I love my pets, and I love to travel.
And I cannot imagine having to choose between the two. Globetrotting with my pets has become my way of life, but not so long ago, things were very different.
In 1987, Sherpa, an adorable gray Lhasa Apso given to me by my fiancé, became my everything when my fiancé tragically died in his sleep a month before our wedding. Without a signed will, I wasn’t entitled to any of his estate and had to leave our New York home. To make matters worse, after two decades as a flight attendant, I had recently been laid off during a strike. At thirty-seven years old, my entire world had been turned upside down.
Feeling alone and distraught, I wanted to spend some time with my mother who lived in California, but I hesitated because the only way that Sherpa could accompany me on the plane was in a small hard-sided pet carrier that would be uncomfortable for her and cumbersome for me. I finally decided to leave her with a friend.
After arriving in California, I was appalled to learn that my friend’s husband had placed Sherpa in a kennel. (Kennels then were not what they are now.) But worse than that, I felt completely lost without my little best friend; I realized I was the victim of a travel industry that had caused me to separate from my pooch during the time I needed her most.
At that moment, a new commitment was born. I vowed to devote my energy to broadening the industry’s pet-in-cabin policy to accept an alternative to the hard carrier. My diverse international travel experiences, coupled with the time I had spent as an aspiring professional photographer in the handbag industry, laid the groundwork for an idea that would revolutionize pet travel: The Sherpa® Bag, a soft-sided pet carrier.
I designed and developed my first The Sherpa® Bag with my Sherpa’s comfort and ease of travel in mind. It provided proper ventilation to keep her comfortable, had plenty of pockets for water bottles and toys, included a detachable leash, and most important, fit perfectly under an airline seat. That pet carrier encouraged those airlines that did not accept small pets in the passenger cabin to change their pet-in-cabin policy. I lobbied the airlines myself, one by one. American and TWA were among the first to “officially approve” The Sherpa® Bag for on-board use, and others soon followed. My Sherpa® bag became the first officially approved in-cabin soft-sided pet carrier.
I had little business experience and absolutely no financing. I borrowed five thousand dollars from my mother to have the bags made and then pounded the pavement, selling them from store to store on my own. I targeted the stores I knew—Bloomingdales, Saks, Macys, and Hammacher Schlemmer. I designed the bags, distributed and shipped them, and handled the business from my 800 number. In the process, I spread awareness about traveling with pets. During that difficult, but exhilarating, time, my satisfied customers made it all worthwhile and helped me spread the word about this revolutionary approach to pet travel!
By 1994, The Sherpa® Bag was officially approved by ten airlines. Today, The Sherpa® Trading Company manufactures more than a hundred different bags, collars, leashes, pet throws, and car seat covers that are sold in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan.
Life is all about change, and just a few years ago, another major change took place in my world. My beloved Lhasa Apso, Sherpa, the namesake of my company and my companion for seventeen years, passed away. Though I miss her still, her spirit lives on. When Sherpa was ten years old, I adopted SuNae, my gorgeous Coton du Tulear, whose Korean name means “true love.” SuNae was originally named Sweetie Pie, but as soon as I met her, I knew a name change was in order. She was to be groomed as Sherpa’s protégé, and “Sweetie Pie” just didn’t fit. (Although she is a sweetie pie!)
SuNae is a strong-willed little girl and a source of comfort, inspiration, and friendship to me. I also just adopted a young Shih Tzu whom I named Kartu. Though SuNae is not exactly thrilled about having to share me with Kartu, I’m certain that she’ll soon learn to enjoy Kartu’s friendship, just as Sherpa enjoyed SuNae’s.
Pets make a huge difference in our lives, and it is up to us as pet lovers to ensure that our pets are not left behind. We haven’t yet reached a point in our society where pets are accepted everywhere and treated as the family members that they are. But we do not have to just live with unfair laws and regulations; we can work together toward change and acceptance.
So I wrote a book, No Pet Left Behind to share my knowledge and experience concerning pet travel. I wanted to create a kind of pet travel “bible”—a reliable source that people can trust and turn to when they have questions and concerns, or just want to learn how to travel with a pet.
Who unfailingly loves your cooking, puts pep in your step, a smile on your face, and a song in your heart? Whether it’s a cold, wet nose or a whisper of fur brushing against your ankle, a chirp or whistle that greets you at day’s end, your most steadfast admirer is also your best friend: your pet. But even though he’s always there for you, your constant cheerleader can become bored with his own daily routine, be it life in the not-so-great indoors, a quick game of Frisbee in the backyard, or a leashed walk around the neighborhood.
Life is so much richer when you take your pet with you on your outings, from the fun places you can explore together, to your must-do errands. Pets naturally enjoy the great outdoors, so why not take them out and about as often as possible? The next time you meet your friends for lunch or happy hour, go alfresco—meet them at a sidewalk café and take your best buddy along.
Tuck your “pocket” pet (cats, ferrets, and small dogs) into a stylish, go-anywhere pet tote and share a spontaneous a window shopping excursion through a trendy shopping district, or a relaxing, sunset walk on the beach. Or get out the leash and take your buddy of the larger canine persuasion to a dog park, activity filled doggie day camps sponsored by a local pet shop, or on a hiking and camping excursion. You may find yourself exploring new-to-you activities as you strategize your pet-inspired day trips, weekend getaways, and even vacations to far-flung island getaways or foreign countries.
No matter what the species, our pets are part of our family and we want to take them along on vacations—don’t think that if your pet is not a dog, you’ll have to put your travel plans on hold. A well-behaved pet, no matter what the species, is accepted many places the amazing assortment of certified therapy pets out there bears this out. I’ve even met a pair of guinea pigs and a snake that accompany their owner to children’s story hours and nursing homes. Cats are usually welcome anywhere dogs can go cats have the advantage of being beautifully lightweight, portable, and quiet. If you start traveling with a kitten or cat as soon as you adopt him, he will accept travel as a normal facet of life with you, and look forward to his shared outings.
Even your feathered friends can enjoy a day out! If you have a parrot, cockatiel, parakeet, or any of the parrot-family members, you know just how faithful and affectionate they are. They enjoy sitting on your shoulder, looking lovingly into you eye, and “preening” tendrils of your hair. And since these larger birds usually prefer walking to flying, and, yes, they usually prefer sitting on your shoulder to walking, they are easy to take with you, and can even be trained to wear a halter and leash for safety’s sake.
Ask people who own cold-blooded pets like lizards and iguanas, and they will also testify to their pets’ intelligence and affection, and when their needs for warmth are met, these animals also make quiet and curious traveling companions.
Some pet owners shy away from taking their animals on trips because of certain myths of pet travel that simply aren’t true anymore. As more pets take to the road and to the air, motels and hotels are becoming increasingly pet friendly, with some actually offering pet perks such as complimentary water bowls and blankets, and even room service to lure pet-owning travelers to their establishments. These days, large road-side rest areas have dog walking areas, and some even have fenced in dog parks. Many airlines accept pet passengers, and the ones small enough to fit in an under-the-seat carrier can travel in the cabin with you. Pet travel has become so commonplace that many airports even have dog walking areas.
No Pet Left Behind is destined to become the busiest book on your shelf. In fact, it may never make it to the shelf. You may even want to have two copies—one to pack in your suitcase and one to keep in the house to help you as you plan your trips. But before hitting the road, be sure to tuck one copy into a pocket of your pet carrier, and refer to it to solve the many sudden pet situations, from easing the symptoms of motion sickness to soothing separation anxiety, which pop up while traveling with your pet.
In the book you will also discover a wealth of pet-friendly solutions, destinations, hotels, and airlines; unravel the mysteries of taxi, subway, and bus travel; find out what vaccinations, medical papers, and government permits your pet will need for traveling abroad; get the scoop on how to create a customized first aid kit for your pet; what carryout and convenience storefoods make good emergency substitutes for pet food, and more.
I also have more recently authored a book about my life experience. Part memoir and part how-to guide for aspiring entrepreneurs, It’s In The Bag is the story of how my company came to be and the many lessons I learned along the way.
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