I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Kelly E. Carter—the mastermind behind The Jet Set Pets travel website and author of the book The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel—when she stopped by Nat Geo headquarters.
“[Dogs] bring us such joy,” she said. “So how come they can’t go everywhere with us?” Good question.
Read on for more about the current state of pet travel and what dog-loving globetrotters need to know to keep their four-legged friends safe on the road.
Leslie Trew Magraw: Pet travel is a bit of a niche industry. How did you get into this line of work?
Kelly E. Carter: I never remember not having a dog. [My family] had everything—poodles, Saint Bernards, German shepherds, pit bulls. You name it, we had it.
You used to be a sports and celebrity reporter. How did you transition to covering pet travel?
Traveling has always been my thing. Even when I covered the [Los Angeles] Lakers, I never missed a game as a beat writer. Some editors like their writers to take a break during the season so their writing doesn’t get stale—it’s a lot of games. But I said, “No, I am going to work every day, and then take the entire summer off.” So that’s what I would do; I would travel for three months.
I spent some time covering celebrities, but tired of it, so I started dabbling in travel writing every so often. By the time I moved to Italy, in 2003, I had had [my dog] Lucy for two years, so I started pitching stories on pet travel. Oh, my gosh, there are hotels that cater to pets? Let’s write about that. Now there are doggie dining menus at hotels? Let me write about that. Whatever I was coming across, I would write about it.
Do you think you came into the travel world at a time when these trends were taking off? Or do you feel like you started to notice it more?
I think the trends were taking off. It wasn’t that I didn’t see other people traveling with their dogs [when I started]. But now when I go to the airport it really is unusual if I don’t see another dog going through security. I started the website [in March of 2012] mainly to help other people avoid the frustration that I had been going through for years.
And I’m a journalist first and foremost, so while there are a lot of dog travel sites out there, there’s nothing like mine. No one else delivers the news—the facts. That’s why I call my website the luxury travel resource. It really is a resource; it’s for people who want to know about not just where their dog can get a blueberry facial, but how safe is the airline they want to transport their dog on as baggage, because that’s something that’s overlooked way too much, unfortunately.
Speaking of…Small pets can go in airplane cabins nowadays, but what about bigger dogs? Have things changed for the better? Are there more options available now?
The airline industry is getting better at transporting pets as cargo, but it still has a very long ways to go. There are still too many deaths.
People say, “Oh, my dog is healthy, and received a health travel certificate from the vet.” But the thing is you don’t know how your dog is going to react when it’s in that situation. They get stressed out and something happens to their heart even if they’ve never shown any inkling of a heart problem before. So I don’t recommend [transporting your pet in the cargo hold] unless it’s absolutely necessary.
What’s the best transportation method for traveling with dogs?
The best method is in a car—and if you take your car in the dog, you must, must, must secure your dog and use a harness.
Don’t let your dog roam free around the car. Don’t let your dog sit in your lap. Don’t let your dog hang its head out of the window. That’s one of the most dangerous things. That flapping of the ears does damage to the eardrums, you never know when you’re going to hit something, and when debris flies through, something could get in your dog’s eyes. Then you end up at the vet with a big bill because you thought it was cute that Rover was hanging its head out of the window.
What’s the most dog-friendly country in the world?
France. I’ve never heard of a hotel that didn’t accept pets in France. You see dogs in restaurants sitting at a seat—they have their own chair! There are very few places that you cannot take dogs. There’s an area in the Louvre—a big square—and it’s like all the dogs in Paris are there playing. France is just one of those places where dogs are revered.
Italians love their dogs, too.
How about in the United States? What’s the most dog-friendly place in America?
Carmel-by-the-Sea—that’s two hours south of San Francisco on California’s Central Coast.
I realize that my life traveling with Lucy has been easy because she’s so small. It’s not until you go to a place like Carmel that you actually see how pet-friendly a place can be. This real estate agent I met there said “I’m going out with you tonight and I’m going to bring my dog, Gustav, and you’re going to see how pet-friendly Carmel is.” Gustav weighs 138 pounds.
When you go into art galleries and wine-tasting rooms, there are big dogs everywhere. And the beach there is off-leash. Granted it’s only one mile long–Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small place–but, still, the fact that the entire beach is off-leash really says something.
Does your dog have any favorite destinations?
Oh, yeah! Do you think dogs don’t know Italian when they hear it? Lucy loves to hear another language. She loves when people speak to her in Italian. Her little ears just perk up. And because she’s a Chihuahua, she’s partial to Mexico. I think she really knows when she’s meeting Mexicans. She’s like “My people! Yea!” I think because their hearing is so keen that they really pick up on accents. We like accents, and dogs do, too.
In your book, you draw a distinction between hotels that are “dog-tolerant” and those that are “dog-friendly.” What’s the difference?
It’s very important for travelers to be aware. People think they’re going to a dog-friendly hotel and then, when they get there, the hotel wants to charge them an extra $200 and there are no [special] amenities. There are some hotels that are just making a killing off of people who want to bring their little four-legged friends with them.
It doesn’t have to be expensive. Look at a brand like Kimpton. They have 60 hotels or something nationwide and not one charges; there’s no pet fee ever, there’s no restrictions, and the hotel does just fine.
What about non-luxury places? What could average, run-of-the-mill chains do to be more sensitive to dog owners who want to travel with their pets?
I think a small thing, even though I’m sure the numbers would add up after awhile, is to provide bags to encourage people to pick up [after their pets]. Maybe have a designated [pet] area at the hotel, because there’s usually so little grass. The hotels in Las Vegas do a very good job of this. The Cosmopolitan Hotel, Caesar’s Palace, the Four Seasons, they all have designated areas with pick-up bags and a trash can. Just having a trash can on property makes a big difference.
When should you leave Fido at home?
You should leave Fido at home if Fido is not well behaved. If Fido barks, whines, shows any kind of separation anxiety, then you really shouldn’t take Fido with you until those problems have been solved. If they’re never solved, or if your dog isn’t healthy, I don’t think Fido should go.
Not every dog should travel, just as not every person should travel. You learn early on if your dog likes to travel. If your dog goes and hides under the bed when the suitcase comes out, he’s trying to tell you something.
How does traveling with your pet enhance a travel experience?
For one thing, you don’t have to worry about what’s going on with your dog. Even though doggie hotels have so many luxuries these days—doggie cams and daily reports—there is nothing like having your pet with you because you know how well your pet is being taken care of.
Dogs pretty much just want to be with us. As much as they love other dogs, and going to doggie day care and seeing their little buddies and all of that, when it comes down to it, they’re also our family members, and if you go away on a family vacation, they want to be with you, too.
It helps also because you get to meet people in the town that you’re visiting. When you have a dog, you walk your dog, you see other people with their dogs and start a conversation, maybe you learn something about the place you’re visiting or get invited to a little doggie play group. You get to see a different side of places. Dogs are great conversation starters.