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Pets often come along for the ride on vacations, holidays

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 9:15 p.m.
Ron Smith, 73, holds Charley the tuxedo cat and Patti Perugini, 70, holds Topaz the chihuahua mix as they talk about traveling with their pets in their Ross Township home on Thursday, November 15, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Mark Brewer
Illustration of traveling with pets by Mark Brewer
Patti Perugini, 70, and Ron Smith, 73, drive with their cat and dog from their Ross Township home down to Florida to spend a couple winter months. Their car has a license plate of Tia, their old chihuahua, and Charley, their cat. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Charley, who showed up 10 years ago during a snow storm on Patti Perugini and Ron Smith's Ross Township home, tolerates a portrait on Thursday, November 15, 2012. The cat rides in a pet crate for a two day car trip down to Florida where his owners have a second home. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Topaz checks out the pet crate that it travels in at Patti Perugini and Ron Smith's Ross Township home on Thursday, November 15, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Patti Perugini, 70, brings up the pet carriers that she and her partner Ron Smith, left, 73, take their dog and cat in on the road to their second home in Florida while their chihuahua mix Topaz watches at their home in Ross Township on Thursday, November 15, 2012. The four travel down Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ron Smith, 73, holds Charley the tuxedo cat and Patti Perugini, 70, holds Topaz the chihuahua mix as they pose for a portrait in their Ross Township home on Thursday, November 15, 2012. The four travel by car to their second home in Florida with the pets in crates and spend about two months a year down there. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Patti Perugini's two pets — the dog and the easygoing cat — have become seasoned travelers after several years of accompanying their human parents on annual road trips to Florida.

Topaz, a Chihuahua and terrier mix, and Charley, the tuxedo cat, accompany Perugini and her husband, Ron Smith, every year for the two-day journey to the Ross couple's vacation house in Port Charlotte.

They drive about 12 hours one day, stay at a motel for a night, and drive for about 10 hours the next day. The pets each go in a separate crate, which Perugini places on the back seat in a position that the dog and cat face each other, which reassures them.

Charley stays in his crate for the whole ride each day, but Topaz gets regular pit stops at rest areas. Charley once got upset at the hotel and hid in the box spring of the king-size bed, but, otherwise, is pretty tolerant.

“We never thought anything of it. It is just that we can't leave them. We stay for two months,” says Perugini, 70. “Once they get there ... they just feel right at home wherever they're at. They're pretty good in a strange place.”

With the Thanksgiving and Christmas travel season here, many people will be taking their pets to kennels, or hiring a pet sitter to care for them at home. Some pet parents, however, prefer to pack up their furry friends and hit the road with them. Whether this is a good idea depends on the situation and the personality of the pets, experts say.

If people decide to take their pets, it's important to prepare and take safety precautions, says Dr. Todd Blauvelt, a staff veterinarian at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society on the North Side.

Consider the individual pet and its comfort level. Sometimes, owners may want a dog to come along, but the dog would do better staying at home with a pet sitter. Other dogs may be eager to travel. And some cats really are decent travelers, although some will cause torture by meowing in the car for hours.

“For some dogs, travel is just not worth the stress, but for some dogs, staying at home without you is stressful, too,” Blauvelt says. “It's about knowing your pet and knowing what's best for your pet.”

Dr. Frederick Schuler, a vet with Valley Veterinary Associates in Lower Burrell, agrees that owners need to know their pets' personalities. “Cats tend to get stressed a lot more” while traveling, Schuler says. “Some dogs travel really well ... but some panic; they get so scared and so nervous.”

Potential travel snags are motion sickness for dogs, and caterwauling and protesting for cats. Pets who are stressed about travel might calm down with a dose of Benadryl 45 minutes before leaving; it acts as a mild tranquilizer, Blauvelt says. (Check your vet before administering.)

Schuler recommends doing a trial car run with pets to see how they handle it. If your pets put up a fuss when going to the vet, they are more likely to struggle on a road trip. But some pets might calm down and go to sleep after just 15 minutes in the car. Try driving locally for a while before going on a long road trip, Schuler says. That can help you determine whether your pet may need to be tranquilized.

Pet owners should think about any geographically specific needs your pets might have, based on where you're going. For instance, because heartworm is spread by mosquitoes, giving your dog a heartworm preventative before heading to Florida might be a good idea, Blauvelt says.

Once in the car, don't let your dog stick its head out the window, as much as the dog may enjoy the breeze. The pooch could hit something or get debris in its eyes, Blauvelt says. Schuler has seen dogs in his practice who have fallen out of the window.

Dogs also should not sit on your lap or be allowed to interfere with driving. Crating them is usually a good idea, depending on the animal, Blauvelt and Schuler say. Schuler recommends a seat-belt harness for larger dogs. People should plan pit stops for bathroom, food and water breaks, he says, and select pet-friendly hotels if needed, the vets say.

Perugini looks for hotels that have outdoor entrances to her room, so that she doesn't have to walk through halls to take the dog out. She and her husband don't go out to dinner on nights they stay on the road with their pets. They stay with the animals and eat in their motel room.

Jennifer Bechdel, 33, of Bloomfield, has traveled many times with her black toy poodle, Scout. She has taken him on road trips back to her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., and to other places. Scout will be riding shotgun with Bechdel during her upcoming cross-country journey to Phoenix, where she is moving for a new job opportunity.

Bringing Scout on her trips has been necessary, Bechdel says.

“It was kind of cost-prohibitive to leave him with someone,” she says. “He doesn't do well outside of his environment except when he's with me. He didn't eat when he went to a kennel.

“He gets a little bit anxious, but he's gotten used to it for the most part,” Bechdel says. She has a cat, Boo Radley, but she leaves him at home for vacations.

Bechdel recommends that people use a crate when traveling with pets, along with water and a bowl.

Scout has become a good and willing traveler, Bechdel says. “Everybody likes him. He's a small, cute dog and everyone tries to pet him, and I don't have to worry about what's going on with my house when I'm not there,” she says. “It's always better to just bring him with me.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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