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Pet Friendly Travel in the News


Written By:
Harriet Baskas
May 16, 2007

A lot of people consider their pets to be part of the family, so its no surprise that when a family goes on vacation or a devoted pet owner goes on a business trip, they want their pets to tag along.

Dog owners seem especially fond of taking their furry friends on the road. According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), 19% of America's 73 million dog owners take their dogs with them when they travel. And many of those pooches get to travel by plane — as cargo, checked baggage or in the cabin.

Back in the early 1990's the Air Transport Association (ATA), a trade organization of major U.S. airlines, estimated that U.S. airlines transported more than 500,000 animals each year. Surprisingly, no agency or group has gone back to update that tally, but it's a good bet that with both pet ownership and air travel at an all time high, the number of flying pets has skyrocketed as well.

And when pets are on the go, they're going to need a place to "go." A few years back, finding a place to walk a dog at an airport was quite a challenge, but "now that so many people are traveling with their pets," says Tracey Thompson of "airports are setting up pet-relief areas and promoting themselves as pet-friendly, just like many hotels are now doing."

Some pet-relief areas at airports are simply a small patch of grass or a square or two of green Astroturf-like material, but a few airports have created lovely landscaped pooch-parks. Following are some of the country's most canine-friendly facilities.

In December 2004, Reno-Tahoe International Airport celebrated the opening of the Gate K-9 Bark Park. Paw prints stamped on the sidewalk outside the terminal lead to the enclosed Bark Park just north of the baggage claim area. The park is landscaped with trees and a canopy for shade and stocked with fresh drinking water and plastic mitts for quick clean-ups. "We even have a fire hydrant in there," says airport spokesman Brian Kulpin, who sometimes takes his dogs Jet and Stormy to work with him.

Kulpin says the pet relief area was initially set up as a temporary area for service dogs coming to town with their owners for a veteran's convention. "But it worked out so well that we decided to make it a permanent feature. We even got the local schools involved in choosing a name for the park."

In Texas, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has a small park with a figure-eight-shaped dog walk located outside the lower level, just past the east end of the terminal. Landscaped and lighted at night, the park has stone benches, shade trees, grassy areas, a pet-level drinking fountain and plenty of mitts and trash receptacles for clean-ups.

But we must give a round of applause (or should that be a round of paws) to the folks at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport who maintain two park areas for pooches. The 2,000 square-foot Bone Yard is just outside the baggage claim level at the west end of Terminal 4, the airport's busiest terminal.

Opened in December 2003, this first park was the brainchild of airport workers who noticed that pet owners were using the airport's carefully tended-to landscaping as pet relief areas. The fenced-in area they set aside for pets is shaded in the day and lighted at night and has a bone-shaped patch in the center filled with kitty litter and surrounded by crushed gravel. Pet owners can use the park's faucets and buckets to cool off their pets and the plastic mitts to clean up after them.

The Phoenix airport's second pet-relief area, the Paw Pad, is located just west of Terminal 3 inside a framed archway and a fence decorated with paw prints. This pet-relief area offers pets and their owners the same amenities as the Bone Yard, but instead of gravel and kitty litter, the Paw Pad has grass. Dogs are the most common pets seen here, but airport staffer Julie Rodriguez says that "about a year ago, I spotted a ferret in there on a leash!"

While pet-relief areas are a welcome amenity for pet owners in transit, pet rest areas at airports are also a boon for the increasing number of narcotics and explosive-sniffing dogs that work at airports. Officer Jason Toth and his dog Zassko, a two and half year old Belgian Malinois, are part of the NEDCTP, the National Explosive Detection Canine Team Program at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Toth says the on-site pet relief areas are a much-appreciated time-saver.

"When Zassko needs to use the rest room" says Toth, "we no longer have to leave the airport and drive to a nearby park area. We simply walk out of the terminal, take our break in one of the parks and get back to work." Less time away from the airport for breaks, says Toth, means that Zassko and the other working dogs can "focus better, do their jobs more efficiently and respond more expeditiously to calls."

While the airports in Reno, Austin and Phoenix offer some of the country's nicest pet rest areas, airports in Seattle; Portland; Denver; San Diego; Columbus, Ohio; and elsewhere also offer pets "a place to go." To find a rest stop for your pet on your next plane trip, consult the list of pet-friendly airports on the website or call the information desk at the airports on your itinerary. If there's no official pet-relief area, don't give up. You may be able to locate an "unofficial" on-site relief spot or a pet-friendly park nearby.

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