Have Pets, Will Travel


Before I moved to live full time on the East End in 1977, my pets and I spent nearly two years shuttling back and forth between our first and second homes: workdays in the city, weekend and vacation days here in the country.

Lucy and Rosalie, my two cats at the time, were snuggled in a single carrier for the round trip. They endured a gamut of nerve-racking noises and experiences: the roaring Flushing subway to Hunter’s Point; the rumbling LIRR diesel; taxicabs; escalators and staircases; crowds of pushy commuters on train platforms. Yet my girls were happy spending the whole week with Mom. They savored the fresh country air, scents and scenery, exotic wildlife and other bucolic novelties. But I always found our travel logistics a chore. It was a relief when we finally settled into one year-round home base.

Nowadays, however, an uncounted number of our second-home pet owners are fully accustomed to a regular commute with their animals. They wouldn’t want it any other way.

“They’re part of your family,” contends Janet Ollinger, “and you have to treat them as such.” She, her husband, Mark, and two elderly cats divide their time between homes in Bridgehampton and Manhattan. Both pets are long-haired purebreds adopted from humane groups. Stella, a previously declawed Persian, came from a city rescue organization, and Ollie, a Himalayan, from the Animal Rescue Fund in Wainscott.

Both Ollingers work in the medical field and can arrange flexible hours for getting in and out of the city. During the drive to the East End, reports Ms. Ollinger, “the cats often scream a lot,” even after years of habituation to the routine. Safety is paramount. Each pet stays confined in its own carrier on the back seat of the family Prius. Each wears double identification: a microchip plus a metal tag engraved with the family’s cellphone number on a belled collar. Further, as a medical precaution, they are registered at veterinary hospitals both in town and out here.

Advice for other cat-owning weekenders contemplating the to-and-fro lifestyle? Ms. Ollinger recommends adopting an older animal, taking care to keep it crated throughout the car trip, and having a kibble snack and water on hand to cope with unexpected traffic delays. Yes, she admits, each journey demands extra time and trouble: corral and confine both pets, transport them between home and the parking garage. But they’re amply rewarded by Stella and Ollie’s pleasure in the extra stimulation and activity of their time outdoors in the country.

Dog owner Maralyn Rittenour has an untypical commute. She lives most of the time in Springs, where she runs a home-based business, and spends only a couple of midweek days in her New York apartment. She is a seasoned veteran at ferrying large dogs. Her current two Labrador retrievers, Sophie (now 14) and Scott (age 6), accompany her on every round trip throughout the year.

Ms. Rittenour and her late husband, Charles, waited until he retired to acquire their first pet, so that one of them would be free to give it daytime companionship during the week. From their earliest city-to-country commute, she did most of the driving. Sophie and Scott ride comfortably on the back seat of her SUV, wearing their leashes but unrestrained. Be careful, she warns other pet chauffeurs, never to let the animal interfere with the driving. Each dog’s visible identification—its name and the family’s cellphone number—is woven into a snug fabric collar. A plastic water bowl is handy. A call-of-nature stop can be managed if necessary. But always try to economize the route, advises Ms. Rittenour. Don’t waste any travel time with nonessential errands or side excursions.

Dr. Molly Miosek, a veterinarian based in Montauk, suggests keeping both dogs and cats in crates to protect them in the event of a crash, and she said many people also swear by booster seats, like those made by Foster & Smith, for smaller dogs. Some pets experience motion sickness that can be prevented with a medication similar to Dramamine, she added.

Ms. Rittenour claims it’s really fun to travel with her dogs. “They’re very adaptable,” she says. “They feel secure and they like to be with people.” While both she and her dogs enjoy the experience, she admits that—given the high costs of gas and a city garage—“commuting with a big dog is an extravagance.” Yet for pets of their size, the private car is the only way to travel. Public transport is simply not an option.

Any number of cats and small dogs, of course, commute regularly with their owners on the Long Island Rail Road and the Hampton Jitney. But all must be small enough to be confined in a portable carrier for the duration of the trip. The railroad lets them travel free, but requires that the kennel be accommodated on the passenger’s lap if necessary; it can rest on the floor but not block the aisle or doorway. The Jitney charges $10 for each pet remaining inside an airline-approved carrier the entire journey.

The sole exception to these rules is for service animals performing tasks recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dogs assisting blind or deaf passengers, for example, need not be confined and their owners will not be charged any fee. But “animals for comfort therapy or emotional support are not recognized as service animals by the ADA, and are therefore charged as normal pets,” explains Nina Bracovic, the Jitney’s marketing manager for passenger services.

How many dogs and cats commute on the public services? No way to tally them, but Ms. Bracovic offers an educated guess: “I would estimate that during our peak summer months approximately 50 percent of our Jitney trips have at least one pet on board.”

I’ll add an estimate of my own: Close to 100 percent of the families commuting with their pets—whether by car, train or coach—are delighted they’re able to spend all seven days of their week together.

Susan M. Seidman’s most recent book about pets is “Cat Companions: A Memoir of Loving and Learning.”

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