canines, pets

I recently had a fabulous time flying with my dog, Buttercup. But itraveldog2n preparing for the trip, I found nothing but horror stories and heartbreaking posts on message boards all over the internet. Not helpful! I needed some friendly advice about how to best prepare for flying with a pet, and couldn’t find much. So, for anyone who is thinking of taking their pet with them on a trip, here’s how to make it happen safely!

1. Know Before You Go

The #1 thing that I would suggest, especially for your first flight, is to do your homework. Nothing helped me more than being prepared, knowing all of the airline’s policies, and having any and all of the gear that I thought might be helpful. Do not be shy about calling your airline with questions. I called maybe five separate times before the day of my flight. More airlines have good information on their websites, but it can be a little airline-industry-jargony (I was REALLY confused about cargo vs baggage) so make the call if you have any questions. Seriously.

2. Know What Will Keep You Grounded

Policies on whether a dog can go in-cabin or in baggage, or whether a dog can fly at all, vary by airline. We flew American, as we always do (HI AA YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND MAKE ME PLATINUM THX), and I found their policies at They allow pets, but restrict certain breeds (smashy-faced dogs and cats are not allowed, because of potential breathing issues). Buttercup is too tall and too big overall to go in the cabin (dogs need to be able to stand up and turn around in a 19in x 13in x 9in carrier that fits under the seat in front of you). So, Buttercup was going to have to go below, in checked baggage.

Very important for checked pets: ground temperatures. We were traveling in late May/early June, and the ground temp at take off and landing cannot be over 85 degrees at any point in  your itinerary – which for us meant in Chicago or in Philadelphia. The website was a little vague on the specifics, so I called and called and called some more until I had all of the information I needed. I learned, for instance, that the temperature restrictions were limited to the time Butter would be waiting for take off or waiting to be deplaned -take off and landing. This was important in my case, because the day we landed was going to be too hot – but we were flying so early in the morning (my alarm went off at 3:45am, I wish this on no one), that the temperature at landing was still going to be a cool and safe 70 degrees.

So that’s a key thing. If you’re going to Miami from Chicago on an August afternoon, don’t plan to check your dog. It’s not safe and the airline – at least American – will turn you away. On both of our flights, they checked ground temps first thing before they let us proceed.

traveldog1An Aside: Let’s Talk About Dogs as Baggage…

I kept seeing a lot of confusing information about transporting a pet as cargo and traveling with a pet in checked baggage. The quick answer to what the heck is the difference is basically cargo is for when you are NOT traveling with your pet (for instance, a rescue pet being shipped to a new owner) and checked baggage is for when you are your pet are on the same plane. American’s very specific term is “excess baggage.” I learned this from a very kind ticketing agent on my third or 20th call to the airline. She explained to me the differences, and very importantly, that she travels with her dog in baggage and while she is always very nervous, it has always gone well for them. Thank you so much, kind ticketing lady! So, Buttercup went into excess baggage. This area is climate controlled, pressurized, and well secured.

“I could never do that.” 

I heard this a few times from fellow dog lovers as I was planning this trip. And I am guilty of thinking this and maybe even saying this myself in the past. I get it. Who wants to give up your dog into the hands of an airline, those institutions known for not always offering up the best in customer care? I was pretty much in this camp…until I started flying regularly for work. In my almost monthly flights over the last year, I have seen numerous bigger-than-cabin-size dogs in airports, presumably going into checked baggage. I recently watched a man pick up his two dogs in two carriers and wait for his ride away from O’Hare. My fear of flying with Buttercup, I was beginning to realize, was like my fear of flying itself. There are very real risks, but the numbers of actual incidents are low. Yes, we’ve all read the recent-ish horror stories of pets lost and killed on flights. But, relative to the number of pets flown every year, these stories are statistically tiny. Pets tend to fly safe. I saw evidence of this almost every time I flew.

And again, by doing my homework and taking all of the necessary precautions for Buttercup, I gave her the best possible chance for a safe experience.

3. Do These Things

SO here’s are the basic steps I took to prepare us for a great experience:

  1. Socialized and trained Buttercup to enjoy traveling in cars and to accept new people and new situations. She’s been in five star hotels and cheap motel chains, elevators, every kind of staircase, piers and docks, city streets and so on. She was comfortable walking on her leash in the airports, friendly with strangers and airline personnel, and listened to my commands, even with lots of distractions. Good girl!
  3. Learned what the best airline safe crate is, how it would be secured by the airline (cable ties everywhere!), bought one early, and acclimated her to it.
  4. Brought scissors in my carry-on bag (from the TSA site, I learned I could bring a pair with blades under 4″) so I could cut off the cable ties the airlines would use to secure the crate door as soon as we were reunited on the ground.
  5. Took her on a very long walk the night before the flight.
  6. Gave her a normal breakfast and offered her water up until she was taken to holding.
  7. Gave her two of these before the flight. I love these. They are all natural, and seem to relax and even make Buttercup sleepy without chemical sedation. Sedatives are frowned on by airlines, as some can cause respiratory distress. (If you do use sedatives prescribed by your vet, the airline will want to know this before you board.) The great thing about the calming treats was that I’d used them before (she’s super scared of thunderstorms), so I knew how they affect her. I would not recommend giving your dog something she’s never had before right before a flight.
  8. Got to the airport early so there would be ample time to take care of checking Buttercup and for getting myself through O’Hare’s variable security lines.
  9. Asked a million questions of the gate agents and baggage handlers who took care of her. I am normally a bit reserved but I was not shy. “Where does she go now? Have you checked your dog? Where can I expect to find her when we land? Will you make sure she’s okay. I’m scared!”
  10. Bought water after I was through security so I could offer her some as soon as we landed.
  11. Explained that I was traveling with my dog in excess baggage to the flight attendant and asked if she could make sure for me that Buttercup made it on. The FA on the outgoing flight was very, very kind about this and reassured me, asking me all about Butter. The one coming home never followed-up. In fact, I never saw her again. Maybe she parachuted off?
  12. Watched M*A*S*H on the flights. Very comforting.
  13. Tried to relax, knowing I’d done everything I could to make this a good trip for us.

Listen, I WAS SUPER SCARED to check Buttercup. It was not an easy choice. But, I looked at my options and it was, I think, the best choice for her. I was going to be away for ten days and have no nearby friends or family who can care for her. I have boarded her for long trips before, but when I weighed the risks and stress of Buttercup being out of my care for 10-11 days vs for the five hours or so it took for the 1.5 flight plus boarding and landing times both ways, it really wasn’t a contest. We had amazing hosts waiting for us on the other end, and we had the best trip, ever.

canines, day in the life

This has been a most difficult week. I’m sitting here in our home office, shivering because our furnace is dead (it is 13 degrees outside, 50 inside), preparing to go to work tomorrow where I’ve taken over for a colleague who very suddenly had a baby Tuesday (weeks and weeks early) and my days are filled with stress and uncertainty.

I’m so tired, it’s hard to think.

But I saw this at PostSecret this morning, and was just so comforted.


I’m not a religious person, and since 2006, I’m not even sure you can call me a spiritual person. But who knows? Perhaps even a cynical doubter like me is in line for a “reward.”

Doodle, I will see you there.

canines, day in the life

Job Hazard #1: Falling in Love.

I’ve been walking dogs for almost three years now, and I’ve had around twenty-five regular clients; dogs that I see every day. If you have any sort of human feeling at all, you can’t help but develop a relationship with someone you see five days a week, especially someone who is just as thrilled to see you Monday as he was Friday. How often does that happen in an office? Even the really difficult (i.e. utterly untrained) ones *coughbeaglescough* have grown on me, and I find these days that I have a genuine fondness for every single dog I walk.

And that can make saying goodbye a hard thing, indeed.
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canines, day in the life

It’s been cold here. Snowed a lot. You know, the usual for the Midwest in February. But it seems like this crazy weather – from 40 F to -2 in twenty-four hours – is a bit extreme this year. And tiresome, for sure. Dog walking in this weather is a challenge most days and third-circle-of-hellish on days like yesterday.

9:30am, I dressed in my requisite fifteen layers and headed out to clean a weekend worth of snow from my car. The small lane between my house and parking area, and the lot itself were thickly covered with snow, which, in turn, covered a nice solid layer of ice. Slip sliding away, baby.
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I don’t really remember Buffy. Just a fleeting glimpse, a snapshot of a large ginger dog who was too big for me to play with and very wiggly is all I have of her. I have been lead to understand that she was my big sister’s pet when I was born, perhaps even given to her as a consolation for the sudden invasion into her life of a squirming, screaming, sickly baby – in other words, me. But before I could truly add her to my conscious memories, Buffy was gone from our family. I suspect she met some ignominious end, and whether she was flattened by a semi-trailer out on route 1 in Osceola, or simply given away to someone, somewhere, because we did not want her any longer, I really do not want to know. This is not to my credit.

The next dog in my life would persist until both she and I were in our late teens, and both she and I found ourselves floundering into new and dangerous phases of our lives – she into elderly dog-hood, I into intensely insecure college dropout. Our parting was deeply sad and would leave a hole in my heart that I would later unsuccessfully try to fill with three cats of my own and, ultimately, ten of other people’s dogs.

We found Snoopy at a Taco Bell. In version of the story told over the years by various members of the family – some who weren’t even there – Snoop was found in the parking lot, but this is simply untrue. While we may have first spotted her small black and white wiggly little self running through the parking lot, we first took notice of her in the Taco Bell itself. She was a very smart little dog, and seeing her chance, she ran in the door when it was held open just long enough. And suddenly no one in that steamy faux-Mexican eatery could ignore her. Snoopy, who was not yet christened with her most original moniker, saw that this was her moment, her chance to convince one of these lucky diners that she was the Best Little Dog in the World (she was), and that despite having a multitude of tasty menu choices before them, the best decision they could make that evening was to take her home. I know you think I’m exaggerating in regards to Snoopy’s conscious effort in this, but I am not.

Once realizing that she had the attention of the entire crowd in that restaurant, Snoop became a one-dog circus, performing and careening and making herself adorable. She knew exactly what she was doing. She raced around, running laps from one side of the place to the other. She barked and crouched at patrons’ feet. She even jumped straight into the arms of one unsuspecting woman, who, having no good sense, dropped her back to the floor. I don’t remember who it was in my group who first said it, but there seemed to be a very quick consensus that this dog must come home with us. And so she did – but not my house, much to my deep disappointment. The Best Little Dog in the World rode away in the back of my Aunt Pam’s station wagon, dining on her very own taco. Aunt Pam named her Fanny, and loved her, but in one of those mysterious adult negotiations that kids are never quite privy to, Fanny was one day offered to us.

We took her. Fast. Our family of five (Mom, Dad, Sister, Me and a cat named Toby) was now six. As we watched our newest member explore our small house, sticking her nose in every nook and cranny she could find, Dad said, “she likes to snoop into things. Let’s call her Snoopy.” Though my own suggestion, “Cheerio” (what a good little consumer I was), had been summarily vetoed, I happily agreed.

Snoopy was home.

canines, day in the life

Lady Bug has been abused in the past and has some fear aggression problems, but she’s very loving for all that. We’re pals, and I really enjoy my early afternoons with her.

Our typical visit goes like this:

Lady: [lunging, but full of fear] barkbarkbarkBARKbarkbarkbarkBARKgrrrrrrwl! (trans. please don’t kill me)
Me: [giving her a hand to sniff] Hi Lady Bug! Hey there posey! You know me. Wanna go for your WALK?
Lady: [licks my hand]
Me: good GIRL!
Lady: [looks up at me, a little less scared now]
Me: let’s get your stuff. You want the pink collar or the red one?
Lady: [endures silly question patiently, knows treat may be involved]
Me: pink it is!
Lady: [wags tail a little, knows treat may be involved]

Off we go, through her quiet neighborhood, to the huge soccer field of a nearby school. She loves it there and for a few moments her eyes will grow shiny with excitement as she romps and plays and, I hope, forgets whatever it was that’s made her so very scared of the world.
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canines, day in the life

Writing is really hard for me right now. Which is bad. Bad for you because you don’t get updates in any sort of timely fashion. Very bad for me because I’m staring at a WRITING TEST which I must complete by Monday in order to test out of my school program’s writing course.

But the words and sentences and pictures they make will not come. They’re all stuck in a cloud of second-guesses and self-doubt and lack of motivation. The last one isn’t completely my fault – my assigned topic is methamphetamines, which, when you think about it, is really ironic. But it’s not interesting to me, and I’m staring to fear it. At least I can spell it now. That took a while.

Something has happened to me this summer. I’m all slow and fudgy. I feel like my mind, my words, are wading through a sea of muck, possibly made up of dog poop.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the dogs. A lot. But my brain is just…gone. No wait, it’s here. I think.

Anyone have some meth?