Tuesday 24 September 2019

Tails from the road

Summer is a favourite time for road trips, which often includes four-legged family members too, writes Geraldine Herbert

Buckle up: Luke Griffin pictured with his dog Alfie and the safety belt for dogs he uses while on the move. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Buckle up: Luke Griffin pictured with his dog Alfie and the safety belt for dogs he uses while on the move. Photo: Gerry Mooney

From sleeper trains through France to river cruises in Slovenia, Holly, a 14-year-old Labrador-Foxhound cross, has travelled more than many people.

"We bring her as often as we can, whether it's within Ireland or abroad. So she's usually abroad with us on our big summer holiday, once a year," says owner Orla McDermot, a telecoms engineer from Dublin.

"Pets are welcome just about everywhere in continental Europe. We love being able to bring her into hotels and restaurants. It's still a novelty for us.

"People chat to you all the time; she's an instant ice-breaker, even in places where we don't speak the language. We have great memories of four generations of an Italian family coming out of their restaurant in Bellagio to give her some love. Or a rather burly French man sneaking her his biscuit under the table in Beaune."

No matter what the adventure, most dogs love car journeys and can't wait to hop in and hit the open road.

Josephine Dargan, a mother of three, takes her six-year-old Ned, a Labrador-Retriever cross with her daily.

"Ned travels with me almost every day on the school run. After school drop-off we go for a long walk, part of which is by the river, which he loves."

Choice of car is crucial when it comes to travelling with pets, advises Josephine

"The best type of car is an estate, SUV or people carrier. When we changed car recently, accommodating him so he would be comfortable was a big consideration."

Minus the fights for the armrest, the incessant chorus of 'are we there yet' and complaints about the length of the trip, travelling with pets is a lot like taking a trip with small children. They can be fussy, demand attention, supervision and need ample potty breaks.

Nicole Drought's two pets - mother and daughter miniature Yorkshire terriers - have become seasoned travellers after several years accompanying her on trips.

"Travelling with a pet takes some preparation and extra space in the car for their luggage," Nicole says. "But you don't need a large car. I drive a Nissan Juke and have found it perfect for travelling with the dogs. I use a dog crate, so I just fold down the back seats and the crate slots in just perfectly."

Plenty of pet owners include furry friends in their travel plans, as leaving them at home is just not feasible; some pets won't settle in boarding facilities or the cost of them may simply be too expensive or finding temporary accommodation with friends and family is not an option. For others, the family pet is a vital part of their daily life. Such is the case with Tom Clonan's family and their dog, Duke.

"Duke travels everywhere with us," says Tom. "He is not really a pet, as Duke is a working assistance dog. He aids my 16-year-old son Eoghan, who has a rare neuromuscular disease and is a wheelchair user. Eoghan's eyesight is also compromised as a consequence of the disease. Duke helps him to get around by navigating and opening doors if necessary. For getting around we have found an adapted Ford Transit ideal for carrying all the family and giving Duke enough room to lie down and stretch out during long journeys."

Before you hit the road, it's important to plan ahead for pet travel and always keep the best interests of your four-legged family member in mind.

Luke Griffin, an actor from Dublin and owner of Alfie, a Maltichon (a mix of a Bichon Frise and Maltese), says anyone intending to have their dog travel with them should get the dog accustomed to it early, if possible from puppy stage.

"If your dog is used to car journeys, you likely won't have any issues. However, if your pet isn't, you should start by taking them on short trips," says Luke. "We now regularly take Alfie down to Lahinch in Co Clare with no problems."

So whether it's down the road for a quick stop at the groomer or an eight-hour road trip, travelling with pets requires planning in order to prevent mishaps on the road. Securing your pet during car travel is essential and never let a pet travel in the front because it could be seriously injured or killed if an airbag deploys, just as a small child could be.

For dogs, sturdy safety harnesses are widely available which attach to existing seat-belt fittings. They are best for medium to large dogs. The harness should go around the chest, back and shoulders and be attached to the seatbelt. Smaller dogs may feel more secure in a travel crate lined with a blanket and a trusty chew toy.

Sunday Independent

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