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Pet Travel: on the Road with Fido and Fluffy

So the kids prevailed and Garfield the cat was stuffed into the backseat of the van for the annual summer expedition to the cottage. In fact, she had such a good time up North-chasing mice around the cabin, climbing trees in pursuit of bats, running after rabbits in the long tall grass-that she decided vacation should be a long-term pursuit. When it was time to head back to the city (van packed to the roof, kids sitting with bags of gummy worms in the backseat), Garfield ran into the cobwebs underneath the cabin and refused to come out. It took almost an hour of crawling around the grass waving bits of cheese into the spider-infested darkness before we could grab her and corral the dusty feline into her travelling case. Now, we make sure that this cat is always leashed and attached to someone on a travel morning.

Transporting the family pet sometimes poses more difficulties than taking the kids. After all, at least a four-year-old can warn you if he is about to throw up in the backseat. And chances are good that he will not end the vacation with a mouthful of porcupine quills. We've travelled with dogs who foamed at the mouth at the mere mention of the word "car" and cats who meowed the whole way, a white guinea pig who squeaked and hamsters-sometimes all at once, an exhausting proposition. Last summer, we took our bunny, Ben, on his first three-hour drive to the Bruce Peninsula. He thumped his feet and shook for the first half of the trip. Now, he views car rides as interesting distractions.

Because increasingly more families have pets (one in every two households according to the latest statistics) and they are travelling with them more and more, life on the road with Fido and Fifi is becoming easier. Hotels are now welcoming them, even to the point of providing personalised services, items such as special auto harnesses for dogs provide protection similar to carseats for kids, and a handful of guidebooks such as "Have Pet Will Travel" offer "pawsitive" tips for a "purrfect" vacation (314- 609-7650). Toronto's Ulysses Travel Bookshop (416-323-3609) sells two directories listing pet-friendly lodgings in the U.S. and Canada.

Travelling with pets is a subject I'll be researching more than ever this year because, after seven years without man's best friend in residence, we've just welcomed "Molly" into our midst. This curious and lively black-and-white border collie puppy will no doubt provide us with some interesting adventures on the road and beyond. In the meantime, here are some hotels in major family tourist centres that will welcome your own pets with open arms:

CANADA: When we were checking into the Skydome hotel last weekend for a Mother's Day family break, "Keesha," a Keeshond dog from Michigan was checking in right beside us. "I'm afraid she's a Baltimore fan," joked her owner who was in town to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Blue Jays. According to him, the furry black dog likes staying in hotels; as an experienced guest, she especially enjoys riding the elevator. Most of Canadian Pacific's 25 properties (1-800-441-1414) strung across the country, including the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Lake Louise in Alberta, and the Skydome, welcome pets at no extra charge. Special rooms are kept for four-footed guests and their owners; they are not rented out to the general public who may be allergic to animal hair. Some Holiday Inns accept pets under 20 pounds; others accept all or none. It's best to check with the individual hotel. Many Comfort Inns also welcome cats and dogs. As one hotel owner said, "I haven't had a dog guest yet that's stolen a towel."

NEW YORK CITY: A friend telephoned recently to ask which New York City hotel was best for pets and children. We've stayed many times with our kids at Gramercy Park Hotel in midtown Manhattan (212-475-4320) and there always seems to be a dog hanging out in the lobby. The hotel owns a private park across the street where you can stoop and scoop after your travelling companion; guests can ask for the keys that will unlock the gate. The hotel is a bit rundown, but no-one will mind if your kids jump on the hide-a-bed or shout things down from an open window. It's clean and in a great area at the foot of Lexington Ave., near to shops and outdoor cafés where you, the kids and "Popsy" can enjoy the street life. If you want to travel in style, Four Seasons Hotels (416-445-5031) do more than just accept pets. Call ahead to let them know the name of your dog, cat, or even iguana. They'll prepare a personal welcoming letter, some special treats such as homemade biscuits and mineral water and an appropriate toy.

FLORIDA: The Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites (1-800-FON-KIDS) just outside the Walt Disney World gates in Kissimmee, Florida not only offers special kid-pleasing theme rooms (such as a futuristic space-capsule room and bathrooms decorated à la Rubber Ducky) but special pet services as well. Their new PAW (Pets are welcome) program offers a fenced grassy play area, complete with fire hydrants; a 24-hour vet on call; pet-walking services for a nominal fee; and employees who have participated in animal psychology seminars. Now if we could just teach "Molly" to fetch the sunscreen and the swimming goggles, we'd be all set.





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