I’ve touched on this topic from time to time, but for some reason a relatively harmless article posted on suite101.com prompted me to crack my knuckles, fire up a new page on WordPress, and come to grips with the question. Perhaps it’s because the author’s tone was so reasonable: Why, he asks, would you want to bring your dog to Oaxaca, Mexico? Traveling with a dog, Mr. Starkman says, will restrict your hotel choices, will prevent you from doing a lot of the things you’ll want to do, and will be hard on your dog, who would much prefer “being boarded in a quality facility back home where he can frolic with his own race.”
I’ve seen these arguments before, but usually they’re phrased less elegantly — people who dislike dogs can be truly venomous. Mr. Starkman has a dog of his own (a brindle boxer named Tito), so we can be pretty sure he’s not a dog-hater, and he raises some good points. At the end of the day, I reach an entirely different conclusion than he does, but it’s worth talking through his concerns.
It’s true that not every dog likes to travel. After reading my friend Edie Jarolim’s recent series of posts on Will My Dog Hate Me? about her efforts to address her dog Frankie’s reservations about car travel, I understand that traveling is not the joyous romp for all dogs that it is for Chloe. I do not believe, however, that dogs generally prefer to be in “a quality facility back home.” On the contrary, I believe that most dogs like best to be with their humans, even though some tolerate, and some even enjoy, the company of other dogs. For some dogs, and I include Chloe among them, contact with their humans is crucial to their well-being.
Even Frankie has a fine time once he reaches his destination — it’s just the car he dislikes. As Edie’s posts demonstrate, travel anxiety can be removed or soothed with considerate training and calming scents and sounds. Consult your veterinarian, if you have an anxious dog but think you might like to travel together. Please note that you and your vet may conclude that your dog’s health precludes some forms of travel — a senior dog with health issues and a snub nose, for example, would not be a good candidate for air travel, if he couldn’t fit in an in-cabin carrier.
I also agree that you can’t bring a dog with you to every destination. Dogs aren’t allowed in Antarctica, they aren’t typically welcome in Muslim countries, and I wouldn’t dream of taking Chloe to Thailand — I barely survive there in my wispiest clothing, for heaven’s sake. I have not yet been to Oaxaca, so I cannot offer personal experience to contradict Mr. Starkman’s report that local attitudes towards dogs, and visitors with dogs, are negative. I find it hard to believe that Oaxacans would fear Chloe (though they might fear a brindle boxer), and I have no problem with being considered eccentric. That said, I agree that it’s worth doing research ahead of time to make sure that bringing a dog to a particular destination is not likely to harm the destination, unduly inconvenience your hosts, or endanger your dog.
I do not agree that my vacation will suffer because I will be compelled to choose a substandard hotel. Even in Oaxaca, TripAdvisor lists six dog-friendly hotels. They all sound like fine choices; the top-rated one is #2 out of Oaxaca’s 101 listed hotels, and sounds terrific. That doesn’t surprise me — typically, a destination’s pet-friendly hotels will include both high-end hotels and more modest hotels. I’ve never had to stay someplace dirty or unsafe or poorly located because I was traveling with Chloe. We stay in exactly the same kind — and quality — of hotels we stayed in before we had a dog.
I also do not agree that my vacation will suffer because I will be prevented from visiting attractions that do not welcome dogs. In Oaxaca, we are told, a dog will not be welcome at Monte Albán, Mitla or a market. Presumably, dogs are also not allowed in local museums or churches. This is not news to dog owners. Traveling with a dog is not the same as traveling on your own, but with a bit of planning you can see all the sights you want to see. You want to visit the ruins at Monte Albán? Then wake up early, work off your dog’s morning energy with a long walk through town, and visit Monte Albán — or the Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo, or the Cathedral — while she’s napping in her travel crate.
The fact is, it’s fun to travel with your dog. With a dog, you’ll walk through neighborhoods you’d only see in passing from a bus or a taxi, and at a leisurely pace. If your dog is attractive and approachable, you will meet locals at every turn — and at their warmest, goofiest best. It’s a hoot to seek out pet-friendly bakeries, shops and restaurants, and in the process you’ll find yourself learning about parts of the city that tourists don’t typically visit. Worried about culture shock or isolation? It’s difficult to be depressed, and impossible to be lonely, with a dog — even if you feel like curling up in a ball, your dog needs to get out at least a couple of times a day. Other kinds of traveling are an even easier sell, since hiking and camping are much more fun with a dog, as are road trips. And sailing? Do a search for “dogs sailing” on Flickr and see for yourself.
That’s where Mr. Starkman misses the boat. He sketches a dismal picture of pet travel — undertaken by self-indulgent owners at the expense of their dog’s happiness, and resulting in a disappointing, suboptimal vacation experience — when the reality is so very different. Anyone who sees Chloe snorfling happily through the streets and parks of New York, or Friday Harbor, or Columbus, sees a dog having the time of her life, and sharing her pleasure with her owners.