Americans love their dogs--so much so, that many can't bear to leave their pet behind when they travel. As recently as a decade ago, that was a problem: It wasn't easy to find a place to stay away from home with your four-legged family member unless you were camping out or had tolerant relatives. But today, about 40% of hotels accept dogs, and a growing niche market caters to dog owners and their best friends, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Assn. One such establishment is the two-month-old Paw House Inn in West Rutland, Vt., which features a 1,000-square-foot doggie playhouse and special dog beds in each of its seven rooms.
As much as you might like the idea of taking your dog on vacation, bringing along an animal is no day at the beach--unless you do a lot of preparation. "Traveling with a pet is all about forethought and courtesy," says Walt Boyes, a Seattle marketing executive and corgi owner who is president of CorgiAid, a nonprofit group that pays for medical care and finds homes for corgi dogs. "If you think ahead and inconvenience people as little as possible, you will have a very nice time."
The first matter to consider is transportation. The trickiest option, of course, is flying. Generally, airlines allow two pets in the cabin with passengers, as long as they are 15 to 20 pounds or less and travel in an approved carrier that can fit under the seat. (That will count as the one carry-on bag you're allowed, according to post-September 11 rules.) Bigger dogs must be transported in a crate roomy enough for them to stand up, turn around, and lie down. The crate goes in the luggage hold, in a special area that is heated and well-ventilated. Many airlines have upgraded their facilities in accordance with new federal rules regarding animal safety. But the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals still does not recommend putting animals in the luggage hold. No matter what the size of the dog, you need to make a reservation. Expect to pay at least $75 extra.
Not surprisingly, 80% of trips over 100 miles taken with a pet are in a car, says the Travel Industry Association of America. Still, you can't just throw your dog into the back seat and expect a smooth ride. To be safe, veterinarians recommend keeping pets in a carrier or crate. You also can buy a special harness that attaches to a seat belt so the dog doesn't become a flying missile whenever the car stops short.
When it comes to lodging, your best bet is to plan in advance. A number of Web sites list pet-friendly places to stay (table). Be aware that policies vary widely. Franchises can be especially confusing, since owners set their own rules. The Super 8 in Dubuque, Iowa, for instance, charges an extra $4, while the one in Rock Valley, Iowa, doesn't allow pets at all.
Most places don't let you leave your dog in the room alone. The Cypress Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., which allows dogs in its 33 rooms as long as they're supervised, will find a pet sitter for you. Otherwise, you can check sites such as petsitters.com to find names of local dog-watchers. Another possibility is a nearby doggie day-care center. The Common Dog in Everett, Mass., for one, looks after dogs in a 5,000-sq.-ft. yard. Its vans pick up pooches at one of three stops in nearby Boston.
What will you do with your dog when you arrive? Again, you'll have to do research. Some beaches and parks ban dogs, while others allow them only at certain hours. You might also plan your vacation in places known to be welcoming to animals. One of the country's most canine-friendly locations is Key West, Fla., where many beaches and restaurants admit dogs, and store owners leave water bowls by their doors. Just add a few fire hydrants, and your pet will be in doggie heaven. By Anne Field