On today's episode of Pet Lover Geek, powered by PetHub, Lorien talks with Amy Burkert, founder of GoPetFriendly.com, about some of the essential tips for traveling with your dogs this summer. In honor of Lost Pet Prevention Month, Lorien is talking with pet industry experts throughout July about the basics of lost pet prevention and recovery techniques and resources. PetHub started Lost Pet Prevention Month in 2014 to drive deeper conversations around all of the ways pet parents can prevent a pet from becoming lost, as well as how to get them home quickly if they go AWOL (Absent WithOut a Leash).
Lorien Clemens Welcome to Pet Lover Geek, pet lovers. We are powered by PetHub and I am Lorien Clemens. Today, we are exploring the world of traveling with our pets, and how to keep them safe along the way. We’ve spent the past several weeks celebrating Lost Pet Prevention Month and educating pet parents on keeping their pets safe at home.
Now more than ever, pet parents are bringing their pets along with them on vacation, and it is evident when you see the amount of accommodations that are catering to pet travelers and cities that tout their pet friendly activities.
Today we're talking to Amy Burkert, the founder of Go Pet Friendly. This website was launched in 2009 and has more than 60,000 listings for pet friendly hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and more. And, almost 37% of Go Pet Friendly readers plan on taking three to five pet-friendly overnight trips every year. More than half of those readers travel by car and stay in pet-friendly hotels followed by campgrounds and RV parks. And keeping those pets safe is at the top of mind for Go Pet Friendly.
So today, Amy is going to share her vast experience and knowledge on traveling with dogs - she's been doing it for the past 10 years - and give us some amazing tips and resources on how to travel safely and better with our pets who like to tag along with us. Amy, welcome back to the show.
Amy Burkert Thank you so much for having me. It's lovely to be here.
Lorien Clemens You know, I've known you now for I think nine years - is that crazy how long we've known each - and I just love the story about how you and your husband, Rod, started Go Pet Friendly: you left your jobs as accountants, bought the Winnebago, hit the road with your pups. I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about what led you to just, lik, pack it up and go on the road.
Amy Burkert Well, basically back in 2008 we found a German Shepherd as a stray. We were living in Center City Philly - Philadelphia - and we had come home from walking our Shar-Pei one morning, and we found this 70-pound one year old German Shepherd in our cul de sac. And when we couldn't find his people, we decided to adopt him.
Then we started to understand how difficult it was to travel with a big dog because he was breaking the weight restrictions at hotels, and there were campgrounds that wouldn't allow him to stay because of his breed; and it was just a lot more complicated. There were no websites either back then that really brought all the pieces together. There were a few websites that listed some pet friendly hotels, but nobody told you where the pet friendly beaches were or where you could go out to get a bite to eat or, you know, what's more, some fun things that you might want to do in an area when you were visiting.
So Rod and I took a road trip for three and a half weeks with Ty and Buster and discovered that it was very frustrating trying to track down all these things while you were on the road. And so on that road trip, we decided that we would build Go Pet Friendly so that other people would find it easier to travel with their pets, and so that we could keep traveling with our dogs and have fun too!
Lorien Clemens Right, and the rest they would say is history, and you've got this amazing website GoPetFriendly.com that we personally have used on a number of occasions.
When you first started this 10 years or so ago, you know, there wasn't a lot out there. And I'd say over the last 10 years, a lot has changed just in the way we travel with our pets and the way we treat our pets and everything. I mean, it's rapidly changing. Could you talk a little bit more about that - about what you've seen in the way people are approaching traveling with their pets over the last 10 years while you've been doing this.
Amy Burkert For sure. We were kind of right at the cutting edge of that big shift when people really started to treat their pets more like family members and include them in their plans. And I think as people have done that, they've really discovered that experiences are a lot more enjoyable when you include the whole family - when you have your pets involved.
We've seen the number of people traveling with their pets increase and increase, and now as we go through this pandemic and we're all stuck at home, you know, for these extended periods of time, and really bonding with our pets even more. I anticipate as we move forward that more people will will start to travel with their pets. We've built these bonds now over these last few months and now when you do get ready to go on vacation again, you're gonna leave this little furry being at home? You're gonna leave the furry family member home? Because, you know, you've been together all this time - how do you explain that to him?
Lorien Clemens Yeah, and to this point to, my husband and I have been talking about some of the options that we even feel comfortable about - you know, like we need to get out of this house - but the options that we feel comfortable with are mostly camping related or road trip related where we feel like we have much more control over the interaction with the general public. And they are things that are frankly more conducive to traveling with your pet, so I think you’re right. I think that people are going to be relying a lot more heavily on resources like yours.
To that end, here for Lost Pet Prevention Month, we need to talk about that because one of the things that we’re focusing on this month is going back to the basics, and particularly with things like keeping pets safe.
We have found, personally in our house, we had become complacent with the way things were. And it wasn't until we were at home all the time that we realized, “Oh, gosh, we're giving so many more opportunities for our pets to get out” - and things like that. The same way when you start going on those road trips, which maybe you haven't done in a long time or you're out of practice. You will have a complacency there with like, “Oh, right. I haven't thought forward about all these things that I need to do safety-wise to keep my pet safe and with me.”
You've got a plethora of insight and information about traveling with pets. So I want to focus on that a little bit more. If I'm looking to have my next vacation be on the road with my furballs - what do I need to have set up in mind for protection before I even head out on the road?
Amy Burkert So a couple of things that you absolutely want to do is your pet should have an ID tag that has your cell phone number, and perhaps a second phone number on it. Right? So in case you're out of cell phone range, you know, something like that would happen. Most people's inclination is to call the number on the tag if they find a pet that's been separated from their family. So what I do is I have my cell phone number on there, but then also I have a phone number for somebody who is stationary on a landline. So at least somebody would have a better chance of getting a hold of a person in case I'm in a place without cell phone coverage.
The second thing is absolutely pets should be chipped if you're going to travel with them. If you get separated, their ability to find their way home is almost nonexistent. So if your pet goes missing around your house, your neighbors probably know him and he probably knows his way or is familiar enough with the area that they might be able to find their way back to your house. If you're traveling, that's not going to happen. So I feel like microchipping is an absolute necessity.
And then you want to have photos, because if you are in an unfamiliar place and your pet goes missing, one of the fastest ways to get the word out is to put up posters. So you're going to want to have a photo with you so that you can quickly go to a coffee store, make copies, you know, make a poster, get the information out there where the pet was lost, what time they were lost, how to contact you have and that photo of the pet you want to get that on posters and duplicated out to as many places as possible in the immediate area.
Lorien Clemens Yeah, totally. And I would be remiss - since I'm part of Pet Hub - if I don't just throw in there that using a digital ID tag can really help with what you were saying about having backup numbers. I mean, would you talk to that a little bit? I mean you know the PetHub tag really well, as well as I do, probably!
Amy Burkert For sure! Yeah, my dog wears the PetHub ID tag, and it's so convenient for those of us who travel a lot because I can go on to my pet’s profile and change my location all the time. So for example, if I am at a state park, I can go into the digital ID tag and say this is where I am today, and you know, next week I might be someplace else. But if I were using an engraved tag and trying to update that information all the time, it’s practically impossible. So the digital ID tags are wonderful.
The other thing is you can put a lot of notes in there in case somebody finds this dog: this dog needs medication, this dog is not comfortable around other dogs, this dog doesn’t do well around kids. You know, it gives that person who’s going to be caretaking for the pet - hopefully for just a short period of time - a little bit more information about the pet. It can also let people know he has been vaccinated for rabies, and you know, all of these things are done because if they go to a vet, one of the things that I don’t want to have happen is for my dog to be re-vaccinated for all of those things.
Lorien Clemens It’s critical too. And to your point about having the lost pet poster, if you have a service like PetHub - many of the digital ID tags like PetHub do, too - you can actually create a lost pet poster on the website; and that has all the information there for you.
You talk a lot about lost dog websites and understanding them especially when you’re traveling, can you talk a little bit more about that and why those lost dog websites are important in the recovery process?
Amy Burkert If you're traveling, generally, wherever you are, you don't have a network. You don't have your own personal network. You don't have your friends, you don't have your family, you don't have your neighbors, you've got nobody around you. And so those websites that people use in different communities to locate lost pets are so important for those of us who travel because that's like a built in network. If you can get the word out on those website, they can help spread the word and help you find your pet more quickly when you're in a place without those typical resources.
Lorien Clemens Yeah, and again I am going to plug PetHub here because one of the things that we have is our community alert system. So, for our premium members - it’s a couple bucks a month - you can actually send out a virtual lost pet poster in a 50 mile radius from where the pet went missing. Some of the folks that you can alert are a lot of those local lost pet resources. So it is critical to have that research ahead of time before you leave.
Amy Burkert Right, that’s because in that moment you have to remember that you’re going to be panicked - at least I am, right? I understand very clearly that if my pet goes missing, I am not going to be thinking clearly, I am not going to be organized - I am going to be in a panic. So having all of that stuff pre-prepared, having all of that stuff already there where you just need to put in a few details and push a button is just, you know, if makes life a lot easier in that moment.
Lorien Clemens Yeah, absolutely. And I one of things I love about GoPetFriendly.com is you can actually plan out your trip like stop by stop by stop. Then you know, okay, we're going to be in this town and I need to know the lost pet resources in this town. And then you can really do that planning. In fact, can you talk to us a little bit about, like your trip planning stuff that you have on the website and how cool it is?
Amy Burkert We have a really wonderful Road Trip Planner. So you tell it where you’re starting from and where you’re going to, and it maps your route and then it allows you to find all the pet friendly things along the way.
So if you're looking for hotels it will show you hotels. If you’re looking for activities it will show you activities like beaches and dog parks and wineries and breweries and things that you can get out and do. If you’re looking for a pet supply store or veterinarian, you can locate those along your route
One of the things that you and I were talking about just before we went on air is that we’re almost finished with a complete relaunch of the website, including a completely new Road Trip Planner. I am so excited about it because one of the things we are going to allow people to do is plan their stops. So, like, I want to stop every two hours, I need to stretch my legs every two hours. So what it’s going to do now is map your route and it’s going to put pins on the map for your every two hour stop, and then you’re going to be able to search that local area around the pin to find a restaurant where you can have lunch outside or a dog park or a hotel if it is time to stop for the night - you know, if you’ve been driving far enough and it’s time to find a hotel, then we will help you find a hotel at your next stop.
So that’s pretty exciting. I’m pretty delighted with how the new Road Trip Planner is working out. What we have now is good, and I appreciate you for saying so, and we are happy it is useful for people but I think what we are doing now is going to take it to another level. So I am pretty excited about it.
Lorien Clemens I’m actually stoked. And when you say, eat outside, I am sure a lot of people’s ears perked up because that’s like the only safe way to eat our right now.
Amy Burkert Exactly! I am not going inside! And then, you know, that’s another reason that it’s making it a lot easier for us to take out pets along because we’re all kind of in that boat where it’s like I am not eating at an inside restaurant. And if they have an outside patio, then why not be able to bring the dog along, at least ask, right?
Lorien Clemens Absolutely. Okay, we’re going to shift gears just a little bit. Let’s talk about those commands that you’re training that are critical when you are on the road. Maybe stuff that you don’t think about when you’re at home and you’re feeling secure and that complacent, but when you’re on the road you need to be hyper vigilant about the training. And you have a new puppy too! So I am sure you can talk a lot about getting those commands in place, so talk a little bit about what those commands are that are really important when you’re on the road.
Amy Burkert As you said, we got a new puppy about two and a half months ago, so we are in the process of working really hard on teaching him the ropes and being a good traveller. So one of the first things that we started with was the command “wait”. And for us, wait means stay put. I don’t care if you’re sitting or standing, just stay put until I tell you it’s okay to leave.
We live in a motorhome. So I want to open the door, go down the stairs of the motorhome, turn around, and then allow Miles - which is our puppy’s name - allow Miles to come down the stairs. So before I start heading down the stairs, I give him the command “wait” and when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I either tell him to come or I just tell him “let’s go”. And then he knows that it’s okay for him to come down the stairs.
That command also works really well in the car. So if we’re out on a day trip, I want to open the door, I need to get his car harness off, get his walking harness on, get his leash on, make sure that I've got all of those pieces in place before he jumps out of the car. So I tell him to wait while I do all of these things, and then when I'm ready, I just take a step back and I release him and let him hop out of the car.
Keep them in place while you're fidgeting around and distracted sometimes, right? Like you're just putting bags in or you're taking bags out or you're getting fuel, whatever it is that you're doing a lot of times you're distracted and the doors of your motorhome, car, truck, whatever you're traveling in, could be open. So anytime that's the situation, “wait” is vital for us.
“Come” is also - obviously for any dog you know in any situation - “come” has to be one of the best tools ever because it keeps your pet out of danger right. If they should get away, if they've got a really good recall you can get them back quickly before they get lost, before they get hurt, before bad things happen.
And the other thing that we’re really working on teaching Miles is “on your mat”. So I've cut a section of an old yoga mat. I just, you know, cut off a chunk of an old yoga mat and we keep it in the car. We keep one in the car, we keep one in the RV - mostly the one in the RV is for training - but we keep one in the car. Then if we're going to go out to eat on a pet friendly patio, I take his mat and I tell him “on your mat” and he knows. He lays down, and he's meant to stay on his mat. I mean, we're not there yet, but we're getting there! He's meant to stay on his mat, he can sit, he can lay, but he's meant to be on that mat until he's released.
So usually I'll take, you know, something for him to chew on - some kind of chew or stuffed toy of some kind, and I'll give him that while he's laying on his mat so that he learns that when when we're doing something that requires him to stay put, like eating out, or we're at a coffee shop or you know, something like that, that he's comfortable and happy doing what he's supposed to be doing. And we're able to include him in those kinds of activities because he will behave in that situation.
Lorien Clemens Yeah, I love it. And there's one other that we use particularly when we're hiking and that's “leave it”. That's a huge one for us and either for like whatever it is that he's getting ready to eat off the side of the trail - which is always scary - but even like a deer. Like if he sees a deer, if we just say “leave it” he knows that “okay, darn it, I can’t go chase that big doggy”. Leave it for us has been critical when we're out and about.
Amy Burkert Miles is not very good at leave it yet, we are working on leave it. That’s a challenging one for him.
Lorien Clemens Yeah once Ullr finally got leave, then we were great. But yeah, it was tough stuff at first for him, like “but it smells so good, I need to go roll in it.” No, please because we don’t want to put you back in the tent smelling like that.
Amy Burkert Or we don’t want you throwing up all night because you ate something you shouldn’t have.
Lorien Clemens Exactly! That’s another one where we are complacent about at home because everything in the house for the most part we have put away stuff that we don’t want him to get, but when you are out on the road there is some stuff that you do not want them to get in.
Amy Burkert Even when you're walking around the city, you know, when we lived in Philadelphia, people would throw chicken bones in the street, you know, they were eating chicken wings and they would throw the bones in the street sometimes. So “leave it”, yeah, also very important.
Lorien Clemens Critical for safety and smell. Okay, so you mentioned a lot of things. You talked about getting the dog in the car and all these accoutrements that come with travel. Again, we get complacent when we’re at home and we don’t realize all this stuff. 64% of your readers do travel by car, pickup truck, RV, what have you and there’s a lot of different safety gear that you have to keep in mind when you’re traveling with a pet. Would you talk a little bit about that?
Amy Burkert For sure. So the first thing is, we always encourage everyone to buckle up their pets when you're driving. You would buckle up your kids, you would buckle up your grandkids you, you buckle up yourself, everybody needs to be buckled up. Not only for your pet’s safety, but for your safety too. In an accident they become a projectile if they're not buckled up, and they can seriously injure other people or be killed themselves. And so, you know, it's absolutely critical to buckle your pets up.
So you're doing that, we kind of have a routine that helps to make sure that our pups don't get lost while we're in that situation. So we have crash tested car harnesses. So we need to take his walking harness off, put his car harness on and buckle him up. While we do that, he hops in the car and I leave his leash on him attached. I usually attach it to his collar when we're going to get in the car. So his leash gets attached to his collar, he hops in the car, I take his walking harness off, I put his car harness on, I buckle him up, and then I take the leash off because he's already buckled up. He can't get himself out of the car so then it's okay for the leash to come off.
When we get to where we're going, I do that in reverse. The first thing that happens is I put his leash on. Then I take his car harness -- unbuckle him, take his car harness off, put his walking harness on, and then attach the leash probably to his walking harness while I've got two hands to make sure that he's not going anywhere. I tell him to wait during all of that and then once it's all done, take a step back, release him, let him hop out of the car. It only takes a couple of minutes but just knowing that the leash is attached until they're buckled up, and then immediately before you unbuckle them the leash gets attached again. It's your best way of keeping them safe if something should happen. You know, you get distracted, they hop out when they're not supposed to, whatever it is, having the leash attached just helps to make sure that they don't get lost.
Lorien Clemens Especially if you’re out in the woods and there’s critters around, it just takes one rabbit.
Amy Burkert It only takes one squirrel!
Lorien Clemens Right, exactly.
Amy Burkert I try to say to Miles that squirrels are really just there to torture him, you know, that you’re never going to catch one. They’re only there to torture you. So you’re really better off ignoring them. But he’s not buying in my theory thus far, so we’ll see how that goes.
Lorien Clemens I don't think any dog buys into that theory. I mean, truly, I don't think any dog has. I think they're all they're like “no, I am going to catch this squirrel someday.”
But you mentioned your safety tested harnesses. Can you talk a little bit about the brands that you use that are like - I’m not trying to do commercials here but at the same time I know our listeners will be like, “Well, what brand should I be using? I don't know what to use.”
Amy Burkert We use Sleepy Pod harnesses because they are crash tested and verified that they will prevent injuries, or help prevent injuries, in an accident. A number of years ago a bunch of testing started to happen. Somebody went ahead and tested a whole bunch of harnesses and crates and carriers that were on the market, and what they discovered was that some of them caused worse injuries. Some of them did not protect the pet at all. Some of them basically disintegrated upon impact, you know, so the harness just kind of fell apart. Sleepy Pods are crash tested and they're shown to be safe. And so that's the brand that we use.
Lorien Clemens Yeah that's what we’ve used too, and I’ve had nothing but good luck with them. And they’re also very comfortable, frankly.
Amy Burkert They’re well built, you know, they last forever. They’re stylish as well, they look nice but the quality of construction really stands out to me.
Lorien Clemens When we are doing just a short stop, I just use the harness to walk them. You don’t have to switch out the harnesses if you’re not going on a prolonged walk. I like them a lot.
Alright, before we go I want to congratulate you on getting ready to relaunch the site. I know you’re super busy, I’ve been there. I totally understand it’s a lot of hard work and it takes much longer than you ever think it’s going to. So congratulations!
Amy Burkert Thank you!
Lorien Clemens You mentioned the new Trip Planner, but what else can we expect from the new site?
Amy Burkert A few of the things that we're really excited about is that people are going to be able to leave reviews now on the places that they visit and the places that they stay. So we're going to start accumulating reviews from people who travel with their pets specifically so that people will comment on the pet friendly aspects of different places. So that's one of the things that we're really excited about.
The whole website feels a lot more about being inspired rather than just being a tool to travel. We still have all the same resources and tools that we've had - 60,000 listings, all of that - but it's a lot more inspiration forward and tool kind of in the background sort of. So I'm pretty excited about that as well.
It's not just a place that you need to go when you're planning a trip. It's a place to go hang out, look at and get some ideas, see what's possible because I think that there are a lot of things to do that people don't realize - a lot more things that are pet friendly than people think about. So that's part of the fun.
Lorien Clemens I had a dear friend that just they just decided to go on a road trip because of the pandemic, they went car camping the whole way and they went to a lot of different places. They found great things to do with their Golden Retriever, Olive, and then they got to Zion and we're like “Oh, we're not allowed to do anything here. Uh oh, whoops, bad us.” And then they were stuck the entire time at this little place that they could stay because it was the only place that they were allowed to have dogs.
Amy Burkert Oh, that’s a shame because they would have been right on top of Dixie National Forest which has miles and miles - but if you don’t know that!
Lorien Clemens And they didn’t know! And I literally wrote to her right after and was like “Oh did you guys look at GoPetFriendly.com?” She’s like, yeah I wish I’d known about that before we left. But now they are almost home, and she’s like “I’ll be sure to use that next time.”
So, you’re right because I totally know that feeling. We did the same thing where we were at the Olympic National Park and we’re like “oh shoot” but there was really great stuff right next to it that you can do with a dog. So yes, it’s good stuff, and sometimes the stuff that’s like off the beaten path is less traveled and you actually have a better experience anyway.
Amy Burkert It's true. And because we've been traveling for 10 years, we've been in so many of these places. And one of the things that's on the website is our destination guides. We have written over 300 destination guides. So for people who are looking to go to Yellowstone or Washington DC or you know, Portland, Oregon - we've been there, we've got the paws on the ground research so we can help people along to find things that are pet friendly and know to avoid things that aren't.
Lorien Clemens I love it. I can’t recommend it enough. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Amy.
Amy Burkert My pleasure. It has been wonderful chatting with you.
Lorien Clemens All right, pet parents. If you want even more great tips for traveling with your pets, then head over to GoPetFriendly.com and you'll find thousands of resources there. This has been such great information for the upcoming months of summer road trips ahead of us and as we have been talking about some of the challenges that come with being part of this lovely pandemic. A lot of those things you're going to be able to get resources on GoPetFriendly.com. We've got lots more travel safety information and other resources on lost pet prevention and recovery online at LostPetPreventionMonth.com so make sure to go over there and check that out too.
Stay safe and happy out there, pet lovers. We can't wait to learn more from industry experts next time on Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub.