Holidays are the highlight of the year, with one enormous downside: we have to leave our beloved dogs, cats and birds behind. Or do we? Julienne du Toit offers up her top tips for travelling with pets.
Chris and I once met a couple from Port Elizabeth who always travelled with their African Grey parrot. They told us it was perfectly happy to sit in the back in its cage and whenever they hit a pothole or a speed bump it would squawk, “Whooops!”
We also have a friend (in France) who goes camping with her cats. She has a whole Facebook photo album dedicated to the experience. The cats have jingly bells and ID tags around their necks and wear little harnesses attached to leashes on a long line.
Another friend of ours travels with a wolf and a Staffie. Akela is a pureblood wolf from the far northern reaches of Canada, and she causes a sensation wherever she goes. But, as owner Carl Momberg will tell you, she’s a quantum leap away from dogginess. She can be vindictive if Carl pays too much attention to others, and has twice shredded the steering wheel of his vehicle in a fit of pique. She learns by observation and can open locked doors and fridges. She also loves ducks and chickens but, alas, not always in a good way.
Then there’s our other friend Basil Mills who managed to clear a pub in less than 47 seconds when his travelling Cape cobra Pharaoh rose imperiously and unexpectedly out of an army kitbag to drink beer from his mug. By comparison, being on the road with TwoPack, our German shepherd, seems pretty easy. Like his sire, the noble Shadow, he has never met a bakkie he didn’t like travelling in. While he was still a puppy we made a point of exposing him to children, other dogs, sheep and busy streets. We took him on little trips and got him used to sleeping in strange places. It was an education for us too. Travelling with a dog is a bit like going on a trip with a young child. Is it fed, watered, comfortable, too hot, too cold? Does it need a toilet stop?
Travels with TwoPack
But what fun to have a quizzical third face between us, topped by furry ears. When TwoPack was nine months old we took him to the Wartrail area near Barkly East in the Eastern Cape, where Kate Nelson and partner Phil Harrison of Wild Mountain Adventures had restored a gracious old farmhouse and turned it into guest accommodation. From there you can go fly fishing, exploring the high mountain passes, skiing (in winter), river-rafting and tubing, slackpacking from farmhouse to farmhouse, or mountain biking.
Kate and Phil also have a dog, called Tinker, a border collie crossed with a red setter, who’s the self-appointed guest relations officer and walking guide for Wild Mountain Adventures.
As TwoPack jumped down off the back of our bakkie, he and Tinker rushed towards each other, growling, tails high as war pennants. But in under two minutes they’d sniffed, kissed and made up, and were thenceforth mad about each other, dog-bowing and excitedly racing about.
Tip Introduce dogs to one another away from their territories. It makes them less aggressive.
Farmstays with dogs are delicate matters, and the farmer who owned the land on which the farmhouse stood was rightly nervous. Even the sweetest dogs can form little sheep-killing gangs and his prize ewes happened to be lambing. We were under strict instructions to keep the dogs inside at night – no problem, because by nightfall Tinker and TwoPack were played out and exhausted.
Tip A tired dog is a good dog.
Of course, when the farmer came by the next morning, TwoPack threw away his image of the Good Shepherd by bounding up with an old sheep skull in his jaws. Chris managed to pry it out and toss it over a wall before the farmer noticed. TwoPack joyously countered the move by bounding up again, this time with an ancient cow scapula in his jaws.
Winters in the Wartrail area are frequently snowy, but while we were there the days were crisp and clear, every leaf and blade of grass rimed with sparkling frost. The cowpats were frozen hard as frisbees.
Tinker and TwoPack danced about, darting through the long yellow grass. Almost every morning we took them on a walk to a pretty dam. TwoPack, who was a water spaniel in his previous life, would break the patchy ice on the edge and dive into the icy lake, paddling again and again. His wet tail always half-froze on the way home.
Tip Take along plenty of old towels and sheets. Dogs love getting wet and dirty.
Most days we drove the scenic passes in the mountains around Barkly East, leaving the dogs to play at the farmhouse. But one morning we took TwoPack with us to Lundin’s Nek, passing poplars with stripped, bone-white branches, honey grasses rippling and bowing before the wind, grazing livestock, stone sheds and outbuildings. He spotted his very first cow and barked indignantly at it.
Tip Keep dogs a safe distance from livestock. An unexpected woof or chase can panic cows or horses.
We stopped at the home of Kath and Chris Isted, who breed emus. But the first thing TwoPack spotted when we stopped was their charming black Russian terrier, Dusky. This is a newly registered breed, a lanky, long-haired guardian dog that looks like a cross between an Afghan, a giant schnauzer and a black flokati rug.
TwoPack and Dusky were desperate to play with one another but Kath warned us that their Anatolian shepherd dog was also around, and it was so protective of their sheep that it used cunning methods to deal with potential threats. “It will play with your dog, but lure it further and further away and then probably attack and kill it,” she explained. So TwoPack stayed in the bakkie.
Tip Speak to other dog owners before releasing your hound. They usually know how their dogs will respond.
At another place we visited, we neglected to notify the owners first. To TwoPack’s alarm, the indolent Jack Russels that had been lounging on the stoep in the sun didn’t want to come out and play with him. Instead, they suddenly formed themselves into a slavering pack. TwoPack took off with five snapping jaws in hot pursuit. Fortunately we had left the back of the bakkie open and he dived in with almost tangible relief, then turned and vociferously defended his turf.
Since the mountains were such a success, we thought we’d take TwoPack to the sea. Woodlands Country Cottages at Kenton-on-Sea are famous for their pet-friendly accommodation. Bev and David Selwyn-Smith own easygoing hounds themselves and don’t see why people should be deprived of their pets’ company while on holiday.
TwoPack is fascinated by water and we couldn’t wait to see how he’d respond to the sea. The next day we were astounded to find that he was more intrigued by the sand flying off our feet than the ocean.
However, he partook of copious quantities of both sand and seawater and that night retired with what seemed like dreadful stomach ache under the bed, where he spent the night shifting around uncomfortably, jingling his collar chain every time. “It’s like sleeping above a tokoloshe with bling,” commented Chris. But the next morning TwoPack awoke miraculously cured and ready to play with Bev’s dogs again.
Tip Be prepared by knowing where to get hold of a vet if necessary.
TwoPack’s most recent trip has been to the Karoo farm of fellow Country Life correspondent Heather Dugmore, where she and partner Mark Cooke raise hardy Nguni-cross mountain cattle. Heather and Mark have a border collie named Blue, and she and TwoPack actually tried to wake us all up at three in the morning to get an early start on their play sessions.
Blue is a working dog, though, and would immediately become professional around livestock when Mark gave her the commands ‘Come by’ and ‘Away!’. TwoPack directed events with yips from the safety of the bakkie. But when he was introduced to Heather and Mark’s resident troop of llamas, he had some stern things to say to them. They gave him a range of haughty flamenco dancer looks and trotted off down the valley.
Tip Taking your dog on trips can be a mission at times, but the fun factor is high.
More Tips for Travelling with Pets
- Look up Petfriendly.co.za and order the Petfriendly Directory. This chunky book gives information on accommodation and restaurants that tolerate animals, as well as dog-friendly parks and handy vets. It also has tips and anecdotes – a mine of information.
- Take along your pet’s own food, bowls, leashes and bedding.
- Don’t try to sneak an animal into a place that is not pet-friendly – it will only result in high drama.
- Get your pet used to travelling when it’s still small.
- Only travel with pets that are toilet-trained, sociable, won’t dig holes everywhere and won’t fight with other animals – or eat them.
- Make sure your animal has a collar and identification. Travel with a picture of your pet, just in case it goes missing.
- Keep your dog on a leash and under control on busy streets. If it causes an accident, you might be held liable for any damages.
Words Julienne du Toit
Photography Chris Marais
Visit Chris and Julienne’s website Karoo Space for more tales of their adventures.