The Are We Insane Moment

Chewy in Croatia

Chewy in Croatian woods

This week, we are heading into Turkey.  We'll be in Turkey and Greece for the next three months, visiting Istanbul, Cappadocia, Bodrum, and several of the Greek islands.  In Istanbul, Chewy and Abby will cross into their third continent and twelfth country; Greece with be their thirteenth country.

These are places that Patrick and I have always wanted to visit.  We've heard from so many people that Turkey is their favorite country in the world and that the Greek islands are sensational.  I've been planning this segment for so long, excited and exuberant about these new places we're going to visit.  But, now as the time draws near for us to head into Turkey, all I can think to myself is, "Are we insane?"

You see, Turkey is notorious for its awful treatment of dogs.  Perhaps in part because the Q'uran considers dogs to be unclean animals, dogs are not often accepted as family pets.  I've heard reports of dogs chained outdoors in the blazing sun for days on end.  Apparently, wild dogs roam the streets in packs, occasionally terrorizing people, often being terrorized themselves.  There were, at one count, over 100,000 stray dogs in Istanbul and the government conducted a mass killing, feeding the dogs meatballs laced with strychnine.  More recently, they stuck many of the dogs into a truck and shipped them out to a nearby forest where they now roam, breed, and live in the wild, often being hunted by the other wild animals in that forest.

I've read message board posts of neighbors who have left poisoned meat or meat stuck with needles for stray dogs and their pets to eat, hoping that the dogs will die.  Humane societies are few and far between, crowded and packed with sick dogs, and there is supposed to be very little knowledge about spaying and neutering.

Abby in the sun

Abby in the sun

And, we're going to this place.  I'm a bit freaked out, to be honest.  We're in Bulgaria right now staying in a lovely fenced house with the untamed Greek/Turkish hills directly across from us.  Though this is a poor country, the dogs here are, for the most part, in good condition.  There are a few skinny strays here but, then again, there are skinny strays in every country, unfortunately.  We've barely put Chewy and Abby on a leash since we've come here because there are so few people and so much open space.  Abby, especially, loves being here: she lays in the sun, basking in the warmth, barking at the sheep and donkeys being herded down the hill, and eager to explore the hills everyday during our walk.

I don't know how I'm going to handle Istanbul.  We've been to a lot of countries where there are stray dogs --- India, Thailand, and South Africa, for example --- but I've never imagined the numbers that people tell me we're going to see in Istanbul.  In Asia, though there are strays, families and the temples will leave food for those animals and people generally ignore the strays.  I've never been to a place where people intentionally kill and harm stray dogs.

I don't know how Abby and Chewy are going to handle Istanbul, either.  Our dogs are used to gentle treatment, strangers who want to pet them and talk to them, other friendly dogs who wag their tails at each other, and vast open spaces in which they can run and romp.  We've been told to carry a stick with us when we take the dogs for walks so that we can threaten (but never harm) any strays who aggressively approach our dogs.  We're never supposed to let them off-leash for fear that they may get into something harmful.  We will have to be careful when taking them to parks and beaches to prevent them from being near other possibly freaked-out people.

I'm saying all this knowing that plenty of people have pet dogs in Istanbul. Anil and Renee have both traveled with their dogs through Turkey and didn't have any issues.  Dog ownership is now becoming a passion of the wealthy who buy expensive pure-bred dogs from international breeders and the famed Turkish Kangal dog is protected by the government as part of Turkey's national heritage.  We are staying in a wealthier residential area of Istanbul and Bodrum, areas with veterinarians, dog kennels, training facilities, and big pet stores.  I know all of this.

But, still, I worry.  I'm here, right now, thinking to myself, are we insane?  Are we insane to go to a place known as being unfriendly to dogs?  Are we insane to spend so much time there?  Are we insane to even try these countries with Chewy and Abby in tow?

I don't know.  But, I will let you know.  As we go into these not-so-pet-friendly countries, I'm going to keep my eyes wide open and report back as honestly as I can.  Maybe these places won't be as bad as they seem.  Or, maybe they will be worse.

We'll only know when we try.

Traveling With Dogs Isn't Crazy

Chewy on the QM2

Chewy on the Queen Mary 2 , looking out at Southampton

A few weeks ago, an Irish woman was murdered while vacationing in Turkey with her daughter, allegedly by her daughter’s fiance .   Last week, while driving through peaceful Cornwall, an UK radio deejay announced this tragedy and went on to ask the listeners whether this murder would impact their vacation plans.  Overwhelmingly, the citizens of Cornwall responded that they would avoid international travel and especially travel in the Middle East for the next few months because of this one murder.

Now, there’s a lot I could say about this sort of reactionary response, especially in light of the fact that four people died in the London riots during the exact time that this Turkish murder happened.  But, I’d rather quote noted and respected travel writer and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott in his recent post about the reactionary response that the TSA took following Osama Bin Laden’s death : “So why would the TSA want to spread fear and confusion after Osama’s demise? Easy. The more fearful we are, the more compliant we become.”

There’s a lot of this fear-mongering and naysaying in the travel world. Right before we left on our round-the-world trip, we heard it all : if you travel, you’ll ruin your career or go bankrupt.  Worse still, if you travel, you’ll be scammed, ripped-off, suffer food poisoning, and be kidnapped by terrorists.

Me and Abby on the QM2

Abby and me on the QM2

What I didn’t expect is to hear this sort of naysaying from Christopher Elliott and Frommers , two of the biggest names in the travel world.  A few weeks back, Elliott posted that he will not be traveling with his three cats during a long road trip and asked whether he should place them in a kennel for a year, put them up for adoption, or find some other means to care for his cats.  There were vociferous, angry responses from “foaming-at-the-mouth pet fans."  He responded with this post , arguing that because there were three incidents in the last ten years where animals have escaped or been let loose on airplanes by irresponsible pet owners, “I don’t believe cats, dogs or pigs belong on a plane, in a hotel, or a rental car unless maybe you’re moving somewhere, and even then, they should be safely confined to a carrier.  Incidentally, I think this represents the view of the average American.”

First, let me make my position on this point clear: each of us must determine our own morality and obligations toward our pets, assuming that those obligations comply with the law.  I applaud Elliott for thinking hard about how to care for his pets while he travels; he rightly wrote that trying to determine how to care for his cats is the “most difficult” piece of his family road trip.

I get that.  When we left for the beginning of our round-the-world trip almost two years ago, we agonized about how to care for our dogs in the ten months that we would be traveling through Asia, Africa, and Australia.  My parents very kindly agreed to care for them and provided them a safe and wonderful home while we were gone.  We returned every two to three months to check on them and be with them, but, it was obvious that Chewy and Abby did not like us traveling.  When we began packing our bags, they sat directly in our luggage, refusing to let us put anything further in, and my mom told us that they sat at the door for a full 24 hours when we left.  At the end of the year, we vowed never to be separated from our pups for more than a week.

Abby and Chewy in Brooklyn

Abby and Chewy in Brooklyn

So, when we set out on our next travel adventure, we knew that our dogs would be part of the package.  We spent a ridiculous amount of time figuring out how to travel the United States and Europe with them and now it’s happening.  In the last six weeks, our dogs have:

•    Driven with us from my parents’ home in Alabama to Brooklyn, New York, in a rental car
•    Stayed in a Sheraton in Brooklyn
•    Crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the kennels on the Queen Mary 2
•    Stayed in a small family-run hotel in the New Forest near Southampton
•    Romped through the horse farm we stayed in while in the Cotswolds
•    Wandered through moors, ruined castles, and gardens in Cornwall and Devon
•    Crossed the English Channel from Portsmouth to Bilbao in a pet-friendly cabin
•    Settled into our apartment in leafy Madrid

I won’t say that all of this has been easy and I won’t say that they have loved every moment of our travels.  They hate long travel days and anything more than five hours in the car (but, then again, I can’t say that we’re fond of those days either).  They can’t stand doing their “business” on boats and they get scared by crowds of people.  They need a long walk early in the morning if we’re going to leave them behind in the vacation rental or hotel.

But, then again, Abby’s tail goes sky-high when she hits the wild and untamed moors.  Chewy begins drooling the moment he sees chorizo.  Abby’s entirely dormant border collie nature has manifested itself with the herds of sheep roaming through the English countryside.  And, every Britisher with a dog is curious about Chewy’s stubby features and constantly wagging tail because they have never seen an American Cocker Spaniel in England.

Abby's happy face at Brooklyn park

Abby's happy face at Prospect Park in Brooklyn

We’ve discovered that we love traveling with our dogs and our dogs love traveling with us.  Sure, there are days that are hard and times that our dogs get angry or scared --- usually resulting in explosive diarrhea that we try hard to pretend did not just happen --- but that’s travel, in general , whether with or without dogs.  (Not necessarily the explosive diarrhea bit, but the part where we're angry and irritated by traveling; in the last 6 weeks, Patrick and I have suffered from stomach bugs, lost a cell phone, broken a GPS navigator, and waited 2 extra weeks for our car because the shipping company screwed up.)  Heck, that's life.

I am tired of the naysayers, the reactionaries, the critics, and the travel police.  I am tired of people telling me that there is only one way to travel or only one way of caring for our pets.  One murder does not justify shutting off travel to an entire area of the world, just as three isolated incidents of irresponsible travel with pets does not mean that we should relegate our dogs and cats to kennels when we want to travel.

I want to shut out the naysayers and the critics.  I want to ignore them, unless they have tried and experienced what they suggest we avoid.  The people who told us that we shouldn't travel around the world had never traveled long-term, just as those who claim that dogs should not travel have never tried traveling with pets.

I've done both.  The four of us are doing both, actually, as I write this post.  And, we're all happy, though the only way I have to judge Chewy's and Abby's reactions is by measuring the height of their tails and the grins on their faces.

Ultimately, I don't think that responsible pet owners must travel with pets because not every pet enjoys traveling.  But, I think that responsible travelers must reject reactionary criticism, even if that advice carries the prestigious Frommers label.

* Read more from other responsible pet owners who travel with their dogs at DogJaunt , GoPetFriendly , and Will My Dog Hate Me and their responses to Chris Elliott's blog post.

Akila writes. Patrick takes photos. Chewy eats. Abby runs. We live, love, and travel in this world.
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