In mid-March, three days after canceling their April wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, because of the pandemic, Dana Bakich and Daniel Snyder consoled themselves by bringing home a new puppy: a curly-haired, black-and-white Labradoodle chosen for his sweet disposition and little-to-no likelihood of shedding. Three months later, with the pandemic raging on and hoping to live closer to their families, the couple packed up their home in Los Angeles and drove eastward toward the Atlanta suburbs with Malo — named for the French port city of Saint-Malo, where his “parents” got engaged — in tow.
Dog lovers are quick to point out that dogs make any situation better, but Bakich learned that even with a canine co-pilot, no road-trip is fully disaster-proof — especially when it begins in a 2006 Honda Civic stick shift with 200,000 miles on it.
“On day two, we were driving through Death Valley and the air-conditioner stopped working,” said Bakich, 31, the founder of Positive Equation, a social media consultancy for nonprofits, and HerDesk, a soon-to-launch line of desks. “It was 108 degrees and Malo hadn’t been groomed yet.”
The couple purchased trash bags from a local drugstore and filled them with ice, then cushioned them around Malo in the front seat.
“He slept; he was totally fine,” Bakich said. “But the second we got to Scottsdale we bought a new car.”
Beyond the parade of snouts on social media, there is plenty to suggest that the “corona-puppy” surge — for many, fueled by the quest to find joy or purpose while stuck at home — is real. Breeders’ wait-lists stretch into 2022. Animal nonprofits report dramatic increases in adoptions and fosters this year. But when their humans want to jet off on vacation for the weekend, pets are not staying at home with house sitters: For most people, neither jetting off for the weekend, nor even house sitters, are possibilities right now. Instead, these pups are curling up in the back seat — or, like Malo, snuggling up in the front seat — and enjoying the ride.
When Lanto Griffin, 32, and Maya Brown, 28, of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., suddenly found their careers on pause this spring, Troy, their new shar-pei-lab rescue, helped them weather the downswing. (Research suggests that dogs can affect one’s physical and emotional well-being, from cardiovascular health to happiness.) Brown lost her job as an attorney and Griffin, a professional golfer, was idle when the PGA Tour temporarily suspended its season.
“When you’re used to being on the road almost every week and all of a sudden you’re home for three months, Troy helped get my mind off everything that was going on,” Griffin said.
Golf has resumed and, although dogs are not allowed at tournaments, Troy has driven with the couple around the Eastern United States, with stops in Hilton Head Island, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; and elsewhere. From his perch in back, he has routinely “upgraded” himself, worming between the front seats and resting his head on the air vents.
“Troy has a pretty bad case of FOMO” — fear of missing out — “and he has to be right beside us so he can know what’s going on,” Brown said.
At one hotel in Detroit, as some guests smoked marijuana (which is legal in Michigan) in their cars to celebrate July 4, Troy, who loves cars, patrolled the parking lot and sniffed around each set of wheels.
“I think people thought he was a police or narcotics dog, so Troy and I got a lot of weird looks,” Brown said. “I had to tell people that he just wanted to get in the car.”
Troy and Malo were hardly the only pups relishing life on the road this summer; the travel industry abounds with data showing that dogs are on the move. BringFido, a website and app that lists dog-friendly hotels, restaurants and activities around the world, has seen 27% more user sign-ups over last summer. The “Allows Pets” filter was the second-most searched for amenity (after “Pool”) on Airbnb.
In August, the proportion of pet-to-human passengers flying on JSX, a low-cost hop-on jet service, was more than double January’s figure. VistaJet, a private aviation company, is seeing a 68% increase in year-over-year dogs on board. From Memorial Day weekend through August, the 100,0000 campsites listed on Campspot had more than 80,000 reservations with pets — about 40% more than last year.
At LoveThyBeast, a New York City-based pet-accessories company, travel-carrier sales were 32% higher from March to July than they were last year.
The Cottages at the Boat Basin, a dockside resort in Nantucket, Mass., has had a 20% increase in travelers with pets this summer. One family even booked a 12-day stay in one of the aptly named “Woof Cottages” — pet-friendly, human accommodations that start at $160 a night and come with their own “concierge” in the form of Bailey, the resident black Lab-Brittany spaniel mix — solely for their 200-pound Newfoundland to rest and cool down. The family stayed on their boat, docked just offshore.
Although many travel companies, including The Cottages, have been pet friendly for a while, the coronavirus has nudged others to learn new tricks.
“In previous years, it was common to get a flurry of requests for pet-policy updates in the first quarter,” said Melissa Halliburton, BringFido’s founder and chief executive. “But this summer we have seen an uptick in those requests much earlier than usual, plus requests to be added to the website from hotels that just recently began allowing pets.”
In July, as part of its COVID reopening, Ireland’s Dromoland Castle began welcoming dogs for the first time in its 58-year history: An Instagram post featuring Callie, the managing director’s new springer spaniel, heralded the news.
Although Amtrak’s overall ridership dropped in March, the proportion of animal-to-human passengers was about three times higher in June than it was in June 2019. This fall, the rail company will expand its pet program — which allows dogs and cats of a certain size to ride in carriers under seats — to all weekday Acela trains (pets have historically only been allowed on Acela on weekends).
Some airlines, meanwhile, have become temporarily stricter about pets. American Airlines suspended checked pets (versus pets that fit in the cabin) in late March during the flurry of pandemic-related flight cancellations and late-breaking government restrictions. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have enacted similar restrictions around cargo pets.
But because so many flights aren’t at capacity these days, carry-on pets are living large. When Angie Camus, 37, flew on Southwest Airlines from New York City to Atlanta for a vacation in July, there was plenty of room in the cabin for Marvel, her new Pomeranian-mix puppy, to stretch her little legs.
Camus, who lives in Queens, N.Y., and works in the legal services industry, had a difficult February and March, even by 2020 standards, losing her father-in-law and her 16-year-old Border collie.
“We got married in October and as newlyweds that’s not exactly how we expected to start off,” she said. “In April and May, we were like, ‘What do we do now?’”
Camus and her husband quickly realized that, like everything, adopting a dog is harder during a pandemic. Most of their 20 applications were rejected or unanswered. When they found a shelter with puppies, their home inspection was conducted over Zoom and the adoption went through.
Two months later, after resolving to take some much needed time off with close friends — and deciding that a road trip would involve too many bathroom breaks for Marvel — Camus and her husband found themselves sitting in a nearly empty LaGuardia Airport, tossing around a squeaky ball.
Marvel, for her part, was a travel pro, basking in a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” on the flight (at $95 each way, the Southwest Airlines pet fare cost about the same as the human fares). On the weeklong vacation in Jasper, Georgia, she walked and swam in the mountains, learned to play with other dogs and befriended goats at a local vineyard.
“It was beneficial to both of us mentally — it was a time to have some fun and be outdoors and let loose a little,” Camus said. “She just loves being around her people and living life, no matter where we are.”