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Breaking the rules: Sneaking your dog into forbidden territory in a “stealth” bag

Yesterday I wrote a review of the Fundle Ultimate Pet Carrier, and mentioned that I’d been asked by a reader to evaluate it as a potential “stealth” bag for her Cavalier puppy. One of my more dedicated readers objected to the word “stealth,” commenting that the “tag implies you are using the bag to take your dog where it is prohibited. Doing so, and getting caught, may further hold back people and places from adopting a pet friendly attitude.”

If you look back through my posts, you’ll hear me deploring the poor behavior of dog owners who sneak dogs onto planes, or into hotels that do not welcome pets. I’ve urged readers to follow the rules while they’re traveling with their dog, so that people who dislike dogs won’t have a reason to be offensive. However, you’ll also learn that we have snuck Chloe into several restaurants around the country. I took her into a small museum at Shiloh Battlefield. I’ve given serious consideration to sneaking her on board an Amtrak train. Making a full confession, I will tell you that we also brought a very young Chloe, concealed in her messenger bag, to a high-school musical we found ourselves attending in Brooklyn.

How do I reconcile those two kinds of behavior? Not comfortably, since I am by nature an obedient person. At the same time, however, not every rule makes sense to me in every situation. I understand that, generally speaking, rules forbidding a dog’s presence in a particular location are meant to prevent people from being annoyed or hurt by the physical characteristics or behavior of a dog. I make the choices I do in the belief that I am observing the intent of the rule even if I am breaking the actual rule.

In her messenger bag, Chloe is invisible and completely contained. She cannot lick, drool, chew, pee, poop, jump, or shed. She is also — and this is our good fortune — silent (she finds her messenger bag comforting, and immediately goes to sleep in it). Please note that this would not work for every dog. Large dogs cannot be be tucked into a discreet carrier, and many small dogs are too active or noisy to “disappear.”

The only possible objection there could be to Chloe’s being present in a particular location while she’s in her messenger bag is that some dander may escape the bag and cause trouble for an allergy sufferer. I think it’s more likely that an allergy sufferer would be affected by the thick coating of cat and dog hair that typically covers our clothing (we own four cats and a dog), but nevertheless I would never sneak Chloe into a hospital or a health care facility, where people are grappling with health issues and may be extra-vulnerable to allergens.

I would also never sneak Chloe onto a plane. The air filters in planes are remarkably effective, despite all their bad press, but the fact is that airplane passengers are locked for hours at a stretch in a room high in the air. An allergy sufferer should be given the chance to be relocated before everyone is settled into their seats. I would not sneak Chloe into a hotel that does not welcome dogs, because a hotel like that may not have the deep-cleaning equipment that pet-friendly hotels have (and wouldn’t realize that deep cleaning was necessary).

A restaurant, by contrast, is located at ground level, and has open doors. We never spend more than 45 minutes on the kind of meal we’ve eaten with Chloe at our feet, but we could leave sooner if our presence caused another diner concern or trouble. I spent no more than 10 minutes walking through the Shiloh Battlefield museum, and I could have left instantly if Chloe had caused a problem. In each instance, I evaluated whether Chloe (in her carrier) was likely to cause the kind of problem the rules are designed to prevent, and decided that she wasn’t — and that I could easily cure the problem if I had made the wrong decision.

As my husband points out, we make similar decisions all the time. I think speeding, for example, is unsafe, but I will drive over the speed limit when I believe that I am not creating an undue risk for myself or for others, and when I don’t anticipate being caught. But what about the bigger question my reader raised — if I am caught breaking the rules, will I set back the cause of pet travel?

I don’t think so. I believe that businesses become pet-friendly because they think that they will bring in more revenue by welcoming pet owners. A restaurant that asks us and Chloe to leave is no less pet-friendly than it was when we walked in the door. If anything, the incident might remind a restaurateur that he could enjoy our patronage, and that of other dog owners, if the restaurant became pet-friendly. I think the real harm happens when a business — like a hotel — declares itself to be pet-friendly, and then pet owners abuse the situation by making unreasonable demands or by failing to control their pets.

14 comments

  • Amy@GoPetFriendly

    Mary-Alice, I totally get where you are coming from! First of all, having met Chloe first-hand, I can attest to the fact that she is the sweetest, most well-behaved, angel of a dog, EVER! Secondly, I completely agree that in many cases, the rule prohibiting our pets serve no logical purpose. However, I have to say that business owners have the right to set these rules – and we have the right to go elsewhere. Fortunately, there are many places that will welcome our pets, and choosing to frequent these places helps them stay in business.

    I also think there is a danger in encouraging people to decide for themselves when it is acceptable to break the rules. I have no doubt that you are very considerate of others, but in my experience the general public is not so thoughtful. We’ve been on many trails that are clearly marked as leash-required, only to find dogs off-leash; their owners apparently feel they are not infringing on anyone else. And how about the people that don’t pick up after their pets? They must believe breaking that rule is okay. It seems to me that when we leave it up to individuals to decide what behavior is appropriate, things don’t turn out very well.

  • Hi, Amy! Both points you make are good ones. Yes, I’m comfortable-ish with the rule-breaking choices I make, but other people may well not be, just as I am astonished and dismayed by the choices that I see made by some pet owners. It’s a very slippery slope, and it would be best not to set down it at all.

    I also like your point about encouraging pet-friendly travel by seeking out opportunities to eat at dog-friendly restaurants. By eating sneakily at restaurants that don’t welcome dogs, I’m missing the chance to give my dollars to restaurants that do. We do indeed love and patronize dog-friendly restaurants, and we salute Go Pet Friendly for making it ever-easier to find additional dog-friendly places to dine and visit. Seeing pet-friendly establishments succeed is the best impetus other businesses can have to join them!

  • Karen Friesecke

    My Aunt used to “sneak” her toy poodle Bert into all kinds of places. The movies, restaurants, shopping and nobody was none the wiser. I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as the dog is quiet and well behaved.

  • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

    I’m glad you addressed this because I too wondered about the bag review/post and the whole stealth idea. I see tiny dogs hiding in purses/bags all the time in malls, stores, etc. Personally, it doesn’t bother me.

    Alas, my two are WAY to big to sneak in anywhere, so it isn’t an option for us. It helps that in our “home town” businesses that allow pets put little paw-print stickers on their front window so that you know if it’s OK to bring your dog in or not.

    My brother did once sneak his tiny-tiny yorkie-poodle mix into a hospital so that my mom could see her before going into open-heart surgery. It provided a much-needed distraction for us all, on a very emotional and worry-soaked day. One person did give us some crap for having her there, but I personally didn’t think a 10-minute visit (very early in the morning) was too much of an intrusion.

    The assisted living place she is in now allows dogs and cats. Heck, they even have “house” pets, but I still asked if it was OK for Lilly to visit before bringing her inside.

    I tend to get on my high horse about the whole allergy thing. I get it. I really do. I’m a life-long allergy suffer. I’m technically allergic to both dogs and cats. I’m horribly allergic to all kinds of grasses and trees, but you don’t see people banning green/growing things from public spaces.

    Anyway, the ONE cheater move that makes me completely MENTAL are those people who fake a dog’s “service dog” status so that they can bring their dog into public spaces. We have a neighbor whose dog wears a pathetic, homemade service dog vest. I’ve seen them shopping in Costco. That has all kinds of far-reaching implications for people who really DO need their service animals.

  • You are so right, Roxanne. Using a fake service dog vest to get your dog in the door is completely irritating and, I believe, tends to undermine the credibility of people who do rely on service dogs but are not obviously impaired (I’m thinking, for example, of a woman who goes to the same allergist I go to, who’s accompanied by a Cavalier in a vest — she looks perfectly normal, but she has a condition where she just…stops…breathing, and her Cavalier barks at her and nips her until she wakes up and breathes again.)

  • Helen and Raja

    The pleasure of traveling with your dog is having your dog out and about, not under wraps. So working to change the rules is the best practice because all benefit- especially the big dogs with good behavior. And honesty when confronting doorkepers so often works. That having been said, I feel the greatest threats in the world do not come from a spaniel puppy in a soft sided carrier. This is the least of our worries.

    Many years ago, as my mother was dying of cancer in a facility that would not even allow me to bring her puppy onto the grounds and hold him outside the window so she could wave to him, I snuck said puppy into the facility thrice in a big purse.

    Smooth move and no regrets!

  • And there, of course, is the reason it’s so dangerous to say “never”! I’m with you, Helen — in that situation, I too would have snuck my mother’s pet in to see her. I also agree that it’s more fun to have Chloe visible than hidden!

  • Maddy

    I had friends who carried their small dog in the same kind of carrier and as they were going into a hotel, the woman was knocked down and the mugger grabbed everything she was carrying, including the bag with the dog. She never saw the dog again.

  • Ian Mondrow

    I agree that sneaking pets into places is an act that I am not fond of, particularly restaurants. However, I just took a position with an organization that may require me to travel a significant amount of time. I could leave my dog with my parents but he is important to me and I would prefer to bring him with me.

    Given that, the prices that airlines charge to bring your small dog as a carry-on are outrageous! It costs $150 per direction to put my dog under the seat in front of me. They do not even give my dog water or treats for the flight. Finally, I get one less carry-on. This is a joke because I see no benefit for me as a customer. I am currently trying to find a dog carrier that looks discrete so I can take my dog on flights. My dog is not one to bark or cry. However, if I go to the bathroom, he will start to cry. Can anyone recommend any bags I can look at?

    In addition, has anyone in the pet community ever thought about petitioning the airlines to eliminate these pointless fees?

  • Sandra

    As a individual working with over 10 years experience as a housekeeper.We never did deep
    cleans after a person checked out that had a pet.We were not instructed to do so the idea that rooms go through a deep clean after a person checks out with a pet I find laughable.The deposit is more likely to line the hotels pockets which it is their right to charge it.But a deep clean after every person with a pet checks out?I seriously doubt it.

  • Hi, Sandra! Thanks so much for your comment — it’s really helpful to hear from people who have been on the front lines. It must be that policies vary with the establishment, because I met a service provide on a recent flight who assured me that *her* hotel deep cleaned after every dog guest — she detailed all the parts of the cleaning, and generally conveyed her feeling that it was a big, time-consuming deal (I don’t think she was too crazy about the dog guests…).

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