabled, or that you are a professional trainer. Plus, all dogs must be harnessed or leashed. “…service animals, or to animals which are being trained as service animals and are accompanying persons with disabilities, or to animals which are being trained as service animals by a professional trainer. All service animals and animals being trained as service animals must be harnessed or leashed.” http://web.mta.info/nyct/rules/rules.htm

  • No, that is not correct, Arya. Scroll down to Section 1050.9(h), and you’ll see the language I’ve quoted and photographed in this post. Here’s another link to the Rules of Conduct, to save effort: http://web.mta.info/nyct/rules/rules.htm The language “unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers” means that pets enclosed in a container and carried in a non-annoying manner are okay.

  • Maya

    I have a 53 pound husky and based on the photos on the Lands End site, I don’t think she’d fit in the bag. Do you think it’s possible or should I look for other options?

  • Hi, Maya — Why not give it a try? I’d get the Land’s End XL tote, rather than the L.L. Bean one, as I say. Worst case is you return it, or you own a great new laundry tote….

  • Rachel

    Hi Mary-Alice (and Maya) – I bought the Land’s End XL tote for my 53 lb. pit/lab mix, and she does fit in the bag – it is VERY roomy! However, 53 lbs of dog is a LOT to carry around the streets of NY…

    I had a thought to try and add a piece of wood or metal with wheels/casters to the bottom so it can become a rolling bag, and so it’s sturdier for her to sit in. Something like this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Add-wheels-to-your-luggage!/

    Good luck!

  • Maya

    Mary-Alice: A good point! I will probably order it and try.

    Rachel – That’s a great idea! I’ll definitely look into it. And glad to know that your dog fits, thank you 🙂

  • Rachel

    No problem! Just note that idk if Maka could or would lie down inside the bag for it to close over her head like other dog bags do for small dogs, but it is tall, and it’s certainly enough room for her to sit up in it with her head poking out. It comes up to kind of her shoulder or mid-neck when she’s sitting.

    I actually relocated from NY, so I never added the wheels to Maka’s bag, and now it’s just an amazingly HUGE bag for my stuff.

  • Mary-Alice

    Drat, Rachel, I was hoping you might be cracking your knuckles and charging the cordless screwdriver. Hmmm, maybe I’ll give it a whirl. It is such a cool idea!

  • Rachel

    🙂

    Unfortunately, my power drill is no longer in NY to try it! But please post an update if you do it!!! I’m dying to know if it works. 🙂

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