Bring Fido? The Joys and Challenges of Traveling with Your Dog

When my husband Doug and I set out with Ruby, our 3-year-old adopted shelter dog, on a 1000+ mile car trip from our home in Tennessee to New York’s Adirondack mountains, I had starry-eyed notions. I envisioned driving along the open highway to adventure, wind blowing in my hair, Ruby’s ears flapping in the breeze, Doug and I singing a jaunty tune, maybe “This Land is Your Land.”

We didn’t foresee the challenges of finding pet-friendly hotels that would both accept a big dog (Ruby’s close to 70 lbs) and be fit for human habitation. Or of needing to locate an emergency vet in a strange city. We didn’t anticipate that, if left alone in her crate in our rental cabin, Ruby – understandably disoriented – would bark constantly, making it impossible for us to go out together since we didn’t want to disturb the neighbors who had come seeking the same peace and quiet we were.

A recent survey by the American Pet Products Association showed that 37 percent of pet owners take their animals on the road, up from 19 percent about 10 years ago. If you’re considering being one of them, I hope these tips and observations will be helpful.

Do your research. I found and to be great resources for hotels that would accept large dogs and had reasonable or no pet surcharges. Reading the online reviews of fellow travelers warned me off some places. (A step I will never again neglect after, needing last-minute accommodations in the Albany, NY area, we blundered into a downright scary establishment that seemed to double as emergency housing for the homeless and mentally ill and was so filthy we slept with our clothes on.)

Both of these websites also have recommendations for restaurants with outdoor dining spaces where dogs are welcome (Panera Bread we found to be a consistently dependable bet). These sites also list parks and trails; through BringFido I found a beautiful rail trail in Pulaski, VA, where Ruby and I had a welcome break from the car while Doug went to a minor league ball game.

Set a good example as a pet guardian. If we want more places to be pet friendly then we have an obligation to be considerate and responsible owners. This means always cleaning up after our dog, never leaving him or her alone in the motel room to bark and disturb others or get into mischief, and if something is damaged, ‘fessing up and offering to pay for it.

Bring shot records, and your dog’s health history and meds. On the third night after our arrival in the little mountain town of Wilmington, NY, Ruby – who had been clingy and holding her tail funny all day – suddenly yelped in pain when Doug came in from a walk and she tried to greet him with her usual wag. She slumped against him, trembling, as I frantically looked up vets on my iPhone and dialed several – all closed, of course, on that Saturday evening at 8:00. I left messages everywhere, and in ten minutes got a call back from Dr. Gracey Welsh of Lake Placid Animal Hospital, who agreed to meet us at her office 12 miles away. There she thoroughly examined Ruby and treated us all with patience and kindness. She diagnosed an infected anal gland; a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs soon got that happy tail wagging again.

No more pain in the butt. With Dr. Gracey Welsh (r), Lake Placid Animal Hospital

No more pain in the butt. With Dr. Gracey Welsh (r), Lake Placid Animal Hospital

Having Ruby’s veterinary records along greatly simplified the intake process at the hospital. If I had scoped out local vets before our trip, knowing that we were going to be in that area for two weeks, it might have eliminated some anxious moments.

Find a good daycare or boarding facility at your destination. Again, if you’re going to be in one place for an extended period, look for a kennel or a vet that will board your dog for a day or overnight. This was a happy outcome of Ruby’s health crisis: we learned that the Lake Placid Animal Hospital offers doggy daycare and overnight accommodations. It was a great relief to have a safe place to leave our dog when we wanted to spend a day sightseeing, or even just go out for a relaxed dinner without worrying about her being unhappy — and making everyone within earshot equally so.

Accept that your style will be cramped. Recognize that on the road with your dog there will be frustrating limitations. Dining options will be restricted to takeout meals eaten in the car, at a roadside picnic table, or in your motel room. You’ll need to tag-team for bathroom breaks; one of us would walk Ruby, the other would hit the restroom, and then we’d switch. I’ve thought about how I would handle traveling with my dog alone; when I needed a pit stop I would roll down all the windows several inches and put a sign on the dash saying, “Back in 5 minutes. Dog OK” so that some dog-loving vigilante wouldn’t break the windows to rescue her. Not that I blame people for their concern: hot cars become intolerable in a much shorter time than many imagine, and they can be lethal, as is sadly proven every summer when dogs – and even children – die this way.

You’ll see places on the road that you’d like to explore but can’t with a dog, unless one of you agrees to stay with the pup while the other checks out the attraction. Thus, bringing Fido can sometimes feel sort of like being tethered to a ball and chain. We had planned to visit our son in Brooklyn on the way home, spending the night in his apartment, but regretfully decided against adding the stress of New York City to the already considerable challenges of this trip.

Ultimately, though, we felt it was well worth the hassles to be able to share relaxed time in a beautiful environment with our Ruby.


However, for next time I’m fantasizing about…


8 thoughts on “Bring Fido? The Joys and Challenges of Traveling with Your Dog

  1. Morag Greaney

    Adore this piece Mimi. I can relate, and concur with all your points. Our, (now one) dogs threw up same challenges. Tony and I, after adopting our Aussie Shep Larakin, 16 yrs ago, (not with us now) would always have to consider HER needs before traveling; visiting; relaxing; or indeed, having any respite. Mina, our white GSD is same. So, Tony and I not had holiday , together in prob 12 yrs!! Also, Tony, Mina and I lived at Super 8 in Ooltewah for 6-8 weeks, during our transition to TN. ( because, they accepted Mina!) Horrible. Will not elaborate, except to say Waffle House was my neighbour, and my girl Mina was mortified. Now, in one- bed apartment, complex that accepts GSD. JINGS!!!

    1. mimijo Post author

      Thanks, Mo. Yes, we empaths would rather not take a vacation than subject our nonhuman family members to confusion and anxiety–because their mental states are ours!

  2. Suzanne

    Hi Mimi – I love your blog! This post was particularly interesting, as I often envision hitting the road with BB King, but I’m not sure I want to subject him to strange environments or waiting in the car while I explore places I discover along the way. As much as I miss him when I’m away, I think he’s better off at home with his friend (our dog-sitter) Emma — unless my husband Wayne and I are both around to share duties and we’re visiting somewhere he’s welcome and feels comfortable. I also worry about accidents. Even a fender-bender can cause the door to fly open, the dog to jump out. I worry about this even with a halter locked into the seatbelt system.
    Thanks, Mimi!

    1. mimijo Post author

      Thanks for your kind words, Suzanne. Yes, if sightseeing is the goal, boarding one’s furry family member with a trusted pet sitter is probably the best strategy. We were just getting from point A to point B as expeditiously as possible– and still it was a major challenge!

  3. Susan Lee

    Great read. As you know Rick and i bought an rv so we can take them with us. Wish hotels would have a pet hotel attached in big cities. This weekend we had to board out babies when we went yo Atlanta. They were not hsppy.

  4. Gracey Welsh

    I just saw this! Great advice to readers! And Ruby was a perfect patient and I’m so glad that we were able to save your vacation!! See you next time you venture to Lake Placid!

    1. mimijo Post author

      Thank you, Dr. Welsh! We plan to visit Wilmington/Lake Placid annually, and will definitely bring Ruby to stay with you.


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