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“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).

Amtrak_-_Experience_-_Onboard_-_Pets_on_Trains

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.

SHOLDIT travel scarf: Alternative way to stow stuff you’ll need while flying

It’s a problem I’ve been writing about since I started this blog: Travelers with pet dogs are typically limited by airlines to a pet carrier and a small personal item (or, more rarely, to a pet carrier and a carry-on), and once you’ve stowed your pet under your seat, there’s typically no room next to her for anything else — so either you spend your flight, especially a turbulent flight, looking hopelessly up at the overhead compartment or you come up with some way to keep your book, your water bottle, your stuff, accessible. In the past, I’ve recommended a travel vest — most recently, the SCOTTeVEST travel vest — which remains a splendid idea, but I’m starting to question a solution that shines during plane trips but otherwise takes up valuable suitcase space.

If you’re going on safari, or you’re traveling to a place where it makes sense to keep your valuables concealed around your torso, stick with the SCOTTeVEST. You’ll use it throughout your trip, and it’s designed to keep a variety of objects comfortably within reach. If not, give some thought to the SHOLDIT travel scarf, which started as an impulse purchase (I cannot resist travel gear of any kind) but has become my go-to travel accessory.

The SHOLDIT scarf (the maker refers to it as a “Clutch Wrap purse,” but to me it seems useless as a clutch, and I just can’t with the “shrug” option) is essentially two layers of fabric, sewn together at the edges and seamed to form a continuous loop. There is a large pocket behind one stretch of side seam, and another smaller one (in the “ORIGINAL design,” which is the model I recommend) behind the short, joining seam.

Both pockets are made of a very flexible knit material, as is the scarf, and in a pinch you can fit really a heck of a lot of stuff in them. I typically put my cell phone, a pack of gum, Advil, hand lotion, a power bar, a nail file, a pen, and a measuring tape in the small pocket. The large pocket holds my Kindle and a small Ziploc bag of Chloe’s kibble, and sometimes a water bottle. I believe my neck pillow would also fit in there, but I haven’t yet taken the scarf on a flight where I planned to sleep.

None of that is what the SHOLDIT folks want to hear. In their FAQ section, they implore you to cut back: “The Clutch Wrap™ purse is NOT intended to carry everything that I needlessly haul in my traditional hand bag or tote. I am not a pack mule. For best results, I solemnly swear to keep items small and limited.”

It’s not hard to understand why. When I’ve loaded up the scarf with all the gear I might want during a flight, it looks less like a chic scarf than a baby sling, complete with baby. I started out looping the scarf twice around my neck, but the infinity scarf look worked only temporarily:

This was taken just post-hoick — I'd just readjusted the fully-loaded scarf so it looked as much like a regular infinity scarf as possible. Steps later, the weight of my Kindle had dragged one loop low, leaving the other hoop high in strangulation land — like those portraits of Elizabeth I with her long pearl strands, except, alas, totally different.

This was taken just after I’d readjusted the fully-loaded scarf so it looked as much like a regular infinity scarf as possible. Steps later, the weight of my Kindle had dragged one loop low, leaving the other hoop high — like those portraits of Elizabeth I with her long strands of pearls, except, alas, totally different.

I’ve decided that when the scarf is full of gear, it works best draped over one shoulder like a beauty pageant sash:

Here it is in sash mode — still weighted down by my Kindle and water bottle, but essentially fine.

Here it is in sash mode, layered under my jacket — still weighted down by my Kindle and water bottle, but essentially fine. There’s Chloe, over my left shoulder (in the Teafco Argo Petagon), and there’s my substantial personal item, over my right shoulder.

Once you get to your destination and re-stow your crucial belongings in your travel purse or messenger bag, the SHOLDIT scarf returns to working well as a scarf, which is nearly always useful — and recall that this is a scarf that can discreetly conceal your passport or other small, light valuables. If you just don’t need a scarf at all, the SHOLDIT still occupies less suitcase room than a travel vest.

I bought the “ORIGINAL design” scarf in the “titanium” option — textured gray on one side, black on the other. It also comes in marine blue, plum, “torn red,” and black.

Amazon link: SHOLDIT Clutch Wrap Purse

Lummi Island’s Willows Inn: World-class dining, dog-friendly lodging options

I’d known for years that the Willows Inn, on a small island about two hours north of Seattle, is a destination for folks who love eating well, and then I learned that it allows pet dogs to join guests in two of its rooms. Sign me up, I thought — this’ll be an epic dog jaunt. Long story short: It is, but with a couple of caveats. Please note that we paid for our stay at the Willows Inn — I will always tell you when someone else has paid for any or all of something I’m reviewing.

Willows Inn has a variety of lodging options, but folks traveling with pet dogs have a less complicated selection to make. There are two pet-friendly rooms, both located “on-site” — that is, either in or within steps of the main inn building. We stayed in The Cottage; the other pet-friendly room is called Sucia. There is a $30 per stay pet fee.

Here’s what we loved about our weekend at the Willows Inn: The food; dear God, the food; the whole dining experience, including the ambiance of the dining room and the warm, attentive service; the short but quintessentially San Juan Islands-ish ferry ride; the view from our deck; the tiny size and charm of Lummi Island; and the cheerfulness of the Beach Store Café, an unrelated establishment right by the ferry landing.

Waiting on the dock to board the Whatcom Chief, the 20-car ferry that scoots back and forth between the mainland and Lummi Island

Waiting on the dock to board the Whatcom Chief, the 20-car ferry that scoots back and forth between the mainland and Lummi Island. Usually, a ferry fills your windshield — this one is so petite that its wheelhouse is barely visible.

The tiny passenger cabin from the side. Dogs are not allowed inside but must, rather, remain leashed on deck or (like Chloe) sacked out in a car.

The tiny passenger cabin from the side. Dogs are not allowed inside but must, rather, remain leashed on deck or (like Chloe) sacked out in a car.

Approaching the dock on Lummi after a crossing of maybe five minutes, tops. Going to Lummi is an adorable dollhouse version of going to San Juan Island or Orcas.

Approaching the dock on Lummi after a crossing of maybe five minutes, tops. Going to Lummi is an adorable dolls-house version of going to San Juan Island or Orcas. The fare (charged only as you head towards Lummi) is $20.

You drive off the ferry, turn right, and circle the island until you see the sign for the Willows Inn. It’s that simple. It’s so simple, in fact, that there’s no gas station on Lummi (be sure to plan ahead), and the one grocery store sticks to the basics. The only other restaurant on the island — the Beach Store Café — is either a blur in that last picture, or just out of frame to the right.

The Cottage at the Willows Inn. It's set higher up on the hill behind the main inn building, and there is plenty of lawn around it to amuse your pup.

The Cottage at the Willows Inn. It’s set higher up on the hill behind the main inn building, and there is plenty of lawn around it for bathroom breaks with your pup (be sure, as always, to clean up after her).

And when I say "hill," I mean it. Here's Big Red, Chloe's gigantic suitcase, at the top of the vertiginous staircase leading up to The Cottage. I recommend walking up the path instead of the staircase, and I strongly recommend packing lightly.

And when I say “hill,” I mean it. Here’s Big Red, Chloe’s gigantic suitcase, at the top of the vertiginous staircase leading up to The Cottage. I recommend walking up the path instead of the staircase, and I strongly recommend packing lightly.

The pay-off for all that hauling, though, is a delightful sense of seclusion, and this great view from The Cottage's front porch.

The pay-off for all that hauling, though, is a delightful sense of seclusion, and this great view from The Cottage’s front porch.

Just below the inn is a dog-friendly beach that Chloe could not get enough of — my, how that dog loves a beach:

This started out as just a scenery panorama — I pushed the wrong button and added Chloe, at my feet, instead of turning off the phone.

This started out as just a scenery panorama — I pushed the wrong button and added Chloe, at my feet, instead of turning off the phone. It works, though!

Here's a more deliberate picture of her. The beach is good-sized, and we had it all to ourselves.

Here’s a more deliberate picture of her. The beach is good-sized (you’re seeing maybe a quarter of it), and we had it all to ourselves.

The innkeeper who checked us in was wonderfully helpful in directing us to other dog-friendly beaches on the island, and she also pointed us to a couple of dog-friendly hiking options.

I failed to take any pictures of the main inn building or of the lower garden. Neither is particularly eye-catching, except for the wood-burning grill and the smokehouse — the focus of a lot of activity, starting in the late afternoon. Walk up the inn’s stairs to the restaurant, however, and you enter a realm of enchantment (we left Chloe snoozing in her crate — the restaurant is not dog-friendly).

The interior is essentially Arts & Crafts style — a cocoon of wood trim and mellow lighting — and the service is kind, attentive, and informed, without the smallest trace of uppityness. And the food is unsurpassed. Course succeeded course, each small but perfect. Here, for example, is the salad (the menu, which they gave us for a keepsake, advises me that it was “steamed spring shoots and sweet woodruff”):

You may be thinking that you'll starve on portions like that, but believe me, you won't. There were 18 courses altogether, and we ended the meal full to the brim, but not over-full, if you know what I mean.

You may be thinking that you’ll starve on portions like that, but believe me, you won’t. There were 18 courses altogether, and we ended the meal full to the brim, but not reaching for the Rolaids.

The Willows Inn has mastered the art of beautiful presentation (not shown: the crispy halibut skins, filled with a delicate clam purée, resting on slabs of mollusk-covered rock, or the birch tea served in a stunning birchbark pitcher), but it stops at the restaurant door. Our room was a let-down, alas — a hodge-podge of awkward and uncomfortable furniture and decor concepts. Here’s the panorama I took before we dashed down to dinner:

The bathroom is around the corner to the left. Just out of view on the right is a wicker armchair and a sideboard kind of cabinet.

The bathroom is around the corner to the left. Just out of view on the right is a wicker armchair and a sideboard kind of cabinet.

The Cottage had its good points (the automatic “wood” stove was charming, and the shower had terrific water pressure), but that couch (half of a sectional, it turns out) requires you to sit upright, facing the (beautiful) view; the bed squeaked; the bedside tables were purely decorative; and there were limited places to unpack clothes into (we ended up slotting them onto the shelves of the sideboard). The official front door doesn’t lock with the provided key; instead, deadlock it from the inside, and use the key on the patio door instead. The room Sucia may be better — if you visit it, let me know what you think. If you find yourself in The Cottage, I suggest that you push the couch against that far wall and add some bed pillows to lean against. Once we’d borrowed the floor lamp from the wicker chair corner, and deployed a throw that we’d brought, we had a cozy reading nest going. The inn does provide a basket of sheets and a towel for use by dog owners (we travel with our own, and used those, but I noticed the inn’s basket as we were packing to leave).

As you’ll see when you start doing your own research, the Willows Inn is a pricey place. I have no hesitation telling you that the dinner is worth the stratospheric cost, but I think we’ll look elsewhere next time for lodging. It’s a very small island, so your options are limited — my current thought is to try a vacation rental for a couple of nights (HomeAway has several listings for “Pets Considered” properties), eating on one night at the Willows Inn, and the next at the Beach Store Café, which I’ve mentioned before. It’s located just across from the ferry landing, and when we stopped in for a quick coffee, we wished we’d set aside time for a real meal. It’s cozy and friendly, the plates we saw going by looked tasty, and pet dogs are welcome to join you at the tables on the front porch.