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Happy Tails to You: When Pets are RVers Too

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Many RVers wouldn’t hit the road without their furry friends as they are important members of the family.

In the following three articles, RVers describe their adventures and
challenges as well as share some tips about traveling with their pets.


Legendary Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis
says at times his life on the road with a quartet of four-legged
companions and one two-legged one can be a bit like the Robin Williams
comedy, “RV” – misadventures sprinkled with fun. However, he says
traveling in his 2009 Gulf Stream SuperNova International motorhome with
his four “kids,” as he calls them, and his partner Daniel McSwiney is
the only way to go.

“My dogs are my family,” Southern California resident Louganis, the
four-time gold medalist in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games, tells
MotorHome. These days, Louganis spends little time in the pool and a lot
of time training his pooches – Jack Russell terriers Nipper and Dobby,
border collie Gryff and Hungarian Pumi puppy Hedwig (the latter three
named after “Harry Potter” characters) – for agility competitions.

When it’s time to get to a competition, Louganis (the driver),
McSwiney and the four dogs pile into the SuperNova and hit the road,
sometimes traveling across the country and often staying overnight at
Flying J’s.

The motorhome is a comfortable and convenient way for the brood to
travel. It’s also their preferred mode, after an incident that prompted
Louganis to abandon flying with the dogs.

On one flight, Louganis’ dog Gryff traveled in his crate in the baggage
compartment. Apparently the baggage handlers had broken the crate,
because when the plane landed and the compartment was opened, “Gryffie
came bounding out and he was terrified,” Louganis said. Zip ties had
been used to hold the crate together and Louganis discovered Gryff had a
chipped tooth. That was it – no more flights for Louganis’ “kids.”

In the SuperNova, the dogs travel in their crates, says Louganis,
though he admits “sometimes the Jacks sit in our laps.” The two-bath
motorhome sleeps 10 and when the slides are out, the dogs sleep in the
bunk beds and the dinette area bed.

Like every RVer, Louganis has had his share of mishaps. In Tucson, a
hotel had allowed them to spend the night in the parking lot. As
Louganis was maneuvering the 40-foot SuperNova into the spot, he failed
to take into account a live power pole and he ripped the front
air-conditioning unit off the roof. With temperatures topping 100
degrees, Louganis was allowed to keep his dogs in the hotel’s offices
while he and McSwiney got the motor­home repaired.

One of the challenges of traveling in a motorhome with agility
competitors is making sure they get enough exercise, says Louganis,
author of “For the Life of Your Dog, A Complete Guide to Having a Dog In Your Life, From Adoption and Birth Through Sickness and Health.”
A walk in the morning and another in the afternoon just isn’t going to
cut it for these athletic dogs. “Agility is a timed sport so it’s all
about speed and fitness and conditioning,” he says.

Besides the agility competitions, other activities are keeping
Louganis and family on the road these days. He was asked to be a
mentor to the U.S. diving athletes and drove to Texas for the U.S.
diving nationals. He went to Charlotte, N.C., to kick off a pet charity
organization and has hit the highway for book tours and East Coast
family visits.

Throughout his life, Louganis has traveled extensively, and he notes a difference in how the French view canines.

“We were going into 5-star restaurants with this little Jack
Russell,” he says of a trip to Paris. “They’ll forgive you for being
American if you have a dog,” Louganis jokes. “They just love their

Whether it’s a 5-star French restaurant or a Flying J’s, you may just run into Louganis and his four-legged kids.

Amy and Rod Burkert are on a mission – to help change
the way people travel with their animal companions by making it easy for
them to find places where they and their pets are welcome.

They are taking this mission so seriously, in fact, that they are
having a lot of fun accomplishing it. Since 2009, the Burkerts have been
running a free website called GoPetFriendly.com (www.gopetfriendly.com),
where travelers can find pet-friendly campgrounds and other
accommodations, restaurants, beaches, off-leash dog parks, wineries and
many other places the whole family can enjoy together.

In February of this year, these “recovering accountants,” as they
call themselves, set out in their 2010 Winnebago View to explore the
country with their two dogs, 3-year-old German shepherd Buster and
6-year-old Shar-Pei Ty. During their travels, the couple, who hail from
Pennsylvania, have been investigating places to add to their website.

As of press time, the foursome had traveled nearly 10,000 miles,
and had been as far north as Niagara Falls, N.Y., and as far south as
Savannah, Ga. Their plans were to visit Yellowstone and Glacier national
parks, New England in the fall, then head south for the winter,
blogging (www.gopetfriendlyblog.com) about their adventures with the
dogs along the way.

“The boys are not the perfectly behaved canine ambassadors you might
expect,” Amy says of Ty and Buster. “As they are adapting to our new way
of life, we spend a lot of time training and exercising them.”

Since they were CPAs in their “previous life,” Amy says, initially
“we traveled the way accountants would” – obsessing with details,
shunning spontaneity and getting upset when things didn’t go according
to plan, such as weather ruining their outdoor activities.

“The dogs picked up on the negative energy and were anxious,” Amy
says. “Buster was barking a lot, Ty was taking the task of disciplining
Buster into his own hands, and neither dog would walk without pulling on
the leash.” The Burkerts decided their attitude had to change. They no
longer plan in advance; when they wake up, they decide what they’ll do
that day.

“There is a lot less tension,” says Amy, “because there is no
schedule and this allows us to take our time with the dogs and really
enjoy ourselves. They say it’s about the journey, and if you can adopt
that perspective it makes traveling with your dogs so much more

Among the items and products that enhance the Burkerts’ RVing
experience with their dogs are: the FURminator de-shedding tool, which
“cuts down on the amount of time we have to spend cleaning the
Winnebago,” says Amy; harnesses (“The dogs rarely pull on the leash when
they have their harnesses on,” she says); and Honest Kitchen dehydrated
dog food. “Because it’s dehydrated, it’s perfect for traveling – each
10-pound box makes 43 pounds of food once you add water,” Amy says.

Rod lists the couple’s three top tips for RVing with your pets.

Invest time in training. “You can avoid a lot of
issues when you travel by teaching your dog a few basic commands,” he
says. “Come” is vital if the leash breaks or the dog gets loose in
unfamiliar territory. “Heel” is important because in most places dogs
must be leashed and “having him/her walk nicely beside you will make all
your activities much more enjoyable,” Rod says. “‘Quiet’ is invaluable
during quiet hours, and ‘Settle’ is great when you want him/her to relax
while you grab a bite at a pet-friendly restaurant.”

Prepare for emergencies. Rod says it’s important
to bring your pet’s veterinary records. Rather than carrying the whole
file, he suggests taking a copy of the current vaccination records and
scanning the rest of the data for storage on a USB drive. The drive “is
easy to pack, you don’t run the risk of losing the originals, and if you
should need it, the information is easy to retrieve.”

Be flexible. Expect the unexpected, Rod says. Your
dog could have “one of those days,” for example, where he’s not
following those commands you worked so hard on. “Anticipating these
speed bumps will allow you to maneuver around them with ease – by
rearranging your schedule or recognizing that some activities may have
to wait for your next visit,” Rod says.

Amy says RVers who are considering traveling with their pets should
know that it will take more time to do what needs to be done and to get
where you want to go when you take your pets along. But the rewards are

“Keeping them on their schedule is important,” says Amy, “so if
they are used to a 45-minute walk in the morning and evening, you need
to stick with it even when you’re traveling. Allowing time to care for
their needs means you may have to adjust your expectations as to the
number of miles you can travel or activities you can accomplish in a
day. That’s a good thing – it helps us remember to slow down and ‘sniff
the roses.’”

Traveling in a motorhome may not exactly be the cat’s meow for JJ Dippel’s 12-year-old feline companion, CP, but Dippel wouldn’t want to hit the road without him.


Dippel, a retired federal auditor who lives in Washington state when not
RVing, has been traveling with her part-Siamese male cat, CP, for six

“When I was a child, my family didn’t take our pets with us on
camping trips. At the time, I wasn’t aware of anyone who actually did
that,” says Dippel, who as of this writing was on a work camping
assignment at Alta Lake State Park near Brewster, Wash.

In 2004, feeling stressed out from her job, Dippel saw RVers on the
road and decided that’s what she wanted to do. While still employed,
her motorhome trips were mainly three-day weekends or weeklong
vacations. But now that she’s retired, she spends 75 percent of her time
RVing in her 2011 Forest River Sunseeker 3120 Class C motorhome and
blogging about her adventures at www.rvingtoadless.blogspot.com.

Places the pair have traveled to include Arches National Park in
Utah, the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania and Wolf Creek
National Fish Hatchery in Kentucky, where she did volunteer work.

The road was a bit bumpy for Dippel when she first started RVing with
CP. “Cats do not like change, especially when they don’t start RVing
until they are 6 years old, as is the case with my cat,” says Dippel.
“Before we took our first RV trip, I let CP walk around the RV and
‘sniff it out.’ However, I still had to put up with ‘MEOW, MEOW, MEOW’
constantly on the first trip.”

There are fewer meows these days, thanks to several things Dippel
does to make her cat more comfortable and to reduce his stress.

She owns two cat carriers – one she uses only for trips to the vet
and the other for traveling in the motorhome. Dippel insists “my cat
knows the difference!” CP will reluctantly go into the RV carrier, but
Dippel will hear “meows of protest when the vet carrier is shown.”

Dippel emphasizes that “good communication” – talking to your cat –
is important. “Yes, you will feel stupid, but hearing your voice
sometimes helps the cat.”

She brings along CP’s “comforts of home,” which include his
favorite toys and an “arch of bristles” that he likes to scratch and rub
up against. And she tries to keep CP’s routines (such as feeding and
playtimes) the same in the RV as they are at home.

Besides the usual cat food; litter pan and litter; and leash and
collar, other must-bring items Dippel takes for her cat are water (in
5-gallon jugs from home, since CP is used to that water) and flea
protection, depending on where they’re traveling and what time of year.

She also purchased a canvas pet crate, with screens on the side and
a zippered top. The item, meant for a large dog, folds up for storage.
“I use this cage to give CP ‘outside time’ when we are traveling. The
screens allow fresh air in, and it’s covered, so kitty cannot ‘escape.’”

A splurge item for CP is a cat condo with a scratching post and
sitting perch. The condo is placed so that the perch is against the rear
window of the Sunseeker. “CP loves this,” says Dippel, “especially when
we are in state parks with lots of trees.”

A unique challenge when RVing with a cat is deciding where to put
the litter box, she says. Some put it in the motorhome’s shower, but
because she uses it, that wasn’t an option. With a previous RV, Dippel
placed it in front between the passenger and driver seat. But her
current motorhome has controls for leveling jacks in that area, so she
had to find another spot. Dippel admits it isn’t an ideal location, but
she puts the enclosed box in the bedroom area.

Dippel has some tips and advice for those who travel with a cat.
Make sure you are up to date with your cat’s vaccinations and if you are
crossing borders (such as Canada or Mexico), find out ahead of time
what documents are required, she says. If headed to a specific area with
plans to stay a while, find out the location of the nearest

“Before extending or retracting slides, make sure you know where
your cat is,” says Dippel. When the slide is retracted, the cat could be
underneath it. Keep in mind, says Dippel, that the sudden noise of
retracting or opening a slide could frighten the cat. Know all your
cat’s hiding places, says Dippel; CP’s spots include under the driver or
passenger seat or underneath the couch.

In the six years of RVing with CP, Dippel has had to pay a park pet
fee only once. Usually RV parks don’t charge a fee for cats, Dippel
says, but she advises being honest and disclosing it upfront.

Traveling with her cat has made Dippel a better person, she feels.
“When one travels solo, it’s very easy to be selfish and have it be ‘all
about me.’ My cat has needs, too,” she says. Accommodating those needs,
such as stopping every couple of hours to let him out of his carrier
and walk around the motorhome, “keeps me from being selfish.”

She adds: “The best advice I read … about interacting with cats is
that you do not ‘train’ a cat. Instead, you ‘convince kitty that it’s in
its best interest to go along with the situation.’ This approach has
worked on my very finicky cat.”

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