Sunday, August 25, 2013

Traveling With Your Pet. The Worst Scenario Guidebook

Back at home!

As much as I love to get a few days away, meet fellow pet enthusiasts, (put exceedingly mildly), and learn about new emerging facets of the social media world, I love, love, LOVE coming home!

Many of the attendees bring a big piece of their home with them. Wrapped in a snuggy tied to their chest, or zipped into a mosquito mesh swathed stroller, or trotting alongside on a leash (often bedazzled with their name).

But for us our pets remain safely, calmly, and repeatedly at home.

There are reasons. Many of them over-thought out, obsessively dissected, and always based on my ever present medically based "worst case scenario" methodology of navigating through life.

Let me explain; I am a scientifically medically trained being. My job is to use my education, both taught and learned, to help identify a cause and thus be able to next provide a treatment plan. This is not a smooth linear road. When I meet a patient and I start the discovery process of trying to identify a diagnosis, I have to think on a linear scale. That pendulum of decision is a fluttering, wavering, oscillating, point. It is influenced by clients. Their willingness to participate and the latitude provided to try to gather clues along the diagnosis path. At every step I have to be prepared for a stop sign to be flashed. Sometimes because our patient is running out of time, or because our clients are depleting resources. Because of this constant unsettling reality I also have to be prepared for "worst case scenario" at every moment.

Why "worst case scenario?" Well, we are talking about disease and liability.

There are diseases that can kill, both my patient, my client, my staff, and myself. (There's a serious slap of reality to wake you up).

Liability. Oh, there's a can of worms to keep your toes out of. You can be sued, reprimanded, or cornered to a place where you willingly jump overboard to save yourself any further repeated abuse and burn out.

This is how I am wired. I have seen worst case scenarios enough times to have had my behaviors and actions influenced by them.

If we were discussing it with our parents we might call it "paranoia," and oddly for as often as I fend off the labels that paint me in an aging light, I choose to stick to "better safe than sorry" adage.

In my twenties and thirties the dogs followed me wherever I went. They were my kids, my status, and my security blanket/stuffed animal pacifiers.

But, in my forties I have decided to take a more scientific, less self-centered approach to their traveling.

Here's what I discovered with my pets;

  • Any longer than 24 hours of a change in surroundings and Charleston starts with diarrhea.
  • Any small opportunity for Jekyll to meet a friend and he takes full advantage. He will cross busy roads, run in front of traffic, it doesn't matter. If there is a person he thinks he can befriend he is off to meet them. (Worse yet, I hate to squelch his charming demeanor. I mean how many of us ALWAYS see the glass half full and LOVE every single being unconditionally?).
  • Savannah, my 18 year old girl. She deserves a quiet, calm life, and she flourishes if I provide it.
Now, I have never adopted an carry-on sized pets. And I know that many peoples pets are an accessory extension. If I had a pet that fit in my purse, and if I had conditioned them to always be on my hip to the point that it was detrimental to their overall mental health if they were not, than I would perhaps be bringing them with me more often. 

But I still live in "worst case scenario-ville." And traveling with a pet leaves you open to all sorts of scenarios. 

IF you do decide to bring your pet with you here's what you should have:
  1. All of your pets vaccine and all current pertinent medical records. (Hint, many veterinarians now allow you to have online access to your pets records so you never need hard copies. Ask them about this. At our clinic we use Petly.)
  2. Have your vet help you pack an emergency AND travel kit. This might include any current or past prescription drugs, anti-histamines, pain medications, steroids, e-collar, shampoo, and even prescription food.

Here's what I witnessed at the pet expo I attended this past weekend;

A perfectly content dog around the attendees snapped the second she saw a chocolate lab and lunged for her through a large group of people. If there hadn't been so many people between her and the brown lab she would have reached her and bitten. What did the handlers do? They acted dumb-founded, put her back behind their table and went back to their meet and greet duties.

What should they have done? Gotten that dog out of that expo. Immediately. Why? Because worst case scenario is going to happen. That female aggressor, sadly a pit bull. Her biting someone is going to add fuel to an already inferno sized debate.

What else did I see?
A very sweet completely (normal) obsessed beagle trying to abscond every morsel of food around. It was a pet expo, there was a Viking sized buffet at every turn. By day number two she had generalized abdominal pain. My presumptive diagnosis? pancreatitis. Her worst case scenario, a very expensive treatment plan that she may or may not live through. When I talked to her mom about whether she had offered any treats, or had had a change in diet I got a recited list of every treat from every vendor present. That beagle had been on a 24 test tasting binge. Her rule out list was a whole lot longer than it should have been. When we talked about whether she had packed any pain medications for her pup, she replied "Tylenol." (Argh!)

What do I think? 
I think that lots and lots of pets are not up to date on vaccines (I know this, I own a veterinary clinic, I am told it every single day), and I think lots of people think their dog is perfectly harmless (and they are with their parent), but they are not completely in tune with their pet and they miss signs that their pet is anxious, or fearful, or about to pick a fight. 

How do I plan for a get-away AND take the best care of my pets that is possible? I have an extended family. My pet sitter and my vet clinic. They are the most vital people to my being able to take excellent care of my pets. 

My advice to you. Be a part of your veterinarians family. We each need each other. It is an open honest relationship. If you are going away and leaving your pets behind call your vet, tell them, and leave some guidance about what you would want them to do if "worst case scenario" happens. Even offer to leave a credit card on file just in case.

OK, I realize we all love our pets, and I also realize that in many cases we are proud and want to show them off. But our primary responsibility as a parent is to be self-less. To protect them and to teach them. But never to put them in a place that might make them sick, or injured, or overwhelm them.

I leave my pets at home.

And when I get home, they treat me to a licker-tape parade. I am a rock star for a whole 12 hours! It is awesome! And me, I have no diarrhea to clean up, no uncertainties about their break from their over bearing mother, and a pet sitter who got to spend a few days in my home with my pets as an extended family member who helps me take care of mine.

If you have any questions about this, or anything else pet related ask me at Pawly or on Twitter @Pawbly.


  1. I have a sweet border collie/ sheltie mix who was feral, I think. (No one knows for sure) before we rescued her six years ago. She is a beautiful soul and is happy with my husband and I in our calm home in rural Colorado. Our problem is that she takes, literally, years to warm up to new people. She now has about five people she likes! When we leave, even though our dog sitter is knowledgeable and works very kindly with her, she is frozen with fear, and stays crouched behind my bed the entire time. She sneaks out at night to pee. I feel so guilty, and wish I could help her. She has a very well adjusted "sister dog" who is helping her, and I have tried a thunder shirt, DAPL collar... she is great until we leave. Is there aything I am missing here?

    1. hello,
      thank you so much for being such a kind generous person to your pup. I really (really) think that it is time for a professional. Ideally a positive reinforcement trainer and a vet who will help with every step of her treatment plan. I also think that it might be beneficial to discuss an anti anxiety medication. No dog should struggle this much. There is help out there, I promise.. work diligently to find the right vet AND the right trainer.