Imagine that a travel expert, writing for a megatraffic online travel site, chose a large segment of travelers to dismiss — say, baby boomers. “Baby boomers are slow moving and crabby,” he’d write. “They’d be better off staying home to care for their grandchildren, which most prefer to traveling anyway.” Then imagine if the evidence he presented for this blanket assertion consisted of three anecdotes that occurred over a span of 11 years, and if two of those three anecdotes confused boomers with Gen Xers.
This is pretty much what travel writer Christopher Elliott did with pet travel — twice.
Elliott has a Problem with Pet Travel
Elliott’s writings about pet travel first came to my attention back in April, when I read a story he wrote contending that our pets don’t really want to travel with us. My response to that piece — which is similarly based on unsupported and bizarre anecdotal evidence — granted that our cats may not want to travel with us, but noted that our dogs generally do. This is not anthropomorphism; it’s based on scientific observation of canine behavior.
The latest piece came to my attention by blogger Akila McConnell of The Road Unleashed, who was so irritated by what Elliott had written on Frommers.com — a megatraffic online travel site — that she invited a group of pet travel bloggers/advocates to join her in responding to him.
Which is why I’m writing about him again today.
In his extremely snarky recent article, titled “That’s Ridiculous: Pet Travel and Owners’ Responsibilities,” Elliott takes a different tack. Rather than saying our pets don’t want to travel with us, he says our pets shouldn’t travel with us.
Confusing cats and dogs and service animals
When he talks about pet travel, Elliott is almost invariably talking about traveling with cats — except in the cases where he’s talking about traveling with pigs, more on which in a minute.
If he were actually familiar with the conventions of pet travel, he would know that the term almost always refers to people traveling with their dogs. Approximately 60% of people who are traveling with their pets travel with dogs; only 20% travel with cats. Maybe we should call it dog travel but there are some people who travel with cats as well as birds and other less common pets, so the more inclusive term is accurate.
And if he were actually familiar with pet travel, Elliott would also be aware that traveling with service animals — yes, the pig, which I’ll get to, is a service animal — is another issue entirely. It’s the law, not an option. Do people take liberties with the service animal law? They do — just as they do with lots of other laws. Just because people misuse prescription medications that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be available. And service animals are pretty much a substitute for prescription medications.
Misrepresenting your critics
Among Elliott’s techniques is to dismiss people who travel with pets by misrepresenting what they say. He says that the people who criticized him for wanting to leave his cats behind when he traveled with his family for a year were “foaming at the mouth.”
Here’s a sampling of what they actually said:
Honestly, taking a road trip like this sounds irresponsible. When you adopted pets, you took on certain responsibilities. This is why we have never owned a dog. We travel (less now that the TSA exists). You did this already in the past and didn’t learn from the experience and insisted on adopting more pets. Shame on you.
You made a commitment to these cats for LIFE when you brought them into your household. You are their family . . . you don’t just park family members in a “warehouse,” which is what a kennel or pet hotel is and you don’t just farm family out to sundry others because you want to go on a trip.
Chris, you said, “Just for the record, folks, these are cats we’re talking about here. Not children.”
They’re intelligent animals who have become accustomed to a way of life because you chose to give them that way of life. You’re in pretty much complete control of their lives. Now you want to force a major change on them. I know nothing is guaranteed in life; nothing is permanent. But this is a change you’re making by choice, not necessity.
Judgmental and scolding, yes. Foaming at the mouth? I think not.
I don’t want to misrepresent Elliott, as he has done with his critics. He seems to be genuinely concerned about what to do with his cats when he goes away with his family for a year — though his answers to the commenters are often as snide as his pet travel piece.
Misrepresenting pet travel
As I’ve said, Elliott is arguing about pet travel on completely erroneous grounds, i.e., talking about it as though it doesn’t mostly allude to dogs. This is one of the three anecdotes he marshals to bolster his case against pet travel (only one of the three anecdotes refers to dogs):
We’ll start with the “enormous brown honking” pig that terrorized passengers on a US Airways flight 11 years ago [emphasis mine]. Why? Because it was a therapy animal for one of the passengers.
See, the cruelty-free crowd think their animals love them and can’t live without them. That may or may not be true. But there is no doubt that the pet owners can’t live without their pigs. Or dogs. Or cats. So they bring them along. They feel it is a higher calling, even when it inconveniences other travelers. And even when it’s obvious the pet would be far happier wallowing in mud.
Really, Chris? You think many people travel with service pigs? You think many consider pet travel a “higher calling?” rather than a vacation choice — for people and animals that enjoy it?
Talk about foaming at the mouth.
It’s all about choice
Not all baby boomers should travel, at least not with other people. Some of us are crabby, as this post indicates, though I’m not slow moving. And some of us take our responsibility to our pets seriously — in my case seriously enough to have made major modifications to my travel schedule and thus my travel writing career (which — full disclosure — included several books for the folks at Frommer’s) when I got Frankie and, especially, when he got sick. It’s a choice I made and I say it not to be sanctimonious or to impose that choice on others — including Christopher Elliott.
Similarly, not all pets like to travel. Again, I’d submit that a majority of cats fall into that category.
But most dogs do enjoy being with their people, whether at home or on the road. And a majority of pet owners like to travel with them. Pet travel is probably the fastest growing segment in the industry. So the question is not IF people should travel with their pets but HOW.
And that’s based on statistics — see Pet Relocation.com’s most recent summer pet travel survey –not on ridiculous anecdotal evidence. So you enjoy your catless journey, Chris. And let others enjoy their pet-filled trips.
How My Foaming-at-the-Mouth Colleagues Responded
Just kidding about the foam. Mary-Alice does call Elliott “a silly man” and Amy says she’d much prefer to travel with Elliott’s cats than with his kids. But I think their pieces are very reasonable nevertheless.
Mary-Alice Pomputius at DogJaunt.com: Christopher Elliott on Pet Travel: That’s Ridiculous
Amy Burkert at Take Paws, the GoPetFriendly.com blog: Pet Travel Experts Respond to Christopher Elliot
And Akila McConnell’s completely respectful, diss-free post can be found at The Road Unleashed: Traveling With Dogs Isn’t Crazy.