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Along for the Ride

Posted: Jan. 28, 2008

The ideal cure for separation anxiety is to take the pets along
By Janet Randall

The gradual paradigm shift that has elevated the family pet to legitimate family member status has fueled pet industry growth and been the source of inspiration for travel-related products for pets.

Today’s well-equipped pet requires far more than the basic collar and leash. Whether traveling around town or traveling interstate for a weeklong vacation, families are no longer willing to leave their pets behind.

Long-Distance Travel
The airline industry is substantially more pet friendly. Most major U.S. airlines now allow smaller pets to travel with their owners in the cabin instead of in cargo. Crates have been redesigned to meet airline industry regulations. Carriers that fit completely underneath the airplane seat are available with either hard or soft sides in many fashionable fabrics and colors for stylish as well as practical pet travel.

Dog going for a car ride

(Photo courtesy of Kurgo.)

“When choosing a carrier for airline travel, it’s important to select one that doesn’t collapse around the animal,” said Gayle Dalton-Smith, co-owner of Precious Pets in Norcross, Ga. “Carriers that don’t maintain their shape are great for taking your pet shopping, but are not suitable for airplane use.

“With Atlanta being one of the busiest airports in the world, a hot-selling item for us is pet strollers,” she said. “People love the models with detachable carriers that fit under the seat, and the stroller folds up to fit into the overhead bins.”

The hotel industry has followed suit. Hotel chains such as Lowe’s and the Intercontinental that previously disallowed pets are now marketing to pet owners and welcoming their pets with lavish gift baskets and offering amenities such as concierge services (dog training, massages, pet sitting, etc.) for pets.

“In marketing to pet owners, some hotels have designed their own pet product lines, but they are limited to basic necessities such as beds and bowls—the fluffy stuff,” said Amanda Leesburg, corporate communications manager for PetSafe in Knoxville, Tenn., manufacturers of training products for dogs, including portable wireless fences and crates. “It makes sense for pet parents to bring their own training equipment along when they travel.”

“Pet owners should have the same concerns for safety when traveling with their pets as they do when they are at home,” said Randy Boyd, chief executive officer of PetSafe. “A dog should be properly contained in any situation, whether camping, renting a vacation home or just visiting grandma.”

“More and more destinations are dog friendly,” said Sheri Weiner of ArfDog in New York, a company that sells themed gift boxes for dogs, including one kit designed for a dog’s hotel stay. “People don’t just travel with small-breed dogs now. Our gift boxes range in size from teacup to XXL.”

“Pet travel isn’t just for dogs,” said Cathy Miller of Bellingham, Wash.-based Wild Whiskers, maker of the Feline Funhouse, a portable pet enclosure.

“Show cages are often too small for overnight use, but left to roam, a cat can get lost in a hotel room,” said Karen Reed, also of Wild Whiskers. “We know of breeders who have had cats crawl into the box springs.”

Several manufacturers offer  another product for traveling with cats: an inexpensive, pre-filled, disposable cat litter tray.

Health Is Important

Merchandising Pet Travel Equipment

  • Crates, carriers and strollers are bulky. Display only one model but heavily promote special orders.  Convey a customized feel to the sale by playing up the many style and color choices available.
  • Adjust your travel equipment selection to meet demographic needs. For example, if your store is near a busy airport you may want to offer a larger selection of products suitable for airplane travel. If your clientele is more given to RV travel, adjust your selection accordingly.
  • Design and display a travel assortment package for cats and dogs comprised of your store’s best-selling travel items.
  • If your geographic location is prone to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, assemble an emergency pet travel kit. Encourage your customers to make preparations for their pets as well as themselves in case of emergency.
  • If space permits, design a travel kiosk or endcap.
Some manufacturers also make gift bags with a beach theme. In addition to floating water toys, Weiner said it’s important to find a kit that includes sunscreen.

“Dogs have the same risk of sunburn as humans do,” she said.

“The pH of an animal’s skin is different from human skin, and it is typically more sensitive,” said Dawn Thomas, D.V.M., of Veterinarian's Best in Santa Barbara, Calif. “Using a natural sunscreen that won’t irritate and dry the skin or cause allergic reactions and won’t cause toxicity when ingested is crucial.”

Animals are also prone to other conditions that humans experience with travel.

“I encourage people to put together a first-aid kit for their dog when traveling,” said Katrina Boucher of The Cape Cod Dog in Eastham, Mass.

Pheromone sprays for dogs and cats can be applied to bedding and crates or inside a car. Pheromones produced by a nursing mother purportedly deliver a calming effect and reduce travel anxiety. All-natural, herbal motion sickness tablets are also available for dogs and cats. Specialty pet music CDs and pet videos can also reduce stress and promote tranquility.

Car Travel
Although the airline industry is more pet friendly today, overcrowding at airports has led to more frequent automobile travel with pets.

“Dogs are a greater source of distraction for drivers than cell phones, according to the AAA [American Automobile Assn..], and are responsible for thousands of accidents each year,” said Lyndsey Ineson of Salisbury, Mass.-based Kurgo, which manufacturers the Backseat Barrier. “Confining dogs to the back seat of the car minimizes distraction for the driver and enhances safety.” 

Leashes and harnesses are newly designed to be compatible with the car’s seat-belt system.

“Our best-selling product is the three-in-one vest-harness by RC Pet Products,” Boucher said. “The harness comes in all sizes, is reasonably priced and doubles as a car seat. The absorbent harness fabric also functions as a chest protector to help keep the dog dry and free from thorns and burrs when camping.”

Some pet carriers can be secured by the car’s seat-belt system, just like a baby carrier. Raised versions allow small dogs to see out the window.

A major concern has always been maintaining a safe, comfortable temperature for pets while traveling during extreme weather conditions. Climate-controlled pet carriers are designed for use in exceedingly hot or cold temperature conditions. One type of carrier regulates a pet’s body temperature using conduction and convection technology.

Clearly, pets are on the go. The pet industry has responded by developing products that make traveling with pets more convenient, more comfortable, and safer for them and their people. <HOME>

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