Petiquette and other tips for travelling with pets

The late boerbul-boxer, Harry who inspired this article. (Photograph: Penny Haw.)

HE watches me lug my suitcase to the car with doleful, Disney-puppy eyes. The reproach is unmistakable: “You’re leaving me.” Uneasy, I glance back again. Is it possible he knows something more? Has he read my notes or overheard recent conversations?

Is Harry, my handsome boerbul-boxer aware that nowadays it is not only the ‘petset’ – like Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, Gisele Bündchen’s Teacup Yorkshire Terrier, Vida and Ivana Trump’s Toy Poodle, Choppy – that travel in pampered style with their mistresses? Does he know that airlines have introduced frequent flyer programmes specifically for pets and that they offer loyal four-legged passengers rewards like blow-dries, ‘pawdicures’, and Burberry, Prada and Gucci pet clothing? Might some wag have whispered in a floppy ear that The Ritz, Westin, Sheraton and the like propose top dog amenities such as heated pet bedding, specially prepared meals, exercise agendas, pet massages, canine birthday parties and even nuptials?

Indeed, his information is correct: While it may never have occurred to me to invite Harry on my travels, a burgeoning number of 21st century pets it seems are taking flight, touring the globe, staying in luxurious hotels, and shopping with their owners in the spend capitals of the world for über-chic things like monogrammed Louis Vuitton Sac Chiens, Pucci Petwear and Pet Shampoo from Paul Mitchell.

“Growing trends abroad, and more recently in South Africa, clearly reflect that pets are becoming an increasingly integral part of the modern family and lifestyle, and are now being included in holidays and other travel,” says Janine Nepgen, co-author and publisher of The South African Pet Directory which, in its current (third) edition, is heralded ‘the definitive guide to holiday accommodation that welcomes you and your pet’.

Responding to this trend late last year, Virgin Atlantic Air introduced its Flying Paws frequent flyer scheme to reward the proverbially loyal for their… loyalty. Participating pets receive special t-shirts – which Sir Richard Branson promises will “make them the envy of any pack” – tags, toys and a passport on which to place their paw prints every time they fly. These are then redeemable for handmade bowls, non-slip mats and ultimately, beauty treatments, branded pet clothing and even a special ‘pawtrait’ by celebrated pet artist, Cindy Lass.

If however, Virgin’s frequent flyer programme – that requires your pet to fly apart from you in the hold – does not collar your furry friend, you might consider chartering a special pet friendly jet. Charter operations like Florida-based Companion Air offer nationwide in-cabin travel for pets in the United States, while Heathrow-based Air Pets provides a charter jet for “stress-free pet travel” throughout northern Europe. (Locally even Kulula.com allows your pet to fly on the same aircraft as you, but in a travel box that is placed in a special temperature and oxygen controlled section in the hold.)

And when you and your pet have disembarked (so to speak), you will both be welcome at an increasing number of animal friendly lodgings, many of which provide special pet amenities like cashmere bedding, superior cuts for dinner, grooming, showers and other dedicated animal concierge services.

As if that is not enough for your precious pooch, a New York company, Pet Set recently introduced a line of luxury canine stationery that, says president Kim Banks, is the perfect addition to the hospitality industry’s pet offerings.

Pet Set’s expansive range includes “illustrated cards, marking everything from new puppy announcements to graduation from obedience school cards.” The line also features breed-specific writing paper and correspondence cards, which can be customised to include the dog’s name and address if he really wants to make an impression with his ‘wish you were here’ note.

The South African Pet Directory lists more than 200 pet-friendly accommodation options, ranging from the luxurious and exclusive to the rural and rustic.

“Each location was selected for its pet-friendliness and a detailed pet policy is included with every entry, clearly laying out each establishment’s rules and regulations pertaining to four-legged guests. These are essential to the on-going availability of pet accommodation and sadly we have found some establishments have withdrawn their animal amenities because rules have been broken,” says Nepgen.

The Five Star Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa near Camps Bay in Cape Town welcomed pets and offered a range of dog-pampering services until recently. Petiquette, it seems however, was not up to the mark and, according to sales and marketing manager Brenda James, the disapproval of other guests outweighed the demand from pet owners.

I wonder if Harry is going to buy that excuse?

(First published in The Weekender in 2008.)

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Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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