Woman vs Carrier. Notice the sweat sheen on my face in addition to the triumphant smile

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

The Frankie trap; note squeaky carrot toy in front

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.

Really? You're posting a picture of my butt?

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.

23 thoughts on “Pet Travel Planning, Pt. 2: The SturdiJet Carrier”

  1. That is some pretty awesome progress if you ask me. I never succeeded with Kenzo’s crate training that fast. In the end Frankie decides, and it seems like he is ready! Especially that he still wanted to go into the carrier, AFTER the car trip, says it all.

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words! Yes, I was pleased that Frankie didn’t run from the big bad carrier after he’d been in the car with it. That seemed like a good sign.

  2. I am headed to Mary- Alice’s site. I have dogs in a prison training program. They can only have soft sided crates which can be smushed during the day as needed (the cells are small). Thanks for the hands on review. Good luck with Frankie!

  3. Progress! Try putting the food dish at the far end-that is 1 thing that helped get Molly hooked for a trip we took about 6 weeks after we got her (of course she was only about 20 weeks old at the time).

    1. Thanks, Amy! I’ve been keeping up with your adventures, even if I’ve been lax about commenting. This morning’s post about wine country made me want a drink immediately (okay, so maybe it wasn’t the post…)

    1. Thank you, much appreciated — especially from a fellow traveler (as it were) in fearful dogs…

  4. Well, you certainly had tons more success with Mr. Frankie growing accustomed to his fancy sedan chair, shall we call it, than I did with Ms. Sadie and a crate. Many congratulations to both of you!

    Despite the fact that the crate I tried to accustom her to was EXACTLY like the crate she jumps into in the car several times a day on most days, she would have nothing, NOTHING!, to do with same crate on the floor of our living room. Different context and all that. I gave up and switched to an ex-pen. Our purpose was different from yours.We needed a place for Sadie to feel comfortable and relaxed and contained during our KPA training classes. I know no airline that would welcome a dog in an ex-pen. LOL.

    1. I wouldn’t call it success without seeing how it works in action, but I’m pleased that he’s not avoiding the sedan after the car “trauma.” And I guess Sadie would have to be classified as a service dog for you guys to fly together… It just occurred to me that, when it comes to fearful dogs, we are their service people, needed to keep them from psychological distress. There should be a new classification but I guess that, since dogs don’t have rights, it wouldn’t help in getting any acceptance for access to places where regular dogs couldn’t go…

  5. I have not really thought about all the preparation involved in taking a pet on board only because I’ve always had big pets who would need their own seat.

    I think if you stay calm and ho-hum, Frankie will follow your lead.

    Have a great trip. Can’t wait to hear about it…

    1. Calm and ho-hum when preparing for any trip — that’ll be the day! But I will try to act calm and not run around like a chicken without a head, my usual M.O.

    1. Is Bella small enough to fit under a plane seat? There’s always Pet Airways….

      Thanks so much for the award. I’m going over right now to thank you properly!

  6. I’m impressed that you’re putting so much work into this. I think a lot of us take for granted the things our dogs do with no problem – spending ten hours in a carrier under a seat on a plane, for example.
    I don’t think Frankie’s flight will be any 10 hours, but you get what I’m saying.
    In any case, I hope he lies down, relaxes, and enjoys the plane ride. It’s too bad he can’t look out the window, he might find some interesting flying things (birds) to bark at and enjoy watching.
    Best of luck, and I hope it works out amazingly – especially since you and Frankie have put so much hard work into this!

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, JJ. Frankie’s flight was only an hour — whew! — and I’ll be blogging about it soon, but it all worked out well.

  7. Hello – I read about your trials in finding an appropriate carrier for Frankie and then read all the comments by others, sooooo I have to chime in. Frankie looks like he might be about 15″ and plus or minus 15 lbs. Did I get clos? My Tucker, a rough coat JRT,( came with a tennis ball as his standard equipment) so I have leaving him home when I can and do travel with my husband on business. I have been having angina (chest pains in Italy) about which carrier to purchase for him for on-board travel. And like you, I was a bit concerned about the price but figured, you get what you pay for, and will now get the SturdiJet since it got such rave reviews from you. I don’t see rolling wheels though which I thought would make less the anxiety and hurry mode less sweaty and give him the chance to move around a bit more. Please let us all know how the flight goes as we will be watching from a safe distance before the rest of us try it on our own. Great Job !

  8. What a great resource this is.I too am trying to decide which carrier to bring for an upcoming trip from Cal. to Puerto Rico.
    We have a carin Terrier we rescued, she a love but she really it part catipillar I think.
    She weighs 17 lbs and is about 22′ inches long.
    I’m wondering if I’m being realalistic to think she could fit in the 18′” sturdi-bag?
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Ooh, that’s a tough one. Even if you could fit her into the 18″ carrier initially, she would be uncomfortable not being able to stretch out for such a long trip. I’m afraid I don’t know about alternatives but the wonderful Pet Carrier review site could help: http://www.pet-carrier-reviews.com/

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