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Bringing a small dog on Amtrak: Or, Chloe takes the train to Portland!

About a month ago, Chloe and I traveled from Seattle to Portland (and back) via Amtrak. I look at that sentence and I marvel: For the past seven years, I’ve been wistfully comparing Amtrak’s draconian pet policy to European trains’ typically generous policies, and praising the rare U.S. train systems (hello, Metro-North!) that are pet-friendly. Back in 2014, Amtrak cracked open the door with a pilot program allowing pet cats and dogs in carriers on certain Chicago-area trains, and they later gently expanded the program.

There are signs for pet travel in Amtrak stations! Hallelujah!

Now there are signs for pet travel in Amtrak stations! Hallelujah!

At the moment, “cats and dogs 20 pounds or less” are allowed on board many train routes covering all regions of the country, and helpfully listed on Amtrak’s pet policy page. As you’ll see, there is a $25 pet fee per trip “segment,” and you need to reserve a spot for your pet in advance — plan ahead, because there are only five pets allowed on a train (only one pet per passenger, is the current rule). Read Amtrak’s pet policy page carefully, since there are many details to absorb, and some important route-specific rules. The features that most affected my plans were the requirement that travelers with pets travel only in Coach seats, and that pets are only allowed on trips scheduled to last seven hours or less.

My romantic plans to cross the country in a sleeper car with Chloe will have to wait, obviously, but in the meantime, I’m happy to make shorter trips. Going to Portland, for example, was easy and delightful — words I never use to describe driving to Portland from Seattle, because, as I’ve mentioned in the past, that particular road trip is like Gilligan’s 3-hour tour. It seems endless, and strangely spooky, and also (forgive me, but I just punched one of my own buttons) there are stretches of I-5 where the lane markings just completely disappear in the rain (it rains quite a lot in the PNW) and all you can do is prepare yourself mentally for fiery death. On the train, by contrast, you reach another tasty snack out of your carry-on, snuggle deeper into your throw, and check Google Maps for the name of that cute little island out there.

Here’s how it works. I called Amtrak to make my own reservation and I told the reservation agent I’d be traveling with my small dog. It is my experience that there is not a penalty for making train reservations over the phone, rather than online (compare and contrast making plane reservations). I received via email an “eTicket” listing both me and “Dog, Chloe” as passengers:

Chloe and I are both listed as "Adult," and indeed, I've just realized that she and I are about the same age right now. My puppy has grown up!

Chloe and I are both listed as “Adult,” and indeed, I’ve just realized that she and I are about the same age right now. My puppy has grown up!

When I arrived at Seattle’s Amtrak station, I lined up to see a ticketing agent, not only because I had a suitcase to check but also because I needed to collect and complete a pet waiver form and give the agent the opportunity to eyeball Chloe in her carrier. We used Chloe’s usual large SturdiBag, and that worked fine.

Chloe waiting for the train in Seattle's newly-restored Amtrak station. Her carrier should be on my lap or on the floor — and it was, except for this picture.

Chloe waiting for the train in Seattle’s newly-restored Amtrak station. Her carrier should be on my lap or on the floor — and it was, except for this picture.

Here’s where I first realized how new this policy still is. I had to tell the ticketing agent that I needed a waiver, and she had to consult her colleague to locate the stack of forms. Speak up if your agent misses that step, and make sure you walk away with a form filled out by him or her (the “PNR” box in the lower right corner is the agent’s responsibility) and signed and dated by you. You’ll need one for each trip segment; I got one, therefore, in Seattle and another, a couple of days later, in Portland.

Please note that while Amtrak does not require that you show up with proof of vaccinations, in this waiver you are attesting that your pet is, among other things, "up-to-date on all vaccinations."

Please note that while Amtrak does not require that you show up with proof of vaccinations, in this waiver you are attesting that your pet is, among other things, “up-to-date on all vaccinations.”

The reason I have a pet waiver to show you is because the system is still really new. The conductor in Seattle collected my pet waiver in the station, when I arrived at the head of the seat assignment line; on the return trip, in Portland, a different kind of official gave me a seat assignment, and the actual conductor (who I encountered later without recognizing him) didn’t ask for the form. This is the kind of thing that will, I trust, regularize over time. (In the meantime, it made me chuckle when one of the onboard staff stopped next to me, looked at the tab tucked into the rail over my seat, and asked “what does P-E-T mean?”)

So blurry! But I thought the "Pet" note would make you smile too.

So blurry! But I thought the “Pet” note would make you smile too.

Anyway, since I was traveling on the Coast Starlight, a long-haul train, the Coach seats were very comfortable. There was no room at all under the seat in front of me, and I don’t recall whether there was a space that I could access under my own seat. I put Chloe’s carrier on the ground in front of me, with my purse, which was comfortable for us and apparently acceptable to Amtrak.

As I was writing this post, reader Cassidy wrote to me about her recent experience traveling via Amtrak with Azuki, her 23-lb. Shiba Inu. Cassidy, thank goodness, fills in the missing info: “Their website also says she had to stay under my seat the whole trip, but there was a huge metal bar in the middle of all of the seats such that not even my backpack would fit under. So I put her in my lap (which she prefers) and the conductor didn’t mind at all, nor did the person sitting next to me.”

My legs, propped up on the nifty bar Amtrak provides for propping purposes, with Chloe's carrier closest to me and my purse under my ankles.

My legs, propped up on the nifty bar Amtrak provides for propping purposes, with Chloe’s carrier closest to me and my purse under my ankles.

Halfway through the trip I moved Chloe's carrier to my lap in a desperate search for warmth. It was blazingly hot in Portland, so I'd worn a summer dress, but the train was COLD. Thank goodness for Chloe, radiating warmth even through the bottom of her carrier.

Halfway through the trip I moved Chloe’s carrier to my lap in a desperate search for warmth. It was blazingly hot in Portland, so I’d worn a summer dress, but the train was COLD. Thank goodness for Chloe, radiating heat even through the bottom of her carrier.

Chloe under my legs on our return trip, now sharing the space with my purse and two sacks of books from Portland's phenomenal bookstore Powell's (alas, not pet-friendly).

Chloe under my legs on our return trip, now sharing the space with my purse and two sacks of books from Portland’s phenomenal bookstore Powell’s (alas, not pet-friendly).

Learn from my errors and pack a light throw (I did bring a travel pillow, and that was a good call); also, since your pup is not allowed in the food service cars, pack a picnic for yourself. Please note that while one of the enjoyable features of riding a train is having a beer, that’s a pleasure you’ll have to forego when you travel with your dog: Since you have the dog, you can’t get to the Lounge car to consume beer there (and you’re not allowed to bring beer purchased there back to your seat); and because you’re in Coach (rather than a private Sleeping Car), you cannot drink beer that you’ve brought with you. Them’s the rules, alas.

Our trip was three hours long, and Chloe slept the whole way there and back. On a longer trip, she might have liked a leg stretch and a bathroom break, but neither is guaranteed, so plan ahead. I was advised to speak with the conductor after boarding and ask if s/he planned a longer stop at one of the stations (periodic longer station breaks are not required, but if the schedule permits, they may happen — especially, I think, for the benefit of smokers, but now travelers with pets can benefit too).

Last but not least, I’m happy to report that the folks at Amtrak reacted to Chloe’s presence with good cheer — most didn’t bat an eyelash, and some reacted with positive enthusiasm. Cassidy, traveling from New York City to Washington, D.C., had the same experience. In fact, she reports, “The conductor actually came by and sat next to me when my seatmate got off the train and petted my dog, telling me that she has dogs of her own and she was so happy they decided to let them on.”

Pet taxi for travel between the U.K. and France

I made a note of this on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page, but posts there soon scroll out of view, and it would be a shame to lose track of such a useful tidbit of info: One of Dog Jaunt’s Facebook followers turns out to be a taxi service based in Folkestone, a city which is, among other things, at the U.K. end of the Channel tunnel. The Folkestone Taxi Company is ready and willing to drive you and your dog from France to the U.K., or vice versa, either via the Eurotunnel le Shuttle or via ferry.

This is useful, you’ll remember, because the U.K. does not allow pet dogs to arrive in-cabin on inbound flights. If you prefer that your pet not travel in a plane’s belly, the best option is to fly into Paris (or some other destination on the Continent within a reasonable distance of the English Channel) and make your way together to the U.K. either via ferry (which you can walk and/or drive on, depending on the line you choose — the link is to the U.K.’s list of approved ferries for incoming pets) or via the Eurotunnel.

In either case, a car is necessary, either to get you to or onto the ferry (again, depending on your choice), or through the Chunnel (since pet dogs are not allowed on the Eurostar train). That’s not quite right, because you could take a train — French trains are pet-friendly — to the city where one of the ferry lines that allows walk-on travelers with pets is located, and then make your way from the train station to the ferry dock. We considered this option, but then looked at our collection of suitcases and decided to go a different route.

A one-way car rental from France, we found, is prohibitively expensive. We opted instead for a round-trip car rental, which was fine for us (we were just as happy to fly home from Paris as from London), but might not suit your overall plan. Give the Folkestone Taxi Co. a call and see if their rates and schedule fit your budget and plan — and then please let us know how it all worked out for you!

“Air”-side pet relief areas in the works for all larger U.S. airports

A little note at the end of a Harriet Baskas article electrified me. “The list,” she wrote, referring to pet relief areas on the air (or “sterile”) side of security, “should get much longer soon: There’s a U.S. Department of Transportation ruling mandating that all air terminals that serve more than 10,000 daily passengers have a post-security pet relief area by August 2016.” That’s thrilling news, because — as I’ve said here any number of times — pet relief areas on the land side of security are useful for folks ending their travels at that airport, but create serious timing issues for folks who are connecting to another flight. Having pet relief areas on the air side of security is a huge, well, relief.

I dug a bit deeper, and here’s what I’ve learned. Last August, the Department of Transportation issued a “Final Rule” amending its rules implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Among its provisions, per the Federal Register (the language I quote is on page 46510, but the whole entry is worth a read), is a requirement that “airports not only have at least one relief area per terminal but also that this service animal relief area, with limited exceptions, be located in the sterile area of each airport terminal to ensure that individuals with service animals are able to access service animal relief areas when traveling, particularly during layovers” (emphasis added). The rule applies to airports “located in the United States with 10,000 or more annual enplanements that receive Federal financial assistance” (so not all U.S. airports, but really, all of the ones you and I are likely to encounter — and the ones it doesn’t apply to are likely so small that you could easily pop out and back in with your pup).

And the deadline for this plan? Indeed, it’s officially August 2016: “Finally, the Department is providing U.S. airports one year to comply with the requirement to establish at least one service animal relief areas per airport terminal.” That’s right around the corner — I suspect that many airports will heave a Porch Potty or two into a former storage room and call it good, but we can hope that at least some of them take a page from the book of JFK’s Terminal 5, and provide an air side pet relief area that is large, equipped with a water source and a bench, and is positively pleasant to be in.

Another new air-side pet relief area at New York’s JFK airport (T4)

Not too long ago, I described, with breathless excitement, the new T5 Rooftop (or “Wooftop,” per JetBlue’s cheerful goofiness) pet relief area at JFK. The excitement was partly because it’s such a lovely location, and partly because it joins a still short list of pet relief areas located on the “air” side of the security line (most pet relief areas are, inconveniently for travelers continuing to another destination, on the “land” side of security). Faithful reader Jenna left a comment telling me of another new air-side pet relief area at JFK, in Terminal 4, and on our most recent flight, we had a chance to check it out.

A quick recap of the JFK pet relief situation: Port Authority’s web site currently only tells travelers about its land-side pet relief areas — and precious little info it provides, too, saying merely that “These areas are located in the arrivals area of each terminal. Follow the signs in the baggage claim areas or ask a Customer Care Representative for information” (Port Authority positively affirms that “There are no pet relief areas beyond security checkpoints in any of the terminals at the Port Authority airports,” but that is obviously no longer true — there are indoor pet relief areas in T4 and T5). Dog Jaunt has more details about the land-side pet relief area at T5; if you visit the other land-side pet relief areas at JFK, please send me your notes and photos! There are six terminals altogether at JFK, so there’s plenty of information still to collect.

The new air-side pet relief area in Terminal 4 is located, largely speaking, between Gate B31 and the Hudson shop just to its, well, south (the direction away from Baggage Claim). More specifically, it’s located between the restrooms at the head (or foot, depending on your approach) of the moving walkway.

Here's what to look for, approaching the pet relief area from the north (or, heading away from Baggage Claim). The door is on the left, just before that sign for the men's restroom.

Here’s what to look for, approaching the pet relief area from the direction of Gates B20 to B31. The door is on the left, just before the water fountains and that sign for the men’s restroom.

Now you can see the door the pet relief area — or can you? Better signage is needed, JFK T4 folks!

Now you can see the door to the pet relief area — or can you? Better signage is needed, JFK T4 folks!

Here's the front door, from straight on.

Here’s the front door, from straight on.

And here's the view into the room. This is, in fact, the only way you can see the whole room at once. It. is. small.

And here’s the view into the room. This is, in fact, the only way you can see the whole room at once. It. is. small.

Taking it from left to right, there's a sink, source of poop bags...

Taking it from left to right, there’s a sink…

A source of poop bags and a trashcan...

A source of poop bags and a trashcan…

And a sliver of Astroturf, with Chloe for scale.

And a sliver of Astroturf, with Chloe for scale.

There is also, bless them, a very prominent sign (and massive paw print decals) inside the room. At some planning meeting, someone must have worried about Mistakes Being Made by travelers in a hurry.

There is also a very prominent sign (and massive paw print decals) INSIDE the room. At some planning meeting, someone must have worried about Mistakes Being Made by travelers in a hurry.

Yet again, I sincerely wish this pet relief area had a (small) bench to rest my belongings on. Extricating Chloe from her bag in mid-air is always fraught, and there are no good alternatives (the sink is hands-free, so you can’t put anything on its rim; the top of the trash can is a potential option, and it still seems fairly young and fresh, as trash cans go, but still — a clean bench would be helpful).

This post is part of an ongoing series of reviews of airport pet relief areas we’ve visited. To see others, visit Dog Jaunt’s handy guide to airport pet relief areas.

Airport security line issue: Traveling pets and the TSA canine teams

Two flights ago, I was progressing through the security line with Chloe in her carrier over my shoulder, and a TSA screening dog came up from behind us with his or her handler. The dog stopped briefly, clearly (to me) having noticed Chloe’s presence, and the handler (also briefly, thank goodness) tensed up. I waggled my shoulder with the carrier in the handler’s direction and said something like “there’s a pup in here,” and the team continued down the line. That was interesting enough to tell you about, so you’d be prepared for a similar encounter, but for once procrastination was my friend: On our most recent flight, there was someone posted at the security line calling out for folks traveling with pets to leave the line altogether, and walk to the other security line (not currently being reviewed by a canine team).

I departed the first security line so promptly that I couldn't get a picture of one of these signs in action on a post; here's an example, though, from a pile waiting for future use. So far, I've only seen them at Seattle's airport.

I departed the first security line so promptly that I couldn’t get a picture of one of these signs in action on a post; here’s an example, though, from a pile waiting for future use. So far, I’ve only seen them at Seattle’s airport.

Apparently it’s not just a momentary distraction for a TSA canine to encounter a pet; or perhaps the TSA just wants to reduce the number of times its teams alert unnecessarily. Whatever the reason, and to preserve your own adrenaline glands from wear and tear, keep an eye out for TSA canine teams and give them as much advance notice as you can of your pet’s presence.

Which seat works best with an in-cabin dog? [Delta 757-200 (75S) series]

Delta has many, many versions of this plane, but I believe we flew on this particular configuration (seat plan courtesy of SeatGuru), with the Delta Comfort+ seats starting at Row 18, cattywampus to the bathroom (an unusually pleasant one, with — how brilliant — rounded doors, giving you the pleasant illusion of having more space).

In recent years, I’ve shunned Delta. Their seat pitch had become ludicrously small for me, and crippling for my husband, so in a grand gesture, I spent all of our remaining Delta miles on First Class seats on some really short flight, and plighted my troth to United. But the years have rolled on, and Delta does have a direct flight from Seattle to New York, and they’ve added leg room back in — for a price, of course — with their Delta Comfort+ seats. (Buy them, I urge you. The extra room makes it possible to reach down and pat your dog, or give her ice cubes or water, or pull her carrier out a bit from under the seat in front of you.)

We were in Row 21, seats D and E. The window seat underseat space is trapezoidal, essentially, since it curves outwards and upwards with the plane’s side wall, but at ground level, it’s 18″ wide, 12″ high (in front — about 7″ from the front plane of the space, the hanging life vest box lowers the height to 11″), and the usual 17″ or so of depth. The aisle seat underseat space is 13.5″ wide (all the remaining measurements are the same). The middle seat underseat space is 17″ wide (all the remaining measurements are the same). Please note that the middle and window spaces are further altered by the presence of an electronics box about 2.5″ wide and 4″ tall. It’s on the left side of both spaces, and although it’s in the upper left corner, it does effectively narrow both areas. Under the window seat, it narrows the available space by about 3.5″, and under the middle seat, it narrows the available space by about 5″. The middle seat, moreover, has another plastic box in the upper right side of the space that projects inwards about 2.5″.

Chloe, tucked in under a Delta Comfort+ seat on a B757-200(75S) plane. Please note that boxes to the left and right of her carrier. The middle seat worked, but either of the other seats would have been better.

Chloe, tucked in under a Delta Comfort+ seat on a B757-200(75S) plane. Please note the boxes to the left and right of her carrier (the one on the left has a green light). The middle seat worked, but either of the other seats would have been better.

Not knowing anything about this particular plane, we took a chance on the middle seat. More often than not, a middle seat is a good choice for a traveler with a pet, but, it turns out, not this time. We managed it (yet again, the rounded and flexible top of Chloe’s large SturdiBag saved the day), but the window seat would have been best, and the aisle seat would have been my second choice.

This post is part of an 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).

New-to-me indoor pet relief areas at JFK (T5) and O’Hare (Terminal 3)

I am, as you know by now, a woman obsessed with airport pet relief areas. Every U.S. airport has one, by law, and most of them are located outside the airport, on the “land” side of security. That means that travelers with working service dogs and travelers with pets have to exit the airport with their companions to locate and use the pet relief area — all well and good if that airport is your final stop, but a nail-biting challenge if you’re merely pausing between flights. An increasing number of airports are installing pet relief areas on the “air” side of security, and I’m happy (ecstatic!) to report that there are two more to add to the list.

JFK’s T5 (JetBlue’s Terminal 5)

I’ve praised JFK’s T5 outdoor pet relief area in the past, but JetBlue has outdone itself with its new “T5 Rooftop” space. Located across from Gate 28 (here’s a terminal map), it’s a well-designed outdoor space incorporating tables and chairs, foliage and bits of lawn, and the “T5 Wooftop” pet relief area.

Hat tip to my husband for seeing this sign. I was in full airport trudge mode, and would have missed it completely. "Pets welcome" — what joy!

Hat tip to my husband for seeing this sign. I was in full airport trudge mode, and would have missed it completely. “Pets welcome” — what joy!

The blurriness of these photos! But you get the idea: The entrance to the T5 Rooftop is across from Gate 28

The blurriness of these photos! But you get the idea: The entrance to the T5 Rooftop is across from Gate 28

A slightly different sign for the T5 Rooftop, also saying "Pets welcome." Photo overkill, perhaps, but I just could not believe my eyes.

A slightly different sign for the T5 Rooftop, also saying “Pets welcome.” Photo overkill, perhaps, but I just could not believe my eyes.

Here’s what the outdoor terrace area looks like:

It's just astonishingly calm and attractive. You actually walk past the pet relief area to reach this point — it's discreetly tucked in a corner, albeit the corner you face as you walk onto the terrace.

It’s just astonishingly calm and attractive. You actually walk past the pet relief area to reach this point — it’s discreetly tucked in a corner, albeit the corner you face as you walk onto the terrace.

Here’s the pet relief area from the outside, with our carry-ons leaning against the planter:

Utter perfection would be a water source, and a bench to rest stuff on while wrangling your pup and her poop bag, but it's hard to work up a head of steam about those items in the face of this beauty.

Utter perfection would be a water source, and a bench to rest stuff on while wrangling your pup and her poop bag, but it’s hard to work up a head of steam about those items in the face of this beauty.

A close-up of the sign on the door. I laughed, I cried, it was better than “Cats.”

Chloe, accomplishing her goals. It's a good-sized space, as you can see, and while it's actually pretty close to the human side of the terrace, the two areas feel very separate. Nice design work, T5 persons. (That's artificial turf, by the way, which Chloe doesn't mind a bit.)

Chloe, accomplishing her goals. It’s a good-sized space, as you can see, and while it abuts the human side of the terrace, the two areas feel very separate. Nice design work, T5 persons. (That’s artificial turf, by the way, which Chloe doesn’t mind a bit.)

You get the idea. I was thrilled, and our future travel plans involving NYC will be weighted heavily towards JetBlue. Those pictures were from November 2015; imagine my joy when we passed through Chicago’s O’Hare airport in March of this year, and learned about the new indoor pet relief area in Terminal 3.

Chicago O’Hare (Terminal 3)

More often than not, I fly through Midway, so the latest word I had on pet relief areas at O’Hare was this useful reader’s report from 2012. At that point, ORD had two pet relief areas, both located outside. They still exist, and were joined in 2014 by another outside pet relief area at Terminal 2. But now there’s a fourth pet relief area at O’Hare, and it’s on the air side of security.

It’s located in “the Rotunda area of Terminal 3,” everyone who writes about it declares, and for us, arriving on United at Terminal 1, it was a heck of a long walk. Here’s a map of O’Hare, and it’s a particularly nice one: Click the “off” button next to “Accessibility” to “on,” and you’ll get directions to the various pet relief areas (enter your arriving gate number, and the map will estimate how long your walk will take).

I hadn’t yet found that map when we arrived in Chicago, so we schlepped from sign to sign, seeking Terminal 3 and, as we neared our goal, the mysterious “Rotunda.”

This was the first sign that contained both the words "Terminal 3" and "Rotunda." We had seen really quite a lot of O'Hare by this time, but our spirits revived and we soldiered on.

This was the first sign that contained both the words “Terminal 3” and “Rotunda.” We had seen really quite a lot of O’Hare by this time, but our spirits revived and we soldiered on.

Eventually we turned into this short hall; the pet relief area is on the right and who knows, maybe that's the Rotunda just beyond it. By the time you reach the pet relief area, you have no wish to explore further.

Eventually we turned into this short hall; the pet relief area is on the right and who knows, maybe that’s the Rotunda just beyond it. Or maybe not. By the time you reach the pet relief area, you have no wish to explore further.

A better view of the door to the pet relief area, with my husband looking triumphant. And a little sweaty.

A better view of the door to the pet relief area, with my husband looking triumphant. Also a little weary, and indeed, it would be a major improvement if the pet relief area had a bench inside.

Inside, you’ll find a couple of sinks on the right, and then, beyond, a couple of raised platforms of artificial turf. They are, in fact, two of the deluxe Porch Potty products, so when your pup is finished, you press a button and a couple of sprinkler heads appear and rinse things off.

The view into the room through the glass door. The front of the room looks like a normal airport bathroom.

The view into the room through the glass door. The front of the room looks like a normal airport bathroom.

Where the stalls would normally be, however, are two Porch Potty ledges, a trash can, and a poop bag dispenser.

Where the stalls would normally be, however, are two Porch Potty ledges, a trash can, and a poop bag dispenser.

There is also this magnificent hose object on the wall. I yearned to use it, but we were out of time, and, to be honest, I didn't fully understand what it was for. Medical emergencies? A quick dog bath? There wasn't an equally magnificent floor drain, so we decided discretion was the better part of valor, and departed.

There is also this magnificent hose object on the wall. I yearned to use it, but we were out of time, and, to be honest, I didn’t fully understand what it was for. Medical emergencies? A quick dog bath? There wasn’t an equally magnificent floor drain, so we decided discretion was the better part of valor, and departed.

Chloe in action — or, rather, non-action, looking a bit bewildered. We'd only been traveling for an hour or two, so I suspect she doesn't didn't need relief.

Chloe in action — or, rather, non-action — looking a bit bewildered. We’d only been traveling for an hour or two, so I suspect she just didn’t need relief.

Nevertheless, we pushed the flush button on the wall (you can see them flanking the red hose), to see what would happen. Those two sprinkler heads lift up and sprinkle, is what happens — our first experience of the deluxe Porch Potty, and we were mightily impressed.

Nevertheless, we pushed the flush button on the wall (you can see them flanking the red hose), to see what would happen. Those two sprinkler heads lift up and sprinkle, is what happens — our first experience of the deluxe Porch Potty, and we were mightily impressed.

The pet relief area was clean and attractive, and I suspect that if Chloe’s need had been urgent, she would have used it. It has a water source, obviously, but I’m not kidding when I say that a bench would have been a welcome addition. This is, after all, a bathroom, and I’m deeply reluctant to put anything on a public bathroom floor. That meant that we had to keep our shoulder bags draped around our top halves while holding Chloe’s carrier off the ground and simultaneously extracting her from it and putting on her leash. It was precarious with two people, and would have been a major pain if I’d been alone. (Rest your gear on the sinks, I can hear you say, and I would, except that these sinks are hands-free, and turn on at the slightest invitation.)

That is, however, my only gripe with this pet relief area, and hopefully it’ll soon be addressed. Blessings on the Chicago Department of Aviation for addressing the needs of the traveling working dog (and also of the traveling pet) and her owner.

This post is part of an ongoing series of reviews of airport pet relief areas we’ve visited. To see others, visit Dog Jaunt’s handy guide to airport pet relief areas.

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

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

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

Dog_Traveler_Dog_Perch_Backpack_docx_-_Google_Docs

Tracy carrying Charlie the Japanese Chin in a Dog Perch backpack

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

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

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

Josie peeping over Tracy's shoulder from the Dog Perch

Josie peeping over Tracy’s shoulder from the Dog Perch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite visit: the Castle of Langeais

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

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

Zadig and I in front of the entrance of a castle

Zadig and I in front of the entrance of a castle

My favorite garden: Villandry

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

Zadig in the garden of Villandry

Zadig in the garden of Villandry

My favorite castle: Chenonceau

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

Zadig at Chenonceau

Zadig at Chenonceau

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

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

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

My favorite park: The Clos Lucé

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

Zadig and I in the Clos Lucé park

Zadig and I in the Clos Lucé park

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

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

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

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

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

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