Federico Brazzi knew that adopting a dog would bring a series of extra expenses. He never thought buying a car was one of them. The thing began to be evident when the podenco of uncertain ancestry of his continued to grow more than expected, until reaching 14 kilos. It was then that he found that taking long trips with a dog weighing more than 10 kilos is difficult and risky. This is the weight limit, including the carrier, that most train and plane companies set so that the pet can sit next to its owner and not in the hold, where the suitcases accumulate. So, when it became obvious that there was no diet that could guarantee the pup a ticket in the cabin, this 37-year-old professor bought himself a car. Every year, when summer arrives, he takes it and travels the almost 2,000 kilometers that separate Madrid, the city where he lives, from Rome, the city where he was born. He swaps the two and a half hour plane ride for a three or four day adventure, with more than 20 hours behind the wheel. “It’s the best option,” he sums up over the phone.
Pets may be considered sentient beings by law, but when traveling they are treated as mere merchandise. Dogs, unless they are handlers, are kept in cages. The cages fit under the seats if the dog or cat is small; they are stacked in the cellars if it is large. Traveling this way is not only stressful for the animal, it can be dangerous. Conditions in the cargo hold of commercial aircraft are not pleasant: temperatures fluctuate wildly, noise is loud, and air pressure can drop significantly. Animal deaths on airplanes remain relatively rare. According to US Department of Transportation statistics, 26 pets died while traveling on airplanes in 2016, a rate of 1 per 20,000 animals transported. There is no data from Spain, since there is no obligation to keep a count of these incidents, but the International Pet and Animal Transport Association (IPATA) affirms that cargo trips are safe if precautions are taken suitable.
to go up to Coconut (the most used name for Spanish pets, according to a study by the Newman agency) to the plane, it is necessary to make a previous study of the conditions of all the companies. Ryanair, easyJet and Wizzair, like most of the low costThey do not allow you to travel with pets, neither large nor small. Vueling does, as long as they weigh less than 10 kilos, since the hold is not enabled to transport animals. To board a larger animal, you have to switch to traditional airlines. And even then there are certain limitations. Iberia and Air Europa prohibit potentially dangerous dogs from traveling in the hold, for safety reasons, and brachycephalic or flat-nosed dogs (such as bulldogs or boxers). “This type of dog has many respiratory problems,” says Enrique Solís, director of LealCan Training, with more than 25 years of experience in the sector. “If we add to this the stress derived from the conditions of the trip in the hold, it can be a fatal combination.”
The conditions not only change according to the company, but also according to the destination. In Europe, the rules for traveling with animals are stricter than in the US Many US airlines allow dogs to fly in the cabin with no weight limit if they have an emotional support animal certificate. These would be “animals that provide therapeutic benefits to their owners through affection and companionship,” according to the US registry of Emotional Support Animal. Obtaining a certificate of this type was relatively easy, so much so that in January 2020 the country tightened the law that allows this type of animal to travel in the cabin, requiring that they receive training to be able to behave well during the flight.
Solís also has an impact on this idea. He believes that the education of dogs is basic in order to guarantee their good coexistence with other passengers in closed spaces such as planes or trains. But since this cannot always be guaranteed, there are models that are committed to coexistence, looking for differentiated spaces. “A specific place can be enabled, as is the case in the Madrid metro (where since 2016 travelers with pets can only get on the last car). In this way, people who do not like dogs, have allergies or fears, could travel in another carriage or flight without feeling harmed”.
This is the model for which the Spanish high speed could begin to opt. Renfe’s pilot test, which will allow large dogs to travel on the AVE for three months on the Madrid-Barcelona line, could be extended to all high speed soon. This would be good news for the more than seven million dogs registered in Spain. In short-distance trains it has been done without a problem for a long time. In Cercanías it is allowed to travel with a pet regardless of its size. In the case of dogs that do not go in a carrier, they must wear a muzzle and a non-extensible leash.
Tips for traveling with your dog by car, train or plane
Before taking a long trip with a pet, you have to prepare well. This is what IPATA recommends, which suggests training dogs or cats and accustoming them to being in their carrier beforehand. Solis agrees. “Most of us canine educators accustom our dogs to the carrier in a progressive, planned and adequate way, since, in certain contexts, it can be a good place to stay”, he assures. However, the problem when traveling, says the coach, goes beyond the carrier: “They can spend too many hours locked up in it when they shouldn’t be more than two (or exceptionally four hours); they do it in inadequate thermal conditions; sometimes with poor handling of the carrier by the cargo personnel…”.
Faced with these adverse conditions, some owners choose to give it tranquilizers. IPATA recommends not doing so, as sedation suppresses respiratory regulation and body temperature and may have other negative effects on the animal’s physiology. But she points out that there are natural calming aids that can make a world of difference, from toys or treats to anything the vet has prescribed after a consultation about the upcoming trip. This last factor is key, since the way in which the animal faces the trip, the separation from its owners or the extreme conditions can vary enormously.
Federico Brazzi is preparing his next trip to Rome with his dog. He positively values initiatives such as Renfe’s and believes that if the project passes the trial period he will use it. He is not so convinced with the plane. “I don’t trust it, I don’t want to take such a long trip separated from my dog, without seeing how he is doing,” he says. So, for now, long hours await him behind the wheel, with his pet sleeping peacefully in the back of the car. “It doesn’t bother me,” he says, “I can take all the hours of travel that are, as long as he’s okay.”