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.
27 thoughts on “Pet Travel Is Here To Stay, Chris Elliott. Live With It”
I’m not gonna lie I think he’s a fibber and a pussy and I told him so. Just another self absorbed twat that never should have been allowed a pet (or probably children) to begin with. I see no reason to assume he even is telling the truth about the anecdotes. I don’t think people are generally stupid as individuals. You can tell if your dog is scared or happy. We have one dog that hates the car and one that loves it and one that is indifferent. You don’t have to be Dr. Doolittle to figure out which dog loves the car. People like him are just looking for a way to soothe their conscience so they can do what they want to do instead of what needs to be done. I feel bad for his wife because the truth is, he will do that with her and the kids too. Once a self absorbed twat, probably always a self absorbed twat. (Unless something really wakes him up to the fact that he is not the center of the universe and usually that something has to be traumatic.) I also must admit I don’t really care about my fellow travelers and whether they like what I’m doing or not. I’ll follow the rules as best I can but, look, if you didn’t want to deal with all traveling means why are you there? It’s not like someone put a gun to your head and made you get on the flight with the pig. You’re a grown adult, you don’t like it- leave. There’s another flight in some reasonable amount of time, people need to stop whining about crap they have no real reason to take if they don’t want to.
Ah, Jenni, I love that I can always depend on you to tell it like it is — or at least how you feel it is! I think the anecdotes are true, just not relevant. And I saw what you wrote on his site — good for you. Except for the comment by Mary-Alice, everyone else has been ridiculously supportive.
Well put Jenni!
TRY telling Daisy to stay home! HA!
LOL, gee so much focus on the pig. not even a common pet. Note: 2010 ADA now defines Service animals as dogs and mini-horses, all other species are excluded. So the pig is now excluded anyway. In my opinion, if you choose leave a pet for a year, you should allow someone else to adopt it. He must not have a good, loving bond with his cat. A lot of dog owners want to bring their dogs with them, and many plan their trips according to where they are allowed to have their dogs with them.
Thanks for the info on the ADA; I didn’t realize that. Mini-horses, though?
They are getting some attention as guide animals. Not very common, though, and seems a little bit harder to keep than a dog.
The debate over service animals is a pretty contentious one, actually. From the type of animal to the purposes that count (aka emotional support) people feel pretty strongly…
And great post, Edie. It’s so well done. That guy… sucks. (See, you’re much more eloquent than I am.)
So true re: service animals, AJ. That’s why just including one — and a pig yet! — in the discussion was so weird. If it’s any consolation, I usually start out my posts with a phrase like “that guy sucks”; it takes me a long time to get around to being more articulate.
Here we go again. People shouldn’t travel with dogs. People shouldn’t go shopping with their dogs even at dog-friendly stores and boutiques. People shouldn’t take their dogs, even on-leash, I might add, to open air public festivals on land on which dogs are otherwise welcome (well except by those who don’t want to ever see a dog much less encounter one). Dogs don’t belong on urban open space lands that people use for hiking and climbing. Did I miss something?
In my personal experience–and I’ve had plenty of that living in dog-ambivalent-at-best Boulder–they all make up stuff to make their so-called case. They are a very loud and snarky minority.
I’m with you.Dogs are members of our family, and like most members of our families, admittedly not all, we like to travel together. Get over it!
I know — it’s a battle that keeps to be fought over and over. You’d have thought that things have changed but nooo… Well, I’m prepared to do battle — I’m loud and snarky too!
Thanks for sending this out. I am definately on board with you on this. Some people just don’t know what they are talking about. I know my dogs want to go anytime I get in the vehicle they love a new adventure.
You’re welcome, Gunnar. Thanks for coming by.
I thought that the reference to the pig story was a bit of a stretch. It’s owners were obviously very wealthy AND used to getting their own way. The “service pig” flew in THREE first class seats and I’m sure that they paid off their doctor. I don’t see any competent doctor writing out a service animal certificate for a 300 pound pig.
While cats usually don’t like to leave their homes, (most) dogs *love* to travel with their humans! Jersey has been all over Ontario and the Eastern US with me and we always have a great time.
While I do understand that their are some individuals that have severe allergic reactions to pets, pick an airline that has a no pet policy. There are lots of them available. And as I said on Rod and Amy’s site. Substitute the word “pets” with “small children” I can’t count how many times I have been driven crazy by screaming/crying/tantruming/smelly children, while traveling on an airplane. If I had a choice, I’d take a pet over a baby any day.
Me too! I have never, ever been on a plane with a barking dog or a cat making a fuss — largely because you must put pets under the seat where they can chill out. If you could put kids under the seat, most flights would be much calmer!
The human mind in a nutshell. I can/will not travel with my pets, hence nobody should travel with their pets. Not for any particular reason, just because that makes me feel better about myself and my own choices. Job well done, Chris.
Great you speak out and do not let him get away with it.
Agreed. I didn’t want to psychoanalyze — in addition to piling on with sarcasm — but I really do get the sense that he needs to rationalize his own decisions by making them a principle rather than just accepting that he made a tough choice.
Ha! Loved Leo’s – @Kenzo_HW – response:) – it’s so weird that some writers take these ridiculous liberties without underscoring that what they have written is an opinion piece, not a post based on research, and – what are those pesky things called again – oh, yeah, facts! Looks like you’ve got a lot of work cut out for you with characters like this spreading negativity and misinformation about pet travel from such a mega platform as Frommer’s website.
It’s funny, Mary, I just googled “Frommer’s” “pet travel” to see if they had a book on the topic that would contradict what Chris Elliott said. Oddly enough, the only other reference to pet travel I could find on Frommer’s was an article about pet travel on planes that said “don’t.” Again, the article referred to cats. Hmmmm… maybe they need to publish a pet travel guide!
My Human said I can’t do what I want and that’s tackle that Chris person and knock the wind right out of him.
I agree with Karen, us pawed ones are far better behaved than MOST children ’cause parents don’t make them take responsibility for their actions and keep making excuses for them. My Human says the whole thing started with Dr. Spock….but I digress…
Just wanted to stop and say GREAT article!
Y’all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog
Thank you, Hawk. See, the fact that you won’t tackle that Chris person is proof how well behaved dogs are!
Sounds like this Elliott guy is trying to sell something to a select crowd by looking like a victim to them. Don’t give the guy a dime by buying into his game.
I don’t know what he’s selling but I’m not buying — well, unless it’s clicks through to his site, in which case, guilty!