For many people, the phrase “pet travel” evokes images of indulgence, of ladies with with little frou frou dogs getting pedicures in hotel spas (the dogs, that is, not the ladies). As I discussed last week in my post on 9 Things That Genuinely Make a Hotel Pet Friendly, I blame the hotel PR industry for promoting baubles over basics.

We pet owners know that we travel with our companion animals because we consider them members of our family, whether we’re taking them on vacation or showing them at a breed or agility event.

So here’s a thought: Why not behave as ethically about pet travel as we would about any other kind of travel? A lot of people refused to visit South Africa when it was under apartheid. We animal lovers have our own version of  apartheid, Breed Discriminatory Laws — commonly known as Breed Specific Legislation or BSL — breed bans being the most egregious of them.

I was delighted to learn, via a comment on my post questioning the use of the bland acronym BSL, that Rod and Amy Burkert had a page on their GoPet site discussing these laws and their reach, both in terms of geography and the breeds affected.  They gave advice on how to find out whether a place you want to visit has Breed Discriminatory Laws, and  what to do in case you accidentally find yourself in one of these places with a POODL (Pitbullish or Otherwise Dangerous Looking) dog. In a case of serendipity or great minds thinking alike, while I was planning to write on today’s topic, Amy read my earlier post and updated her site to reflect her recognition of the blandness of the term BSL and add new information. You can find it all here.

It’s all very well and good for owners of POODL dogs to avoid these places. That’s what the ignoramuses who create these laws want. But what about the rest of the pet-traveling public, those of us with little fluffy dogs, big doofy-looking goofballs, mid-sized mutts with no muscle tone? Let’s show some solidarity!

Just as it’s always a good idea to let pet friendly businesses know how much we appreciate them, we can also do the opposite: Let pet unfriendly destinations know that we travel, that we love animals, and that we’re not going to spend any money in places that practice breed bans or animal cruelty.

I know, I know. It’s impossible to avoid places that treat animals cruelly in the strictest sense of the term. We can probably find some form of factory farming — or at least raising animals for food under horrible conditions — in every county of every state of the U.S. and every province of Canada. Then there are the states (thankfully diminishing in number) where there is greyhound racing…

We would have to stay home in our own violation-filled cities and towns if we adhered to even the mildest, most reasonable definitions of animal cruelty.

That said, we can select out some major issues and focus on them. Along with avoiding places that have breed bans, my other top destinations to stay away from would be those where puppy mills flourish. For example, many people — including me, when I lived on the east coast — visit Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, because it’s Amish Country, and how quaint is that to see people living as though in another century? Not very: Lancaster County has been called the puppy mill capital of the east coast, and there’s nothing quaint about animal cruelty.

So… If you’re on a planning committee for an animal-related event or conference, tell members who may not be aware of the problems why they shouldn’t hold the event there — and then, when you convince the committee to make alternative plans, be sure to tell a representative of the Chamber of Commerce or the Convention and Visitors Bureau why you won’t be booking halls, hotel rooms, and otherwise spending money in their town. Same if you’re going on vacation: It’s simple enough to send an email to the local tourism organization saying  “I thought you should know that, while X seems like a lovely place, I’ll be spending my money in Y where they don’t [have breed bans] [allow puppy mills to thrive].”

They get enough of those emails and you can bet the tourism folks will pay attention. We’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Dogs don’t have voices or wallets. We have both.


There are other ways to travel ethically with pets; this is just one. What else do you think the term ethical pet travel encompasses?

27 thoughts on “Ethical Pet Travel: Let’s Give It a Road Test”

    1. I think it’s impossible to cover everything — greyhound races, dog fighting, cockfighting… the list goes on and on. That’s why I say it’s best to focus on just the worst of the worst; you know how easy it is to dismiss people as wacko animal rights activists. That said, I think we should write to Chambers of Commerce and CVBs and mention whatever causes upset us most. Tourism people need to hear from animal lovers who travel with their pets — of all stripes.

    2. Currently in the United States dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states. In all but three states, possession of dogs for fighting is also a felony (it is a misdemeanor in the remaining three states). In only two states in the U.S., Hawaii and Montana, is attending a dog fight legal.

    3. there is no place in the US where dogfighting is legal (and it’s also a federal crime if the dogs cross state lines). I believe it’s actually a felony crime in all states. Attending a dogfight is also a crime; I believe also a felony in most, but not all states.

  1. Right on! And, I agree that if we focused on ‘every’ sort of animal cruelty, well, we’d be frozen in place. I like your idea identifying some of the biggies and then telling those cities via city councils and chambers of commerce why we’re by-passing them. Maybe, too we could communicate to cities that we are visiting–why we chose them, especially if they are exemplary in ways important to animals and us.

    1. Great idea, Deborah — we *should* tell places that we chose as an alternative why we chose them, thus encouraging them in their good behavior.

  2. That’s why I keep coming back, Edie. You always bring a new spin to everything you consider. Yay!

    I’m going to ponder this post a while. But I do have my own spin on ethical pet travel–it’s not just about you and your dog.

    I’ve enjoyed vacationing at the shore in Cape May, NJ for years (no, this is the nice Jersey shore. Snookie and company never make it to Cape May). If you don’t know, Cape May is a major stop for migratory birds and hosts the annual World Series of birding. Birds stop near Cape May to feast on horseshoe crab eggs and to lay their own nests.

    In recent years, some of the beaches that dogs were allowed to visit have become dog-free. We found out that too many people were allowing their dogs to run totally unsupervised and they were disturbing nests and stressing the birds.

    I’m really sorry that I can’t bring Honey to some of the wonderful beaches I’ve enjoyed. But I believe it’s crucial that birds have undisturbed nest areas or we won’t have the birds for long.

    For me, part of ethical pet travel is respecting other uses for natural and developed areas. I suspect the Lighthouse beach would still allow dogs under certain circumstances if more people had shown a bit of respect in the first place.

    1. Thank you for your nice words Pamela. I totally agree with your wider definition of ethical pet travel and in fact was going to add some of that but found I was going on too long. So that’ll go into my next post on the topic.

      I know Cape May, by the way. It’s lovely. I never think about Snookie (shudder) when I think about the Jersey Shore, but I’m happy to evoke Bruce Springsteen!

  3. My travel with my dog generally does not entail him having spa treatments either, I just prefer to have him with me, than to leave him with anyone else, unless it’s a 2 day city shopping/dining break, he comes. I am quite firm with hotels (I’m an ex hospitality G.M. so I know dogs cause far less disruption and damage in hotels than either a) children or b) drunken individuals!). I enjoin with your idea in general (in UK greyhound racing is very prevalent). I whole-heartedly support anti-puppy mills and being from the UK I am only just aware of these ‘puppy mill capitals’ – it is not widely reported that the UK has puppy mills to anywhere near the degree of the States. I hear good reports of Loewe hotels in your country and their open-policy on welcoming dogs with open arms – even having specially tail- ored doggie breaks.

    Ethical pet travel – well that we make sure our dogs don’t cause nuisance to anyone else on holiday, like leaving a dog alone to bark his head off in a hotel room or rented apartment, cleaning up properly after our dogs and all other things that most good dog lovers do!

    1. Yes, Loews Hotels in the US are wonderful; so are Kimpton Hotels, and a subgroup of InterContinental called Hotel Indigo; all accept all size and multiple pets with no (or very little) extra charge. I’ve just heard about Affinia hotels and they look promising too, though you have to check in advance about bringing multiple pets.

      I agree with you about what else is included under the “ethical” concept. That’ll be my next post!

  4. I just received the latest edition of The Bark magazine, and coincidentally, its review of Nashville as a great place to travel with dogs, reports that Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes are not allowed in any of Nashville’s dog parks. I’ll put that on my list of places to boycott (not a big sacrifice, I admit).

  5. As a I live in the puppy mill capital of Canada, I’m a little ambivalent about this idea. You can’t really compare puppy mills to apartheid; the latter is a goverment-sanctioned policy, the former a criminal act not sanctioned by government whatsoever. You can’t “punish” the general population for something largely out of their control.

    There was a mass slaughter of sled dogs in a different part of Canada last April; it came to light a few weeks ago because the man who “culled” the dogs (what a stupid term for killing healthy animals) applied for worker’s compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the kill. There is considerable outrage over this, and there were mass demonstrations by many dog lovers against the company that owned the dogs. Boycotting the province or city is pointless; had a poll of residents had been commissioned, the dogs wouldn’t have died. This was the act of one stupid, stupid man.

    We can work for stronger animal protection laws, and harsher penalties for animal cruelty, including owning and operating puppy mills. Certainly we should boycott pet stores that buy from puppy mills. But in terms of governments and progress on political issues, sometimes carrots work better than sticks.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Lori. You’re right about puppy mills not being government sanctioned…sort of. The people of Missouri recently voted to make it more difficult for the state to operate them. So if tourism departments in St. Louis, say, understood that visitors were looking at the outcome of Proposition B when it came to making their travel plans, they might have helped in the pro-Prop B publicity.

      And here in the US puppy mills are partly under control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So they’re not disconnected issues. Again, if the localities turn a blind eye on enforcement of USDA laws and allow puppy mills to thrive it’s down to the localities. I don’t know how it works in Canada.

      The mass slaughter of dogs is a private industry issue — no government regulation (except for animal cruelty laws). Ugh.

      1. Are you saying the *State* of Missouri operated puppy mills for fun and profit? Or that people *in* Missouri could operate puppy mills with impunity? The first situation would be… beyond words. The second is bad enough!

        The issues are not disconnected from government in terms of legislation, but I think positive reinforcement (“The Association of Dog Bloggers Recommends City X as a Pet Friendly Destintation!”) beats sanctions and boycotts any day. A great example is gay tourism– gay websites and magazines will point travellers to “gay-friendly” destinations, and lots of cities are beginning to cotton on to what that means for their tourism trade. They even target that market deliberately. Now if you could just get places to tout their “animal-friendly” policies, you’re on to something!

        1. Oh, no, Missouri itself was absolutely not operating puppy mills. But the state’s notorious lack of inspections and enforcement of federal laws allowed them to thrive until the passage of Prop B.

          I agree with you in general about the carrot approach — but lots of places are touting their pet friendliness, even places that have breed bans. For example:

          But if, as you say, we had bloggers touting certain cities over others, taking ethical issues — and not just the number of dog parks — into account, that would be a good way to go. And some sites, such as already do that.

          1. It’s all in how you look at it. I am against Prop B and would choose NOT to go there as a result of the legislation. Not only was the AKC against the proposition, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association was as well – for good reason.

            Prop B does nothing to stop Puppy Mills that couldn’t already be done. Every state has laws against animal cruelty. What Prop B DOES do is set numbers limits, which are really irrelevant where cruelty is concerned. A person can have 100 very well cared for dogs in a kennel compound, and another can have 10 horribly cared for ones in their home. Playing a numbers game and allowing the HSUS play such a big role in legislation is a very slippery slope and threatens both good breeders and good owners.

  6. In my personal opinion it would be a terrible idea to choose not to go to a place because of a higher instance of puppy mills. The result – reactionary laws made by animal rights advocates pushing an agenda that makes dog ownership for ALL of us a challenge. These are the same people who are helping to ban breeds and they are using puppy mills and other actions of the ‘bad’ minority to do it.

    Often Puppy mills move around from place to place and it takes a little time for law enforcement to shut them down. Does that suck? Absolutely. The alternative – me and the GOOD breeders I work with are threatened with illegal search of homes and seizure of dogs because somebody thinks we’re doing something wrong. We cannot make the GOOD breeders pay for the actions of the bad ones.

    I’ll tell you right now, I’ll go to prison before I’ll let you take my dogs. I shouldn’t have to make that choice, and animal rights activists are working to put me in that position. The cities who are implementing these reactionary laws are the cities *I* won’t be visiting.

  7. I’m all for avoiding those places that promote things we don’t support. I don’t go into pet stores that sell puppies for that reason (with the exception of visiting the one Jasper was in before he came to me – I had to see just how bad his conditions had been).

    I am all for not supporting puppy mill states as well. Why spend your dollars in a location that is unwilling to address puppy mills or to ensure that the minimum amount of care is provided to the puppies and parents housed in them?

    I say combine what Lori said and promote those places that are friendly to dogs and avoid those that are not. I think those cities who choose to accommodate dogs and their owners will benefit in teh long run.

  8. No solution is going to be perfect. The point is, ethical pet travel gives us the opportunity to make life better for animals. @Lori, boycotting a location seems to be the only way to get the attention of the law makers. You don’t really hurt a place until you hit them in the pocketbook. Yes, it may cause some economic hardship to the people who live in the area – and that’s good! Then they will also be motivated to move for reform as well. We should be supporting pet friendly locations – and thanking them for being so! But if we didn’t tell the cities we’re bypassing why we won’t be spending our money there or they might never get the message.

    Every year many lists are put together recommending the most pet friendly cities. The criteria are all over the place and rarely related to anything that matters to me when I travel. I’d love to see a list that ranks the cities on their pet friendly atmosphere – including breed bans & restrictions, whether local laws allow pets in the outdoor dining areas of restaurants, and whether dogs are allowed in the city parks. I’d also like to see the 5 least pet friendly places – so we could focus our attention on making change in the places where things are the worst.

    1. I think a list of the 5 least pet friendly places is a great idea. People take notice of that type of thing. And I can’t think of a better website to host it than….

  9. I think it would be great to have a living list/map of what’s happening where in the US on breed bans and puppy mills, especially the destination points most frequented by vacationers. Low hanging fruit, as it were. Chambers of Commerce, however…they are all about protecting business, any business, from government or other interference and that is that, so while they may say something pretty, don’t count on any real support.

    I think while @Lori has valid points certainly with regard to puppy mill mobility, there is nothing about boycotting places that don’t treat dogs right that should worry her. Is she saying that authorities can’t tell if she is a puppy mill or not – and if that’s the case perhaps she and her good breeders can offer guidance to the authorities through the AKC’s national arm (local groups have been on the side of puppy mills across the nation, helping skirt legislation on animal welfare standards at commercial puppy factories and puppy mills for fear of unaffordable increase in licensing fees and other reas0ns.) It’s time good breeders band together and stand up against puppy mills. Let’s get some clarity here for law enforcement.

    1. As always, thanks for clarifying these issues Mary. Those questions, where I interview you about everything that’s important about animal welfare… they’re on their way. Honest.

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