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Oh, my aching muscles...

The Adventure and Practicality of Moving With Your Animals

By Diane Dash

I drove from Atlanta to Seattle with four cats in tow ten years ago. I had a great time, visiting friends en route and sight-seeing my way through Graceland, the Grand Canyon and along the California coast. My cats however, did not enjoy the trip as thoroughly.

They traveled in a large rabbit cage which fit into the rear of my Escort hatchback. I attached a litter box to the opening of the cage so they could relieve themselves, but my boy cat decided this was his personal space and stayed in there all day. The other cats endured the trip from the far corners of the enclosure, trying to contain their rage if someone else’s tail happened to touch theirs for a split second.

But the nights were fun time. Each evening was spent in a different locale, with new smells, new views out the window, and new places to explore (a couple of times this was the inside of a box spring which they were reluctant to come out of—opening a can of tuna usually produced a mass exodus). While I rested and planned the following day’s adventure they gleefully investigated every inch of our latest digs. But the next morning the howling resumed as it was back in the car for another eight hours on the road (luckily the radio and road noise drowned most of this out).

As much as my cats detested the trip I never considered leaving them behind. As part of my family they were coming even if I left every other possession behind. Moving always requires lots of planning, especially cross-country. Bringing your animals along is not that much extra work in the grand scheme of things.

Many hotels accept pets, as do apartments and houses for rent. Despite this, moving is the number one reason why animals are surrendered to shelters. Many people don’t realize how easy it is to bring their companions along—or they don’t consider the trauma the animal suffers if it is abandoned.

Advance Planning Pays Off

Your pet’s needs on the road are not that much different from their needs at home. They’ll require food, water, a collar with ID tag, a leash for dogs, litter and litterbox, toys, grooming supplies, a pet first aid kit, and a photo and description in case they’re lost.

Proper restraint is also essential. Cats should be contained in a secure carrier that is big enough for them to stand up in and turn around. Dogs can also be housed in a carrier, or restrained with a pet safety harness that functions like a seat belt. They’re available at pet supply stores or through Saab dealerships. Transporting your animal in the back of a pickup truck is extremely dangerous and should not be done (whether it’s cross-country or cross-town).

It’s also important to speak with your veterinarian before the trip. Obtain a health certificate showing up-to-date inoculations, especially rabies, and bring along extra medication and the prescription in case you need a refill. Find out before you set out where the nearest vet and emergency clinics are along the way. Also talk with your vet about potential diseases or safety risks at your destination and how to prevent your pet from contracting them. Scope out pet-friendly lodgings in each city you plan to stop in beforehand and call ahead to find out their policies.

Along the way, provide frequent bathroom and exercise breaks. When outside the car, make sure that your pet is on a leash and wearing their collar and I.D. tag. Only service animals are allowed in most businesses and restaurants—so make meal and errand plans accordingly. But be careful if leaving your animal in the car. Hazards such as heatstroke in hot weather, hypothermia in cold, and having your animal stolen are very real dangers, and can occur quickly in unmonitored vehicles.

Traveling by air is advised only if absolutely necessary. The Airline Transportation Association estimates that 5,000 animals are lost, injured or killed while traveling by air each year. If you must travel by air with your companion animal there are several precautions and additional travel arrangements that should be taken, including investigating the airline’s animal transport and welfare policies. The Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, adopted into law in 2003, put restrictions on accepting pets as cargo. If checked as baggage, animals travel in poorly ventilated cargo holds where temperature is not well-regulated. This is especially dangerous for pug-nosed animals such as Persians, Pekingese and Bulldogs. If your animal is small enough, bring them along as carry-on luggage. Flying non-stop at cool and less-busy times of the day and year will mean less risk for your animal.

Preparing the New Digs

Set up the new home with all of your companion’s favorite and familiar things—food bowls, beds and toys—so they will quickly acclimate to their new pad. Cats will adjust best if they are confined in a room where they can slowly get used to the new place. A window to look out of will entertain them as you get the rest of your belongings situated. Dogs prefer recognizable items to be in place when they arrive. Consider having a friend watch the dog for the day if moving locally, or letting Fido frolic at a dog day care center while you’re getting settled.

Like people, animals can be stressed by changes in their routine. Patience and reassurance will make the move easier on everyone.

For More Information

Despite the torture of getting here my cats love our new home, and are glad they came along for the ride. If you’re planning to move or travel with your animal, please see the following sources of information:

Apartments For Rent and Apartment Guide magazines both offer nationwide listings for pet-friendly housing. The magazines can be found at malls or other businesses that offer free publications, or online at ForRent.com or apartmentguide.com. PAWS also lists apartments that accept animals on their website: paws.org

AAA offers an excellent book, Traveling with your pet: The AAA Pet Book. It lists over 12,000 pet-friendly AAA-rated lodgings along with pet-friendly attractions, organizations and information. It is available for purchase at any AAA office ($13.75 for members, $16.95 for nonmembers).

The Humane Society of the United States has information on moving and traveling with your animal companions, including a video on safe air travel at their website: hsus.org.   NWGN

Diane Dash works to educate the public about animal issues and how they affect human beings. She has seven years shelter experience and many more as a voice for the voiceless and furry. Diane has recently moved—with her cats—to New York state.

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