When our Boston Terrier, Brockton, first joined our little family, I had just one nagging concern about dog ownership: how can I travel and own a dog? Gone, it seemed, were the carefree month-long trips to foreign locales.
But as it turns out, there was a simple solution to a simple problem; sometimes I'd just have to bring the pup with me. Last summer, Brock made the first of what will likely be many journeys throughout his lifetime across the country.
Here's what I learned about travelling across Canada with a dog:
CHOOSE YOUR TRAVEL PROVIDER CAREFULLY
My gut instinct is to always book the cheapest ticket available. Last summer, using Aeroplan points, I flew round-trip Toronto to Edmonton for just $200. It felt like a great deal until I had to pay for Brock's shipment through Air Canada Cargo, which came to a whopping $550 round-trip.
Here's what I wish I would have known about all the different pet policies and their corresponding costs:
Although Air Canada does allow pets, there are so many restrictions that you'll wish you booked with a different airline.
Cost: $50 to $100 for carry-on (22 lbs and under only) and from $105 for checked crates.
Basic date restrictions for checked dogs: No pets are allowed from June 20 to September 10 or from November 1-March 31 (or at any other time when temperature is below 0°C). So basically, almost never.
More info here: Air Canada Pet Policy
Air Canada Cargo
Despite the name similarity and the interlinked websites, Air Canada and Air Canada Cargo are actually two separate companies, with two separate sets of policies for shipping animals.
Air Canada has ridiculous restrictions for shipping animals based on outside temperatures, whereas Air Canada Cargo claims that their baggage compartments are temperature-controlled. But here's the really weird thing--regardless of whether you book with Air Canada or Air Canada Cargo, your pet will end up in the exact same cargo hold. (I verified this with Air Canada Cargo staff. It may be because of liability concerns, but I also think it's a bit of a cash grab. Either way, it's a hassle.)
With that being said, Air Canada Cargo has awesome handlers who are used to dealing with animals. The cost is ridiculous, but your pet will be in good hands.
Cost: Depends on the size and weight of your dog, plus their crate. (Be prepared to shell out for this; Brock only weighs 25 lbs and it cost $250 to ship him one-way.)
Basic date restrictions: Much like every other airline, Air Canada Cargo will not ship dogs from December 15 to January 12.
More info here: Air Canada Cargo Pets
Since Air Canada rarely allows dogs as checked luggage and Air Canada Cargo is ridiculously expensive, WestJet seems to be the go-to pet travel provider in Canada. For a completely reasonable cost, they'll let you travel with your pet almost year-round.
Cost: $50, regardless of whether you're checking your pet or carrying them on-board.
Basic date restrictions for checked dogs: No dogs are accepted from December 15 to January 6.
More info here: Westjet Pet Policy
While travelling by train is also an economical option, it can be difficult to determine whether your pooch will be allowed on board. Pets must be checked as bags, so prior to booking your tickets be sure to confirm that your train has a designated baggage car.
Cost: Between $15 and $50.
Restrictions: Date restrictions vary, based on routes.
More info here: VIA Rail Pet Policy
Confirm your booking:
- Within 24 hours of booking your tickets, call to book your pet's passage. If you can't get your dog on the same flight, you'll likely be able to change your tickets without incurring extra fees.
- One to two weeks in advance, call to confirm your reservation. Also be sure to confirm the expected drop-off time and location. (Air Canada Cargo locations are usually close to, but separate from the airport.)
The night before your departure:
- Exhaust your dog. I like to take Brock out for a long jog the night before. A tired dog is a happy dog and a happy dog is a less-stressed out dog.
- Fill a Kong with pumpkin (or other filling) and freeze it. Brock pretty much sleeps for the duration of all the trips we take, but it makes me feel better knowing that if he's really hungry and wakes up, at least he'll have something to gnaw on to fill the time.
- Freeze water in your dog's dish. All airlines require that your pet have access to a water dish during transport. I like to fill Brock's dish with water the night before and throw it in the freezer. This way, it doesn't spill on the way to the airport or during loading, but will be thawed enough to drink during mid-flight.
- Pack a carry-on for your dog. Throw a spare leash, a bag of food, wet wipes and a small towel in your bag for when you pick your dog up.
The morning of your departure:
- Check in early. Be sure to leave early, since you'll need to check your dog in before your check your own bags. In the case of shipping your pet with Air Canada Cargo, their drop-off and pick-up locations are often separate from the airport terminal. They're also often not within walking distance, so a car or a reliable cab driver is necessary for this chore.
- Feed your dog a light meal--and NO medication. Medicating your animal puts them at risk for injury, since they lose stability during flight movement and handling. Trust that once your pet gets in the air, there's a good chance they'll just fall asleep.
- Be prepared for accidents. Remember the wet wipes? Dependant on the length of your trip, there's a chance that when you pick up your dog on the other end that things might be a bit, er, messy.
- Leave a special treat. From my friend Julie, a WestJet attendant (and owner of a Stevie, a very cute Boston Terrier): "Tape a note on top of the crate: 'Hi my name is Brock! Will you give me the treat taped to the top of my crate before you load me onto the plane?' 9/10 they will get their treat and might feel more comfortable hearing their name!"