As I mentioned in my last post, my pet travel guru is Mary-Alice Pomputius of DogJaunt.com. No one blogs with greater, more useful detail about traveling with a small dog, especially by plane, than Mary-Alice.*
And if there is a higher title than guru — perhaps the Guru Queen? — that’s Mary-Alice on the subject of pet carriers. She has an entire other site devoted to the topic: Pet Carrier Reviews.
So when it came to deciding what carrier I was going to buy for Frankie’s first flight, I cut to the chase. After reading a lot of reviews on both of Mary-Alice’s sites, there was a clear winner: The SturdiBag. Not only did Mary-Alice extol its virtues but various commenters were over the moon about it too.
It was priced a bit higher than what I had wanted to spend ($90) but I found it on sale at PetSmart for $60. Life was good.
It looks like a fine product, and since I haven’t used it yet to fly with Frankie, I will address only two issues: the assembly and the zippers.
Assembly of the SturdiJet
Perhaps the best feature of the SturdiJet is its literal flexibility: It is sufficiently structured to make it downright roomy when it’s just hanging around, but you can smush it down to fit under an airline seat.
The thing that makes it flexible are two bendable, hard plastic rods that fit into tracked fabric tabs on the top of the carrier. Naturally, you have to insert the rods. Otherwise the mailing package would be VERY big.
But there is no indication, anywhere, that rod insertion might be difficult to accomplish. I followed the directions down to the last details. Then I called SturdiPet. They were extremely nice and explained everything with great patience, but I still couldn’t bend the rods enough to fit them into the anchoring tabs.
Now I’m not the strongest person in the world — I sometimes use my teeth to get caps off plastic bottles — but I’m not the weakest either. Just ask my body conditioning teacher (we often go to happy hour together; maybe that undercuts some of the weight-lifting benefits?) So I was beginning to despair, especially when the SturdiPet rep suggested that my experience was very atypical.
Near tears — but quiet ones, because I didn’t want Frankie to be afraid of the carrier, more on which in a minute — I called my friend Elaine and asked her to come over and help me assemble it.
She did, and as you can see from the picture, we were finally victorious. But it was a struggle. And Elaine is not a weakling either. When two reasonably fit women have to wrestle a carrier into submission, I would say assembly is difficult.
So be prepared to have a friend on hand when you put it together.
Getting Frankie SturdiJet ready
I have blogged many, many times about Frankie’s dislike of riding in cars; when I discuss potential calming agents (soon) I will go into specifics.
I have not mentioned, however, that Frankie hates to be picked up and carried.
Some small dogs apparently love being in an owner’s arms and held at a height where they can see the world. Not Frankie. Maybe it’s a control issue — he’s a terrier, after all — a dislike of being unable to navigate the world on his own. Whatever the source of his annoyance, when I need to heft him out of frightening situations or when he’s been too tired to complete a walk that went long, Frankie either lies like a dead weight in my arms or squirms like a fish out of water.
Ten pounds can feel awfully heavy under those circumstances.
So I’ve been getting Frankie accustomed to getting schlepped around in the carrier. This has been a two step process, getting Frankie into the carrier and then getting him used to being carried.
I should preface this by saying that I’ve never had a reason to crate train Frankie before this and enclosed spaces are not his friends.
So I have been leaving treats in the SturdiJet. No dummy, Frankie stretches out as far as he can to get his treat — and he has a long back — leaving his little butt hanging out the back. After lulling him into thinking it was safe, I started gently pushing him into the carrier while he was chewing and then zipping him in.
Complaint #2 about the SturdiJet: It doesn’t have the smoothest zipper action. The first couple of times Frankie managed to squirm out before I could completely enclose him because the zipper was kind of sticky.
But it’s all working out. Frankie has been spending longer and longer in the carrier on the floor and, although he realizes there’s a good chance he’s going to get shoved in — though not always — his food urge wins out to his irritation.
I’ve been walking him around the house in it, and even took him outdoors.
And this morning I put the carrier in the car, put him into it, and drove to our usual trail. He managed to escape through the top “petting hatch” which I foolishly left open to give him a view, but on the way home I secured it and, after our ride, carried him into the house. He seemed no more annoyed than usual to be in the car and was still willing to go into the carrier for food after this experience (see photographic evidence).
So I’m feeling semi-sanguine. This morning. As opposed to the middle of last night, when I ran over the litany of what could possible go wrong.
What do you think? Is there a hope that Frankie will be reasonably carrier-and flight-ready by Wednesday or am I delusional?
*Full disclosure, which I forgot to disclose last time: Mary-Alice has also become a friend, and I even hosted a pet carrier contest with her, but that’s because I admired her travel blog so much first. Finding out she was a very nice person was a bonus.