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Travel book review: The Dog Lover’s Companion series

I own seven of the eleven Dog Lover’s Companion guides published by Avalon Travel, and it’s only a matter of time and travel before I own the remaining four. To date, they cover the following regions: Boston, California, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, New England, NYC, the Pacific Northwest, Philadelphia, San Francisco and the Bay Area, and Washington D.C.

The books are marvelous — thorough, useful, and well-written. I especially appreciate the detailed reviews of local dog parks and parks that tolerate dogs. I wish, of course, that there were more books in the series, covering the areas we visit most often to see our families, but The Dog Lover’s Companion to Central Ohio (or Eastern Tennessee) is probably not at the top of their to-do list….

Amazon links:
The Dog Lover’s Companion to Boston
The Dog Lover’s Companion to California
The Dog Lover’s Companion to Chicago
The Dog Lover’s Companion to Florida
The Dog Lover’s Companion to Los Angeles: Including Ventura, L.A., Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties
The Dog Lover’s Companion to New England
The Dog Lover’s Companion to New York City
The Dog Lover’s Companion to the Pacific Northwest
The Dog Lover’s Companion to Philadelphia
The Dog Lover’s Companion to the San Francisco Bay Area
The Dog Lover’s Companion to Washington, D.C.

Travel book review: The City Dog series

There are ten of these guidebooks currently available new on Amazon, covering the following areas: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, NYC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. There is also an additional volume called City Dog: Hotels & Resorts for You and Your Dog.

So far, I only own the one for NYC (2005 edition), and I used it fairly heavily during a recent visit to friends in Greenwich Village. The things I liked most about it were its convenient size; the quick reference summaries at the beginnings of each geographic section; and the info it provided about emergency pet transport in the city. The part that I found maddening was the absence of a map in the front showing how the authors had divided up the city. Even our hosts weren’t quite sure where their part of Greenwich Village fit into the available regions, so it’s not just a problem for tourists.

A number of the entries were also out-of-date (the store Fetch has closed; Wagwear now has a retail store), but that’s only to be expected from a 4 year-old book, and served as a reminder that you should call or search online to confirm crucial info before setting off across the city for a store or dog park.

I’m keeping an open mind, and when I’ve read others in the series I’ll report further.

Amazon links:
City Dog: Atlanta
City Dog: Greater Boston
City Dog: Chicago
City Dog: Dallas
City Dog: Houston
City Dog: Los Angeles
City Dog: New York City
City Dog: Philadelphia
City Dog: San Francisco & the Bay Area
City Dog: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Maryland Suburbs, Northern VA

Chloe’s tote: Organizing your dog’s stuff

Looking at her checklist, you can tell that Chloe travels with a lot of stuff. And her stuff comes in small pieces, like toys and rolls of poop bags and tubs of eye wipes and packets of treats. Without some way of keeping things organized, your hotel room or guest room or car will quickly get messy, and the thing you want at any given time will never be at hand.

My solution is a tote bag. (I love totes, so that’s my solution for most problems.) The tote for this particular job is L.L. Bean’s Dog Breed Organizer Tote. It’s large (but not so enormous that stuff gets lost in a heap in the main compartment) and is ringed with generous pockets into which objects can be organized. The main compartment is zippered, which I like not only for the obvious keeping-stuff-in reason but also because it keeps our greedy cats out of the bags of dog treats we store there. It’s as well-made as the rest of L.L. Bean’s canvas totes, and can be monogrammed with your dog’s name and breed picture. (Unless your dog is a Cavalier, which is not one of the breed choices they offer. Chloe’s tote has a Brittany Spaniel on it instead, alas.)

We use the tote to organize Chloe’s stuff at home, and when it’s time to travel we put the whole tote, loaded with the stuff she’ll need, either into her suitcase or into the back seat of the car. On car trips, it keeps her stuff organized on the road and can easily be carried into hotel rooms. After plane trips, the tote emerges from her suitcase and functions just as it does at home.

3/1/10: I just learned that L.L. Bean no longer sells the Dog Breed Organizer tote, which is a crying shame. My first choice for a substitute is L.L. Bean’s Adventure Tote, in a size Large. Another option is the Large Tote offered by Doggy Baggage. I like the L.L. Bean tote better because the main compartment zips closed, but both have the exterior pockets I find so useful.

2/11/12: How vexing! The L.L. Bean Adventure Tote now has only two outside pockets, and users have complained about its flimsiness compared to its predecessor. My pick these days would be the Skip Hop Duo Double diaper bag, which has a zippered main compartment and eight outer pockets (and several inner pockets as well).

Amazon link:
Skip Hop Duo Double diaper bag (black)

iPhone app: Off Leash

If truth be told, I love my iPhone nearly as much as I love Chloe, and here’s another reason why: The Casual Game Network has an iPhone app called Off Leash that uses your current location to show you the five nearest off-leash dog parks. When you click on the entry for a park you’re interested in, the application gives you driving directions. Only U.S. dog parks are listed, but TCGN plans to add off-leash dog parks in other countries “in the upcoming months.”

Version 1.0 is currently available, and although it’s not perfect (the list of dog parks isn’t comprehensive, and what you get is only a list — no descriptions or reviews), it’s useful and convenient — and free. TCGN reports that they have submitted Version 2.0 to Apple for approval, and the new version will add 400 more off-leash dog parks to the app. Users are invited to submit names of additional off-leash parks, and with more input, the app will only become better.

As I mentioned, it’s free — which is always nice, though I’d be happy to pay for a version that gave me some descriptive information about the individual parks. Download it from the iTunes App Store (here’s the direct link).

Traveling by Kenmore Air with a small dog

Kenmore Air has a fleet of seaplanes and land-based planes, and serves lots of useful destinations in the Pacific Northwest (including Seattle; the San Juan Islands; the Olympic Peninsula; Victoria, B.C.; and Canada’s Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands). It is my husband’s favorite way of getting to Friday Harbor (45 minutes from Seattle, as opposed to our usual 3-hour schlep via car and ferry), so we were thrilled to learn that Kenmore allows small dogs on its flights.

They have a low-key, common-sense policy: leashed dogs under 20 lbs. can sit on your lap and there’s no fee. Big dogs are also allowed on board, but if they’re big enough to take up space (i.e., not a lap dog) you’ll need to pay a fee for them (in the neighborhood of $75). You need to tell them about the dog when you make your reservation, so call them instead of booking on-line. There is no paperwork needed for travel within the U.S., but if you’re taking one of their flights into Canada, you need to meet Canada’s import requirements.

Kenmore Air has luggage weight limits: 24 lbs. total for its seaplanes; 20 lbs. (carry-on) and 50 lbs. (checked) for its land-based planes. While a dog officially counts towards a passenger’s allotted carry-on weight limit, Kenmore is wiling to accept an small bag in addition, even if the combined weight of dog and bag is a little high. Just do your best to make your bag as small and light as possible.

And one word of caution: if it turns out that a fellow passenger is seriously allergic to dogs, you will be asked not to travel with your dog. In that case, the Kenmore rep I spoke to said that your ticket cost would be refunded. She also said, however, that it’s never yet happened in her experience.

Union Square (NYC) off-leash dog park

Although we were staying with friends right next to the Washington Square dog park, the square in February 2009 was a sea of construction and we were happy to find a second dog park so close by. The Union Square off-leash dog run is on the west side of the square, and although it’s modest in size it’s certainly big enough for a small dog. It is completely fenced and has the usual double gates at the entrance. There are lots of benches for humans, mature trees providing shade, and a water fountain.

Since we visited the park after a major winter storm, it looked much different from this. The gravel, for example, was hidden by a lot of (yellow) snow, which reminded us that the park is very heavily used (we returned to the park on a hot day in April 2009, and it does get whiffy). Chloe loved it, however, and we were grateful to find such a pleasant spot for off-leash romping in the middle of Manhattan.

Union Square Park signThe run is open from 6 am to midnight, and any dog-and-owner may use it. As the sign on the gate says: “No dogs without people. No people without dogs.”

Union Square
New York, NY 10003

A picture of your dog

It’s a good idea to bring a picture of your dog with you, at least on long trips, for two reasons. First, if your dog is lost while you’re traveling, you can act rapidly, giving copies of the photo to local animal shelters and rescue organizations, and creating lost-pet posters and handouts. Either carry a hard-copy photo with you, or upload a picture to a website (e.g., Flickr, SmugMug, FaceBook) so you can make a printout any time at FedEx Kinko’s or your hotel business center.

Second, and more happily, it helps to have a picture of your dog to show your airplane seat mates, especially if they seem dubious about spending the next few hours with a dog at their feet. All U.S. airlines require you to keep your dog in her carrier during the flight (at most I’ll unzip a corner of Chloe’s carrier and stick my arm in to pet her), so a photo is the best way to win your neighbors’ hearts and satisfy their curiosity. Tuck your hard-copy photo into the end pocket of your dog’s carrier, or create a collection of particularly winning dog photos on your phone.

Dog jaunt: Visiting Legoland (California) with a dog

[4/3/13 Just stopped back to see if anything had improved, and now there are no kennels at all at Legoland California: “Unfortunately due to construction of the LEGOLAND Hotel, we are not able to offer kennel service at this time. If you will require kennel service during your visit please contact us at 760-918-5346 so that we may provide you with a list of local kennels.”]

On the same trip in March 2009 that took us to Disneyland (and the Disneyland Kennel) twice in three days, I also researched visiting Legoland. They too have a kennel, but what a difference — the Legoland kennel is not staffed (though the cages apparently do lock, since you pick up a key from Guest Services when you arrive). Water may be available, but bowls are not. There is no requirement that you provide proof of vaccinations. The kennel is described as “shaded,” and a picture from Flickr shows that the cages are outdoors and sheltered by a flat roof. The picture also shows that the kennel is grimly awful, and I wouldn’t leave Chloe there on a bet. It gets a 1-bone rating from Dog Jaunt only because it exists, and that’s marginally better than no kennel at all.

Legoland’s kennel is free, while Disneyland charges a $20 fee — this is a prime example of getting what you pay for.

Dog jaunt: Visiting Disneyland with a dog

One of the places you can’t bring a dog is the Happiest Place on Earth. (Theoretically, you could get your dog in, since the bag check happens before you reach the plaza containing the ticket booths and the Disneyland Kennel, but some of the rides I like would unnerve a small dog in a carrier.) Happily, the Disneyland Kennel is a pleasant and safe place to leave your dog. In March 2009, we ended up there twice in three days, and on both visits Chloe seemed perfectly content.

The kennel is located near the entrance to Disneyland itself — if you’re standing in the plaza where you buy tickets, put your back to California Adventure and face Disneyland. The kennel is at the far right.

There is an attendant on duty whenever the kennel is open. It’s air-conditioned, and the large window onto the plaza is tinted so the pets can look out but not be bothered. The cages are large and clean, and the attendant will follow your directions about offering food and water to your dog (they write them on the large cardboard bowls provided for pets’ use). If your dog arrives in a carrier, they will keep it for you.

There are two outdoor relief areas: the official one is gravel-lined and securely fenced; the unofficial one is behind the row of tall shrubs to the right of the kennel. You will need to return to your dog from time to time for bathroom breaks.

There is a $20 daily fee (your pet may not stay overnight). Reservations are not required. The kennel opens a half hour before the park opens, and closes a half hour after the park closes. Bring your dog’s shot record with you, since the kennel needs written proof of rabies, distemper, and hepatitis vaccination. Also be sure to bring bedding (I brought a pad and a towel), food, and a toy and chew toy to keep your dog comfortable and occupied while you’re looking for Jack Sparrow.

Messenger bag carrier for a small dog

photo-3Chloe’s messenger bag, the PetEgo Contour Messenger Black Label Bag, is my secret weapon. Without it, I could not sneak her into a fraction of the places she goes. It comes in two sizes, and she fits in the larger one (13Hx20Lx10W). That’s the one illustrated on PetEgo’s page for the product; please note that their human model is petite, and the bag is less imposing in real life. It also comes in a sporty orange-and-grey color combination, but I think the all-black option looks more like an computer bag and doesn’t highlight the mesh ventilation panels.

It has many good features, but the ones I care most about are the mesh “tower” and a small, zipped hatch in the top panel. The tower can be raised solidly into place with a couple of interior struts. However, I choose not to use them, but to leave the tower zipper open so that Chloe can push the top panel up with her head and look out through the mesh if she wants to. When she’s done gazing and lies down, the top lowers again, returning the bag to its normal shape.

The hatch in the top panel could allow her to stick just her head out of the bag (though right now she’s small enough that her shoulders soon follow). I use it instead to poke treats into her bag from time to time. We like her to feel that when she’s in the messenger bag, goodies fall from the sky.

Other nice features are the removable pad that lines the bottom of the bag (it tends to get scuffed up while she’s in the bag, but at least once it’s served as a mat for her to lie on at a restaurant’s outdoor seating area) and the poop bag dispenser built into the tiny pocket on the front of the bag. An overarching nice feature is that the bag is very well made (which it should be, at that price).

The fact is, owners of really small dogs have it easy. There are lots of stealth bags out there for dogs under 10 lbs., and many of them are very discreet indeed. Look, for example, at the Mia Dog Carrier [no longer available, as of 6/11], Trixie & Peanut’s Tailways Pet Tote, or the unaffordable Charles Nantucket Carrier — who would ever know there was a dog inside? Larger small dogs don’t have as many choices. Maybe I’ll buy a second black messenger bag and save it for when Chloe’s current bag wears out. What if it were discontinued??

Amazon link:
Petego EGR Contour Messenger Black Label Bag. Size-Large 20