First, a confession and a story.
I've always been a dog person. I never really had pets growing up, but as an adult, dogs (greyhounds in particular) have been a big part of my life. There's very little substitute for the love and companionship you receive from dog. Cats? Well, being mostly allergic to them, and not having been around them much, I kind of thought they were mostly good for funny memes on Twitter.
When my wife Julie and I moved to Africa in 2017 we found ourselves for the first time in a long while without a dog in the house, the last of our three greyhounds having crossed over the year before (RIP, Harold, Intrepid, and Dolly). You'll find plenty of handsome street dogs roaming the larger cities on the continent, and it was always a temptation to adopt one of our own. But our third floor walkup apartment in Gaborone and a life that had us on the move more or less constantly made it difficult to justify that decision.
Lodge dogs - somewhere in South Africa
Then in the final weeks of our two year stay in Botswana, a funny thing happened. A small kitten adopted Julie. Clearly the runt of a litter, she lived in a gutter near Julie's office, and unlike the rest of the countless feral cats that colonized the University of Botswana campus where she worked, she had little fear of people. Fed left-over lunch first by Peter, Julie's boss, and later cans of tuna by Julie herself, the runt grew in size, confidence, and affection. Periodically, I would receive texts with photos like the one below, and assertions that this cat was coming home with us to Montana. I was skeptical, and not a little bit worried about what that would entail.
Yikes. How could you say no to a face like that? Well, we couldn't. Literally in the final hours before we were to leave our lives in Botswana, we captured this kitten, stuffed her in a carrier and drove her to the vet where she was vaccinated, spayed, cleaned up, and quarantined before a long ride to a new life in the US. Two years on and still not very large, Katsana runs the show around our house now, and I don't mind one bit. She is sitting in the window of my office right now as I type this very article. In fact, I'm so in love with this little fur ball that I'm that guy now with a thousand pictures of his cat on his phone. Fully converted.
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There’s no doubt about it - our pets make life better. They’re our friends, our adventure buddies, and true members of the family. It’s a pain, both logistically and emotionally to leave them behind when we head out on the road for an overland adventure. Why not bring them along? With a little bit of preparation, knowledge, and the right gear, Fido and Felix can enjoy a romp in the wilderness just as much as you.
Katsana has joined us on a number of short trips around Montana and Wyoming, and being supremely adaptable and curious has generally taken to overland life pretty well. When we hit the road more permanently in the coming months she will, of course, be coming along. In our own experience, and in talking to lots of other folks who have sojourning canines and felines, we've learned a handful of things about traveling with pets over the last couple of years.
Before settling on traveling long term with your pet, there are some useful bureaucratic hoops that are worth jumping through. First and foremost, making sure your cat or dog is up to date on their vaccinations and microchipped is key. Microchipping inserts a small device below your pet's skin that contains information about the animal and the owner. It allows a lost pet to be scanned by a tool that's widely available at veterinarians' offices, animal control departments, and shelters. It even works internationally!
Speaking of international travel, different countries have different requirements and restrictions about what kinds of animals can cross borders, so doing your research ahead of time is crucial. Having all your health and vaccination paperwork organized and at the ready with your own travel documents will smooth over any confusion at border crossings.
Another consideration is veterinary insurance. A medical emergency or even routine check ups for your pet can run into the hundreds if not thousands of dollars, which can take a big bite out of your travel budget. Several organizations and companies, including big concerns like GEICO and the ASPCA, sell insurance policies for your furry friend, which gives you some peace of mind and pocketbook should you need to pay a visit to the vet. In addition, some vehicle recovery and assistance services, like Good Sam, offer support for your pet, like boarding, should your home on wheels need to be in the shop for mechanical repairs for an extended period of time.
Like many humans, our pets tend to be creatures of habit. Throwing long travel itineraries into the mix right away might be stressful for both you and them. Motion sickness and just general nervousness about new surroundings can take its toll, so start small with your trips, and offer ample rewards for good traveling behavior. Make sure your pet has familiar food and treats, as well as a handful of favorite items from home, like a blanket or a toy.
It goes without saying that unattended vehicles and pets don't mix - a rig baking in the sun can be deadly for your cat or dog in just a matter of minutes. Luckily for many of us, our overland builds offer some options that regular cars don't, like built in ventilation and climate control systems that can keep living spaces comfortable even when you're not in the vehicle. This gives you some flexibility in how your house your pet, however, you will still need to be vigilant about leaving your pet by itself for any length of time.
Make sure your pet has some space of its own in your rig. Also like people, cats and dogs derive comfort from having a regular corner or spot they can retreat to when they're ready for a nap or just to escape from the fray. In addition, regular exercise and time to explore outside is equally important - it keeps your pet mentally and physically healthy. Just be confident in your ability to keep track of and control your pet in public spaces. You don't want to be that person whose dog is jumping all over hikers on a trail, or raiding your fellow campers' coolers. Clean up after your pet!
Lastly, there is some useful gear out there that makes pet travel that much more comfortable and convenient. We're big fans of the Rinsekit. This versatile, high-pressure shower in a box is not only great for spraying down Rover after a romp in the ocean or on a muddy trail, but it works on people, bikes, and vehicles, too! (Try it on cats at your own peril...) With up to a six gallon capacity, the Rinsekit can spray hot or cold water and features a six foot long hose and a storage compartment for accessories.
Seat covers are another must have when you travel with pets. Sharp claws and toenails, stray hair, and filthy paws can wreak havoc on your vehicle's interior. Leathers can be especially vulnerable to significant damage. For a relatively small outlay, a robust set of seat covers will protect the investment you have in your rig and make cleaning the interior of your vehicle a snap. They're also great at protecting your seats from careless humans, too. Covercraft's Carhartt seat covers are made of the same material that is stitched up for Carhartt's legendary work wear, so you know they'll last a long time. Machine washable and easy to install and remove, they come in a wide variety of designs specifically fit to your vehicle.
So, get out there and enjoy the great outdoors with your best buddy at your side - there's no excuse not to. Do you have any pet travel stories? Recommendations for making your life on the road with your pet easier? Share them down in the comments!
Photos: Rinsekit, Covercraft, Rachelle Croft, Stephan Edwards, Julie Edwards
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