Retired with Pets
Retirement is Good
When retirement starts to get close, usually in your 50's or 60's, you may start to have blissful thoughts of freedom. Pure sweet freedom. Freedom from the job, freedom to live where you want, to do what you want, when you want. "No boss, no clock, no stress, no dress code. No shoes, no shirt, and no problems" - that was our dream anyway. Thanks to Mr. Chesney for putting it so eloquently and it really hasn't been all that far off for us either.
We have the freedom to go places with a plan or on an impulse, to explore a new country if we want, and sometimes it's even out of necessity. With our little doggies in tow, we mapped out our trip from Colorado to Florida through some fun places (Austin, Baton Rouge, Panama City Beach, etc.). We made a quick roadtrip back to Colorado because real life gets in the way of plans sometimes. We got rerouted to Honduras because of a hurricane and over to Belize to stay on the right side of immigration laws. We were free to do all that because we didn't have that job and that boss, and all the rest.
Roadtrips are Better
We found roadtripping in the car with The Littles to be downright fun. They traveled like pros and were damn glad to be there. They didn't get car-sick either. We set them up for success along the way by purchasing a pop-up dog kennel before we traveled. Long before we left Colorado it became their safe place to relax in the day and sleep at night. We did ourselves another favor by booking nights in La Quinta Inns, which are super pet-friendly. So when we got to a stop, we checked in, popped up their kennel, threw in their favorite blanket and they were instantly happy as clams. They knew where they were supposed to be even when they were in a strange place.
Flying with Pets? The Opposite of Better
Now flying with pets is a different story. It's not the worst thing in life, it's not terrible, but it is a lot more work and causes a lot more stress. For example:
- Flying with pets requires calling ahead, you can't just book them online.
- Each flight typically only allows 4 in-cabin pets and we were two of them, so if anything got rescheduled, we immediately had the added stress of making sure we could get them on the next flight. This problem increases with each connection.
- There are restrictions on pet carrier sizes & types. These are somewhat randomly enforced by the airlines, but the animal must fit properly under the seat.
- Some airlines don't want you using any tranquilizers on your pets at all, which can be an issue with certain high-strung companions. Fortunately, we never needed anything more than some Valerian drops to help calm Maxwell.
- The pets must each have a health certificate from a vet within 10 days of the flight. If you return within 30 days, you don't need a new one. Of course, we stayed longer than that on several stops.
- When you get to a connecting airport the first task is to find the pet relief area. We've spent a lot of time in Newark doing this; every time we get lost looking for the same place! Then you have to convince your pet it's OK to go inside a building, after having trained them for years that it isn't!
- Sometimes you get stuck having to give them extra vaccines, based on local needs & regulations.
- If it's an international flight, for most countries you need a USDA certificate, saying the animal is healthy. It's mostly just saying that the vet is certified and they checked out your animal.
So flying with pets is not really a fun time, which is why we avoid it when we can. For example, that short trip to Belize brought along a special freedom - no pets, no certificates, none of that. We'd found a wonderful lady named Marti who does in-home pet sitting on Roatán. It sounds like a little thing, but it wasn't easy to find her especially after being there only a couple of weeks. But finding her made a huge difference. I'm not sure what we'd have done otherwise, and now we get to call her our friend.
No pets on that trip meant we could travel light, really light. It was only a 3 1/2 day trip, but we easily made it on one backpack apiece, and both of them had snorkel gear in them. A bathing suit or two, some shorts, flip-flops, and a couple changes of underwear. Add a phone and a laptop, a bottle of sunscreen, and we were set. We really felt great on that trip! We also found some friends to watch them on our latest Florida trip, and that was very enjoyable as well.
The other side of that coin was when we flew to Colorado for the big wedding in 2018. It was a long trip and it was during hurricane season so we didn't want to leave them in Puerto Rico. Because PR is a U.S. territory it wasn't international, but it had all the other added stresses. It took 3 flights to get there, one of which was in Newark. We stayed 5 weeks so we had to renew their health certificates in Colorado before we left.
Of course, this all pertains to our specific situation - two small dogs, in-cabin. I imagine a cat or two would be very similar. If you have a large dog they have to fly in cargo and there are different restrictions. I've read that the airlines are quite good to them, and we've personally seen the pet care people hit the plane first, the minute the engines shut down. But it still must be stressful for the poor dogs, being in a strange, loud place like the cargo hold away from their people.
Short Trips on a Whim? If Only!
One of the great joys of retirement is being able to go places on a whim, on short notice if something fun comes up. A quick trip on a deal that pops up from one of the major airlines? Do it! A friend is going to be near you and you want to go join them for a weekend? Yes, please! Somebody had to drop out of a trip and needs a fill-in? OK!
We don't have that available to us right now because of our doggies. It's OK, sometimes we can still do these things if we can get a last-minute dog-sitter. But that doesn't mean we are available at any opportunity (that would be nice!). We don't have complete and utter freedom - usually it just doesn't work out.
Planning Ahead = No Surprises
Take this as a friendly reminder to those of you within a few years of retirement. If you're thinking of getting a new pet, but you know you're really going to want to travel shortly thereafter, the two don't mix as well as you might like. The problem may be solved by hiring pet sitters but there is added cost, and depending on the situation it could be very stressful for the pet. We haven't been in places lately that have high-quality kennels, or really any kennels. Even if so, our dogs are older and have never been in a kennel, so that would undoubtedly stress them quite a bit.
The point of this post is not to whine about our doggies, we love them! We even blog about them, and not just this post, look here and here. But it is worth a second thought or two when you are approaching retirement age, if you have big travel plans ahead. Do you really want to get that shiny new puppy or kitten you saw on the showroom floor, at this point in time? They could live 10, 15, or 20 years. BTW, when we got our two rescue dogs, early retirement wasn't even in the picture. And we didn't really think about it even when we were doing our retirement planning. This is not an insurmountable problem by any means, we managed to do it in Honduras of all places, but it's worth considering. That's especially true if you are planning extended stays in foreign countries.
We won't have our little guys forever and we're very thankful now for the time we have with them (they are both approx. 11 years old - it's always a guess with rescues). They really do enrich our lives. But it is another planning item as you approach retirement, whether you want a new pet at the start of retirement. You can plan all of your finances, hobbies, trips, people you're going to see, sports you're going to play, all of that, but don't forget about the pets. Maybe it might be better delaying getting that new pet for a few short years before diving back into the "pets are our children" life. Another thought is that you could start boarding them when they are young with short trips, so they are used to it when a bigger trip comes along.
It's your life, your choice, just give it some thought, and enjoy your retirement!
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Our buddy Kenny Chesney again, with "The Ends of the Earth", because "what good is livin' a life you've been given, if all you do is stand in one place?".
I sure do love dogs, but am currently dog-free. I will eventually get an older rescue lab, but for now I don’t miss the hair in the house, or cleaning up the yard!
We are lucky with hair – these Maltese don’t shed. But they do have the snippy small-dog syndrome esp. with kids.
The funny thing is this doesn’t just apply to retirement. We experience the same things in our 20s with our dogs! 🙂
This is true. However in retirement there is the option of being gone for months…????????
Good points, all. We have been retired for years with our Boston Terrier. She’s flown to Belize and Mexico with us several times, crossed the US in a Honda CR-V and then in a motorhome, and for the most part, things have gone smoothly. But I completely agree with you that road tripping is 100% easier than plane travel, especially with the need for international health certificates and possibly extra vaccines. Now she is older and has a heart condition, so traveling with her has become even more of an issue. And I wouldn’t even want to ask a pet sitter to change her diapers, brush her teeth daily, or keep up with all her meds and special food. So for now, we are taking day trips only. As much as we love dogs and have rarely lived without at least one, once she is gone, we are going to take a much-needed pet-free break so we can travel more.
The pet-free break is a good idea Emily. I bet you will appreciate your next pet even more after that. Thanks for the mention of the extra vaccines, I will add that to the post!