Whether it’s the love they give us or the love they allow us to give them, pets are important to many people.
They welcome us home; they watch out for intruders; they calm us with a wag, a purr or a squawk. They turn us outward when we are feeling inward, warm our hearts with their devotion, and make us laugh with entertaining foolishnesses. They do all this – and they will do it all whether on land or afloat – in simple exchange for our commitment to take care of them.
Taking care of pets is a responsibility that comes with many obligations. We must provide food and water, exercise, and pooping opportunities. We must maintain check-ups, grooming, and flea and heart worm treatments, and get licenses, ID chips, and vaccinations. For pet-lovers, these obligations are a fair trade for all we receive in return.
Taking pets cruising, however, can seriously complicate the equation, and, whether you’re a pet person or not, the topic is controversial. Is it fair to the animal? Can they get enough exercise? Are they exposed to exotic diseases or parasites, and how will they fare in rough weather? What will you do with your pet if you want to travel inland or fly home? Are you willing to give up going to certain countries altogether, or will you be so restricted in what you can do that it may not be worth going?
• Quite a few cruisers set out with family pets, unable to imagine leaving them behind. Others adopt pets along the way, often rescued animals.
Success depends on finding ways to adapt to the complications: training dogs to relieve themselves on the foredeck or on a pad, keeping to countries whose rules are less strict, making friends with other animal lovers – on boats or ashore—who will pet-sit while owners travel away from the boat.
For these cruisers the company of their loved pet is worth the restrictions and hassles.
• Other cruisers try it before concluding that things aren’t working out – sometimes from the pet’s point of view, sometimes from the owner’s. If a dog, for example, doesn’t like being left behind on the boat when its owners go ashore – and barks and howls, or jumps overboard to follow – then it’s not working out for the dog. If the red tape from less pet-friendly countries becomes too burdensome or expensive, then it’s not working out for the owners. In either case, there often comes a point when pets are sent home to family members.
• In the most successful stories pets came aboard at a young age and are trained to boat behavior and manners right from the start.
Mature pets, previously used to a house and back yard, have a harder adjustment.
Cats, my cat-owning Admirals report, are relatively easy to accommodate. Kathy M of Po Oino Roa has two, who came aboard as kittens and have traveled with them from Mexico to Thailand, “Most of the work involved is vacuuming hair and cleaning the litter box.”
But cats also don’t always love motion, and may, like Cayenne III’s condo cat Shade, hide themselves away when they anticipate the boat moving, making it hard to be sure they’re onboard.
Ellen’s other cat, Ebony, was prone to seasickness until Ellen learned to restrain him in the cockpit for the first hours. Both cats wore lightweight harnesses to aid in “Cat Overboard” drills. “It was a big event whenever Tony had to fish one of them out of the water with a boathook to the harness.”
It’s hard, too, to persuade cats of the need to stay aboard in marinas, particularly an issue in countries strict about keeping pets onboard (most notably, currently or formerly British territories.) At anchor, though, cats are nearly ideal boat pets…provided a braided rope or strip of carpet is left hanging off the stern for self-rescue.
Dogs, on the other hand, are usually up for any adventure that includes wind in their faces, people to meet, and going anywhere you go.
“Our 10-year-old black lab Pepper was aboard when we first left,” recalls Sheri of Procyon. “As soon as we arrived in a new anchorage, Pepper started making friends. She was a wonderful way for us to meet children in a village as she attracted them the moment we landed. You’d think they’d be afraid of this big black dog, but, no, she just put off this happy wave, so everyone knew she wanted to make friends.”
Unfortunately, dogs’ toilet habits are harder to accommodate than cats’. Some dogs can be persuaded to go on deck, often with a piece of Astroturf or carpet that can then be dragged over the side to clean. However, it’s not unusual for mature, reliably house-trained dogs to resist assimilating the new routine… even when the captain demonstrates its acceptability!
“Pepper never did feel comfortable relieving herself on the boat,” says Sheri. “On one trip to the Bahamas she held it for over 60 hours. I was a wreck worrying about her.”
This relegates dog owners to making two to three trips a day to shore and limits passage lengths. In the early days of her cruising, Kathy Parsons and her then husband tried sailing the coast of Maine with Rasta, their rather large dog.
“Sometimes it wasn’t safe getting ashore with him. I remember hanging to slippery rocks on a rainy, choppy night only to have him bound back to the dinghy bearing a decaying seagull in his mouth.”
Of course, in addition to calls of nature, dogs like going ashore for exercise. In countries where pets are supposed to be confined aboard, a dog’s desire to go ashore means shore trips are illegal as well as inconvenient!
There’s more red tape, too, when you sail to other countries. Some require a bond on your animal, restrict you from coming into a marina, and charge hefty fees for onboard inspections.
“There are also the issues of buying and stowing pet food and cat litter, which is not so easily available out there,” reports Marcie of Nine of Cups who sailed for nine years to South America with ship’s cat Jelly. “Finding a local vet for shots, check-ups and obtaining the annual International Health Certificate is a challenge in places where pets aren’t so cherished.”
“Are you informed enough to treat your pet if you’re in an area where there’s no vet?” asks Sheri. “Are you willing to put your pet down if need be? It is an awful thought but one you must consider if you’re by yourselves and something horrible happens.”
All these are heavy issues indeed, and owners come to different conclusions.
Ellen lost her cat Ebony to a couple of marina pit bulls. Sheri laid Pepper to rest in Belize. Kathy P flew to a mainland vet from Roatan with a sick cat, but he died during the flight. And Marcie eventually shipped Jelly home to her mother when she and David turned their course toward the red tape-strewn Pacific.
Still, for some the rewards can be worth all the hassle. “Yes it is more work having them but worth it to us,” says Kathy M.
“Perhaps because we were with her all the time and not off working, we developed a relationship with Jelly we’d never had with any of our other animals,” sighs Marcie.
And six years after saying goodbye to Pepper, Sheri shares, “We really miss having a dog. It’s one of the reasons we’re planning to stop cruising next year.”
++++++++++++++++++++++++Lucy! Get your paw off my keyboard!
Photos: Thanks to Marcie Lynn, Nine of Cups; Suzanne Giesemann, Liberty; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III;
Contributing Admirals: Marcie Lynn, Nine of Cups; Sheri Schneider, PROCYON; Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; Debbie Leisure, Illusions; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Lorraine Bramble, Twist of Fate; Kathy McGraw, PO OINO ROA;
This article was published in the January 2011 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.
Some resources to help you decide about cruising with pets:
- Cruising With Your Four-Footed Friends: The Basics of Travel with Your Cat or Dogby Diana Jessie;
- Captain Doctor Dave’s Wilderness Veterinary Companion for Cruisers and Other Outbackers by Captain Dr. Dave LaVigne;
- On Suzanne Giesemann’s website: Rudy the Sailing Weiner Dog.