As Americans set out on their summer getaways, millions grapple with the same question: What to do with the dog?
Last fall's flap over Mitt Romney's Irish setter traveling in a crate atop the family station wagon raised awareness of how not to travel with a pet, but it also made a point: Dogs are part of the family. And increasingly, they're going on vacation with us.
A recent survey by Destination Analysts and DogTrekker.com found that 41 percent of leisure travelers who own dogs have traveled with a canine co-pilot in the past two years. Many more said they would do so if it weren't for confusion over dog-friendly policies, frustration over exorbitant fees and difficulty finding things to do with four-legged family members at the destination.
No bones about it, travel with tail-waggers, like travel with young children, has its challenges - getting Rowdy to settle down in new environments, for one. As I've learned in my role as editor of the website that commissioned the dog-travel survey, plotting a successful trip takes more than just punching a destination into your GPS and jumping into the car with your four-legged friend.
Research and advance planning are key.
Land Park resident Chris Caire, who travels frequently with 6-year-old springer spaniel littermates Dot and Dash, knows the joy to be derived from her pets' unbounded enthusiasm for romping around, sniffing everything, living in the moment. Her trips revolve around places she can take the dogs, and through experience she's gotten the drill down pat.
"My dogs totally dictate what I can and can't do on vacation - and yes, there are limitations," she said. "But if it weren't for the dogs, we never would have discovered some of the best places we've been. The dogs make us find places we otherwise wouldn't.
"And when we find a place that's dog-friendly, we stay longer."
Caire relies on Internet research and word of mouth to plan her getaways, preferring pet-friendly vacation rentals over hotel rooms largely because of the kitchen factor.
She often teams up with dog-owning friends on trips that center around camping, hiking, wine tasting and other outdoor activities on which pets can come along. Lake Tahoe, Murphys and the Central Coast are favorite destinations.
My own dog, Bodacious, a high-wired Brittany spaniel, has traveled in six states and eagerly anticipates the command to "kennel up" in the crate that occupies permanent real estate in my minivan. His appetite for new horizons is almost as voracious as my own, and together we've learned to (almost) completely avoid encounters with "no dogs allowed" signs.
With a bit of planning, you can avoid them, too. As you plan a dog-friendly vacation, keep these things in mind.
'Dog-friendly' is relative
Dog-friendly hotels and vacation rentals are easy to find, but not all are created equal. While some roll out the red carpet with welcome kits and extensive recommendations, others merely tolerate four-legged guests.
Breed and weight restrictions - think pit pulls, German shepherds and, in some cases, any dog too large to be carried - are extremely common at otherwise "pet-friendly" hotels, especially those served by elevators.
Why the apparent discrimination? Hoteliers with whom I've spoken say restrictions are in place because large dogs, especially those with guarding instincts, can intimidate other guests, particularly when encountered in enclosed spaces such as elevators or stairwells. (Many also say that if you can convince them that your mastiff is a sweetheart, they might make an exception.)
Hotel pet fees are another factor to watch. They can be per-day or per-stay, so be sure to clarify. A charge of $15 to $25 per day is the industry norm, although we've seen charges as high as $125 per stay and $75 per day for one dog.
A few brands, among them Kimpton, Sheraton, Motel 6 and Red Roof Inns, don't charge anything extra. Among those that accept pets at most locations for a fee are Best Western, La Quinta, Westin, Courtyard by Marriott, Doubletree, Hilton, Red Lion, Ritz-Carlton and Radisson.
A word to the wise: Never take a "pet friendly" designation on a hotel booking website at face value. Always speak with a live, on-site person to get the bark on fees and policies. Ask, too, about how many rooms are pet-friendly.
Some properties allow dogs only in smoking rooms or a handful of their most undesirable units.
'No pets left unattended ...'
Many first-time dog travelers pat themselves on the back for finding a dog-friendly hotel, only to discover at check-in that rules prohibit pets from being left unattended in the room. (This is the norm, by the way, although some properties will allow crated pets to occupy a room while their owners are absent for short periods.)
OK, so how the heck are you supposed to eat out, go shopping or visit that "no dogs allowed" attraction?
Possible solutions: Find a restaurant that allows dogs at its outdoor tables; order takeout or room service; eat in shifts at an indoor restaurant; hire a pet sitter; put your pooch in doggie day-care; leave it in the car (in cool weather); change your plans.
If you go the sitter or day-care route, be sure to reserve in advance. Ask your hotel for references at the time of booking or search online for a licensed, bonded sitter or day-care facility.
Be forewarned that if your pet is not neutered, you may have difficulty finding care.
Before booking a stay at that hip and oh-so-dog-friendly hotel, think about room location. That fifth-floor suite might have great views, but do you really want to get up in the middle of the night, get dressed, take an elevator downstairs and go outside in an unfamiliar neighborhood to find a place for your dog to do her business?
When it comes to dogs, ground-floor rooms that open directly to the outdoors have lots of advantages.
Packing all your dog gear into a bag will make things easier both on the road and at the destination. Besides the obvious (bowls, food, shot records, favorite toys, bed), you'll want to make sure Daisy is wearing an ID tag with your cellphone number on it. Carry photos, just in case, and throw in some old towels for muddy paws.
Diane Marsh of Roseville, who travels to show and field competitions with four German wirehaired pointers, takes food and a supply of water from home to guard against stomach upset.
"Water from home is critical," she said.
She also comes prepared for dealing with the occasional mess.
"Always keep Lysol and lots of paper towels on hand when traveling with your dogs," Marsh recommends. "If you can get Flagyl from your vet, be sure to carry it. It really helps with diarrhea."
In the car
David Letterman once quipped that if dogs ruled the world, motorists would drive with their heads out the window. Dogs love the feel of the wind in their face and the opportunity to absorb scents only they can smell.
But if you think talking on a cellphone while driving is dangerous, consider the perils of driving with an unrestrained dog in the vehicle.
I learned the hard way when my Bodacious decided to jump from the front seat into the back on a trip up to Tahoe. He did - and on the way hit the gear-shift knob with a back paw, knocking it into "park."
I was doing 70 mph at the time, in heavy traffic. The transmission didn't blow out - an override device kicked in. But I couldn't shift or accelerate until coming to a stop, and getting to the side of the road in a slowing vehicle was a white-knuckle ordeal I won't forget.
Ever since that day, except for the shortest jaunts around the neighborhood, Bodie has ridden in a crate.
If your dog isn't crate trained or your vehicle won't accommodate something so boxy, consider another type of restraint.
Nina Laramore of Santa Rosa, who travels with two black Labrador retrievers, Echo and Tab, swears by the Kurgo Auto Zip Line, a device that stretches across the back seat and allows harnessed dogs to move safely back and forth.
"I love it so much," she said. "It works way better than those dog seat belts."
The urp factor
Yes, dogs get carsick. Puppies especially.
Pam Brann of Loomis learned that in an especially graphic way when a young German shorthaired pointer riding next to her in the front seat turned his head, looked at her, licked his chops ... and urped. Right into her open purse.
Evidently, it was contagious. Another dog, riding in the back seat, suddenly got carsick, too.
There went the brand-new sheepskin seat covers. And a favorite purse.
Moral of story: If you don't crate your dog in the car, train it to ride looking forward. Make short trips around the neighborhood until it gets the procedure figured out, and carry clean-up supplies, just in case.
On the trail
Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy a dog's company, but never assume your furry friend will be welcome on that great-sounding trail a non-doggie friend told you about - especially if you intend to free up your hands by unclipping the leash.
Many high-profile destinations, especially national parks, are not dog-friendly. At Yosemite, for example, dogs are relegated to campgrounds and paved roads or walkways - and what fun is that?
State parks, with few exceptions, have similar "no dogs on trails" policies. And canines may legally romp leash-free only on a precious few California beaches (Carmel Beach and Pfeiffer Beach in Monterey County being by far the most glorious).
California boasts thousands of miles of trails on which you not only can hike with Mickey and Mocha, but let them trot along beside you, leash-free and at their own pace. National forests and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, as a rule, have the fewest restrictions.
Most of the 55 open-space tracts within the East Bay Regional Parks District also allow well- behaved dogs under voice control to hike "naked" away from undeveloped areas.
Before planning a hike, search websites and call ahead if necessary to find out about policies regarding dogs. Always leash up in the presence of cyclists and equestrians.
Putting your dog on a plane can be stressful for both of you, not to mention expensive. Every airline has its own rules, and some, notably Southwest and Jet Blue, don't accept pets at all.
Unless you have a very small dog that can ride with you in the passenger cabin, your pooch will have to travel in a pressurized, temperature-controlled cargo compartment. Health certificates and airline-approved pet carriers are the least of worries when it comes to ensuring a smooth trip.
In summer, airlines prohibit dogs on planes if the temperature at the departure or arrival destination is predicted to be above 85 degrees (that's why nonstop, overnight flights are best). Some carriers impose a summer embargo on snub-nosed breeds such as pugs and bulldogs, which can suffer breathing difficulties in hot weather. American Airlines bans them altogether.
While thousands of dogs fly from Point A to Point B every year without incident, things can and do go wrong.
Shirley Hoskins of San Francisco got a major scare when traveling with BJ, her German wirehaired pointer, to Tulsa, Okla., last year. De-boarding at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport to change planes, she watched from the arrival-gate window as BJ's crate came rolling off the plane on a conveyor belt. Then, from the corner of her eye, she noticed something else: A brown thing - was it an animal? - darting about on the tarmac.
It was BJ.
By the time an escort had been found to take a panicked Hoskins onto the ramp, BJ had been corralled by eight airline employees and duct-taped back into his crate.
"I'd never seen so much duct tape," Hoskins recalled. "But I was so relieved. I thought he was going to be pancaked by an incoming flight."
Only later did Hoskins discover how BJ had gotten out. The 70- pound canine had used his rear legs to push against the airline- approved crate's metal gate until it bowed enough for the locking pins to pull free of the holes that secured them.
Next time - if there is a next time - Hoskins said she'll invest in an aluminum carrier that can't be compromised.