Archive for January, 2009

In Search of the Best National Parks for Dogs

Monday, January 19th, 2009

National parks are one of the most visited destination spots in the United States for vacation travelers. Every year, millions of people visit their favorite national parks. But have you ever tried to bring your best friend along? The majority of national parks are not very welcoming to pets. But fortunately there are some exceptions, and some nearby dog-friendly national forests.

Tara Kain and Java at the Grand Canyon
The general policy for national parks is that dogs must be on a 6 foot or less leash at all times, are only allowed in parking lots, in your car, or within 50 to 100 feet of the road. Most of the parks allow dogs in campgrounds and in developed areas, but there can be exceptions to these rules. The majority of national parks do not allow dogs on any hiking or walking trails, any backcountry trails, any beaches or inside buildings. There are even a few lesser known national parks that do not even allow you to drive into the park if you have a pet in your car. This does not sound like a fun vacation to most dogs and dog owners.

But before ruling out a vacation to a national park, it is important to note that some national parks have exceptions to these stringent pet rules. Parks like the Grand Canyon National Park and Acadia National Park, allow dogs on some trails and are well worth a visit even with your pooch. For the majority of national parks that do not allow dogs on any trails, a fair amount of sightseeing can still be done. Keep in mind that the majority of visitors to national parks do not venture too far from their cars. This means there are typically many sites and points of interest to see right from the comfort of your own car (where dogs are welcome). But for people who actually want to go on a hike, dog-friendly national forests are adjacent to or located nearby many national parks.

So how much can you really see at our national parks when bringing your pet along? DogFriendly.com offers a Top 5 National Park list which highlights the best national parks in the United States to bring a dog, based on sights to see and places to walk with your best friend.

1. Grand Canyon, AZ
2. Acadia, ME
3. Shenandoah, VA
4. Yosemite, CA
5. North Cascades, WA

DogFriendly.com’s Report Card for the Pet Travel Industry

Monday, January 19th, 2009

DogFriendly.com is celebrating its tenth year of researching and publishing dog travel information. During that time a lot has changed. Some aspects of traveling with dogs have gotten much easier; some have gotten more difficult. Traveling with dogs consists of the entire travel experience, not just hotels but how you can spend your quality time together. Having contacted and re-contacted tens of thousands of lodgings, campgrounds, parks, beaches, attractions, museums, gardens, historical sites, dog parks, stores, transportation systems and more we have a comprehensive view of this field. This is our 2008 report on the state of the dog-friendly travel industry.

Lodging
Grade: A-
Last Year: A
About 35%  of all U.S. and Canada lodging rooms allow pets of some sort. In the last year, more of the big hotel chains and more Independents have made more of an effort not just to allow dogs but to welcome them with pet packages and amenities. Some hotels have been charging larger pet fees. One pet peeve – those hotels who stop allowing dogs and use as an excuse “We have just finished a multi-million dollar renovation”.

Campgrounds
Grade: B-
Last Year: B-
Whereas it was once a given that your dog could visit a campground with you; these days it is more difficult. If you have an out of favor breed such as a Pit Bull, Doberman, German Shepherd, Rottweiler or even some others it is getting harder to find a place. If you have a different breed you may find new restrictions on your pet. New Jersey and Connecticut need to allow dogs in the campgrounds at their state parks – currently they are not allowed at all.

Air Transportation
Grade: C-
Last Year: C-
This category needs to be divided into very small pets and medium to large pets. If you have a dog (or a cat) that is very short and light (less than 8 inches tall and less than 15 pounds) you may rate this category a B since you can bring your dog in the cabin. However, you are forced to leave the dog  in the carrier under the seat for the entire flight. If your dog, like over 80% of dogs, is too big for these carriers your only  option is cargo. We don’t consider this a reasonable option at all (D- at best). Most dog owners would pay for a seat for their dog; it would be nice to see the airlines recognize the business being left on the table and accommodate them. In our surveys, over 90% of respondents said that if an airline allowed them to buy seats for their dogs they would use this airline for all travel, even business travel without their dog. Despite some claims to the contrary there is no FAA regulation against large dogs in the cabin and an airline is able to allow this should they desire. Until then, dog owners only air options are very expensive charters or shared charters.

Trains and Buses
Between Cities
Grade: F
Last Year: F
No dogs are allowed at all on Amtrak and Canadian Rail even if you wanted to charter the entire train. Greyhound Bus, despite its name, doesn’t allow any dogs. Accommodations could certainly be made for certain pet-friendly cars in trains and select buses.  With gas hovering at $4 per gallon and all of the environmental concerns it is imperative that these mass transit options be made available for people with pets.

Trains and Buses
In Cities
Grade: C
Last Year: C-
Small dogs in carriers are allowed in most urban subways and local buses in the U.S. and Canada . Still, there are some cities that don’t allow even this. On the plus side, Boston, Seattle, Toronto and San Francisco allow dogs of all sizes on leash in their buses and trains showing that this can be done successfully. Again, environmental and energy concerns require that these mass transportation systems improve their pet policies. There is some hope for improvement here as a number of public dog owner groups are pushing for improved access. But this will take time.

Parks
Grade: B-
Last Year: B-
U.S. National Parks restrict dogs significantly and every time we ask why we get a different reason. We don’t think any of them actually make sense. Over the last few years, a few National Parks have slightly improved pet access. Most people can still enjoy the parks with their dogs if they select the best parks and understand where dogs can and can’t go. There are so many parks that we have usually found a reasonable substitute if the one that you wanted to visit is not accommodating to pets. If all dog owners would clean up after their pets and obey leash laws we would probably see some improvement in this area.

Off-Leash Parks
Grade: B
Last Year: B+
The explosive growth of urban off-leash dog parks over the ten years that we have been in this business is staggering. DogFriendly.com now lists over 800 off-leash parks and the list grows monthly. There were only a handful in 1998. The only negatives here are the risk that other parks once open to dogs are being restricted in some  places when an off-leash park is built nearby and that the requirements and rules can be complicated in parks that require annual permits and various restrictive vaccine schedules. We would like to see reasonable accommodation for traveling dogs as well as the local pets with an option for day use fees where annual permits are now required. Some dog parks already allow for this option.

Beaches
Grade: B-
Last Year: C+
About 15% of beaches in the U.S. and Canada are dog-friendly with leash requirements. Only a handful allow off-leash dogs. We had to call 1800 beaches to find about 300 pet-friendly ones. In most areas, but not all, you can probably find a dog-friendly beach.  Over the last year there are more beaches that have allowed dogs during certain seasons, times or with permits required. This is an improvement, and the trend is moving positive in our view.
Restaurants
Grade: B-

Last Year:  C+
If left to the private sector, this grade would approach an “A”. However, government intervention citing “health codes”  in some areas prevents the free market from working. We would like to see the local governments leave it to the private sector to decide whether dogs are allowed indoors or out. The health reasons cited don’t appear valid given experience in Europe and the fact that 2/3 of North American households have pets roaming through their dining rooms and even kitchens without outbreaks of disease. The outdoor health claims are ridiculous given the birds, insects and flies that land on people’s plates and tables and the rodents, cats and other animals that come around at night looking for scraps. If someone wants to open a restaurant specifically for people with dogs, what is the harm? Over the last year we have seen many governments relax any health concerns about dogs on patios and move in the right direction. More areas are also considering variance requests when proposed.

Stores and
Shopping Malls
Grade: B
Last Year:  B-
In almost all parts of the U.S. and Canada whether dogs are allowed in stores (other than grocery stores and restaurants)  is left up to the store owner by law. This allows people with dogs the chance to find stores that allow their dogs and it is usually possible to find places to shop with your dog. The bigger restriction here is the shopping malls. While there are a number of pet-friendly outdoor shopping malls there are very few indoor malls that allow dogs. However, we are finding more and more open-air and even indoor malls that allow and even welcome and promote dogs under certain conditions. Things are again moving in the right direction.

Attractions
(Private Sector)
Grade: B-
Last Year:  B-
While we are able to find attractions that allow dogs, particularly smaller dogs it is not always easy to find dog-friendly attractions. In each area there are a few places and most of these are outdoor. If you are the type of person who likes to be indoors it can be more difficult. Places that cater to tourists need to realize that if you are among the millions of people  traveling with a dog you can’t leave them in the car while you visit tourist attractions.

Day Kennels and
Pet Sitters
Grade: B-
Last Year:  C+
Historically, both kennels and pet sitting businesses were opened to serve people leaving their dogs at home when they went out of town. Due to the rise in travel with pets there is now a great demand for day kennels (where you can drop off your dog and pick up your dog in the same day) and pet sitters who will sit with travelers dogs at a hotel or at the pet sitter’s facility. High end pet-friendly hotels can arrange for pet sitters and PetSmart is opening day kennels at a lot of their stores. Essential for  travelers are flexible hours to drop off and pick up pets. An ideal location would allow drop-off and pick up anytime or at least until 11 to 12 at night so that you can take in a theater or sporting event.