Here at Travel Well, we believe we should treat our furry companions just as well as we treat ourselves. Our pets are not things we own but rather integral members of our family. But when it comes to our own adventures, bringing our pets along can be difficult and pose unique health challenges for everyone. We’re left to face many questions: When should we take them? When is it better to leave them behind? What happens if we have an animal emergency? How will they react to a new place? And so on.
Who better to help us with this dilemma than the creator of Petfinder.com, Betsy Saul. Betsy pioneered the way animals find homes and continues to reduce the number of homeless animals by the millions. Her passion for animals is unwavering, and even after selling the website, she continues to make the world a better place for our four-legged friends. Travel Well sat down with Betsy over cappuccinos to learn more about her experiences and share her expertise with fellow travelers.
Q: Have you always been involved with animals?
Yes. I was born into a family that included a special cat named Cricket. As a preschooler I would “rescue” animals and bring them home – quite certain they were living a lonely and empty life before they were lucky enough to be loved by me! Of course as I got older I came to have a better understanding of who needs to be rescued, really. As it turns out, we often hear from people who adopt homeless pets that it was the pets who ultimately rescue the people.
Q: How did the idea for Petfinder come about?
The Internet was brand new and needed a cause-related mission. There were only a couple of animal sites online when we launched Petfinder and nothing that let you see the magnitude of the problem of homeless pets. People were so surprised to see so many wonderful, loving pets, even pure-breds, waiting for a home right in their own community. It was different then and people weren’t as aware of adoption, or fostering, or even responsible pet parenting as they are now.
Q: What have been some of the biggest obstacles in trying to help animals?
The devil is always in the details. We know how to get dogs adopted and in many affluent communities there is no more dog overpopulation. The problem is when there are populations of pets, like bully breeds or big dogs, in a region that doesn’t value them or where they can’t support them. We have pockets in our country that are still stuck where they were 50 years ago right next to counties or regions that have zero euthanasia of adoptable pets. Cats are another issue. We really haven’t figured out the secret sauce to predictably save cats in our communities yet.
Q: How can people help animals in their local towns and cities?
Support your local shelters and rescues. If you can’t adopt, then volunteer to walk dogs, socialize cats, make fundraising calls, or simply take your old towels and blankets down to donate them. Social media is wildly successful for homeless pets, so one of the best things you can do is to share pets online to get them the exposure they deserve and share information, like fundraising events, from your local shelters. And if you have an adopted pet that is awesome, make sure everyone knows they were adopted from a shelter or foster group. Oh yeah, and if you have space, foster! Some pets just need a few extra weeks to get into the system and a foster home can mean the difference between life and death.
Q: Do you have pets of your own and do you travel with them?
I have many pets. I don’t take my farm animals with me, but people have been trailering horses and taking trail riding vacations since the wheel was invented. My cat travels with me from time to time and he hates being left behind (he likes a change of pace, but he complains during the entire ride there). I do not fly with my pets. I don’t think pet care and airline operations are a good match and the risks are too great for vacation travel. My dogs frequently go on car trips with me. Camping with a dog is awesome.
I have mixed feelings about hotel stays. I’ve seen so many miserable pets left alone for the day in a strange hotel room that I think they are often better off left at home in their comfortable environment. That has to be weighed against what the options are for leaving them at home, of course. I like to have a family member come and stay with my guys. I know it sounds crazy, but we have an RV so we can travel with our pets more easily. They each have their own spot and they settle right in when we power up.
Q: What tips do you have for those of us traveling with our furry family members?
- Make sure your traveling companion has excellent recall. Assume she will get loose and make sure you have a plan to get her back. Then, make sure she never gets loose. Avoid the temptation to go “off lead” in new territory.
- Make sure her microchip identification is up to date in the national microchip registry database, especially if she is a cat (lost cats are rarely returned to their owner).
- Utilize pet seat belts. If you have to make an emergency stop, you know the pet is safe from getting loose. I’ve had dogs try to bolt when they saw another dog at an interstate rest stop and was happy they were restrained as cars were flying by.
- Create a ritual that lets your pet know a trip is in the works. This is fun. We have special words we use over and over (including the made up word “go-for-a-trip-car” which is a big deal when they hear it because they already know the words “go-for-a” and “car”). Now they are learning how “trip” changes it and when we say it, they won’t leave our sight because they don’t want to get left behind!
- Take their bed, crate, and bowls so they understand that the concept of “home” travels with them.
- Budget extra time. You will feel better when you arrive by virtue of more stops, longer walking breaks, and more exploring. I also have to budget extra time for runs through the drive-thrus to get burgers for the gang. It is no wonder they love to go.
- Don’t put your four-legged family member in the baggage compartment of an airplane unless you absolutely have to. Airlines have gotten better, but the standards just aren’t there yet for pet air travel.
- Always carry water from your home. It is stressful to be on a trip with your pet and have them refuse to drink the strange water. Like you, they need to keep hydrated.
- Be mindful of where you explore. Dogs will drink the river water and you need to be able to respond quickly and identify the source if, several days to three weeks later, they become very sick from a bacteria or other organism.
- Never, ever leave your pet alone in a hotel room. It isn’t fair to the pet, the other guests, or to you when the house-keeper accidently lets them out of the room.
>> BOOKMARK THIS BEFORE YOU TRAVEL: VECCS Emergency Vet Hospital Directory
Q: What is next for Betsy Saul?
I’m super excited about veterinarians these days because having a relationship with a vet you trust makes for a happier pet relationship. In fact, pets who have a good vet are less likely to ever end up at a shelter. That is why I’ve started Heal House Call Veterinarian. We’re just getting started, but our vets will treat each pet as an individual and will come right to your home, cutting back on the stress related with a trip to the vet office.