Amy and her husband, Rod, run the award-winning pet travel website, GoPetFriendly.com, the one-stop source for locating dog friendly hotels, restaurants, beaches, campgrounds, and more. With detailed pet policies and a Road Trip Planner that has been referred to as “The MapQuest of pet friendly,” GoPetFriendly makes it easy to plan a trip with the entire family. You can also tag along vicariously with the Burkerts on their blog, Take Paws, an encyclopedia of pet travel tips, pet friendly destination advice, and stories of their adventures as they travel full-time in their Winnebago with their dogs, Ty and Buster.
First of all, I know that many pet owners leave their pets with family, friends or even at kennels. However, you are working to make it easier for owners to travel with their pets. How did this become important to you and what motivated you to start Go Pet Friendly?
“We started GoPetFriendly.com after we found a stray German Shepherd and ended up adding him to our family when no one came forward to claim him. A few months later I started planning our summer vacation – a road trip to Canada with both dogs – and that’s when realized how hard it was to travel with two dogs, especially when one was a big dog! At 70 pounds, Buster was breaking the weight restrictions at most of the hotels I called … not that finding their pet policies on-line was easy in the first place. It took me two full days to track down seven places we could stay along our route. At that point, I was out of time … and still had no idea where to find restaurants that would let us eat with Buster and Ty, if we were driving right by a dog friendly beach, or where we could get the boys out for some exercise.
Three weeks cooped up in a car with your husband and dogs will give you a lot of motivation! When we got home I started drawing up my plans for the website. My goal was to create a site will all the information anyone would need to plan a pet friendly vacation, so people could take their pets with them and have a great time.”
Why do you think so many places are not pet friendly? Is there a lack of understanding or are there real issues that could make a pet damaging to an establishment?
“Maybe it’s because I’m always finding places that are pet friendly, but I feel like those of us that want to take our pets with us have a lot of great options. And I see a trend toward more places becoming pet friendly. Pet travel is a relatively new thing – when I was a kid we always took our Beagle camping, but my parents would never have considered taking her to a hotel. Things are different now. More people have pets, they consider them members of the family, and being apart is as difficult for the person as it is for the pet. Businesses are recognizing this, and to capture that market they’re changing their policies to attract pet travelers.”
How can pet owners prevent such issues or any other confrontations as they travel with their furry companions?
“The most important thing pet travelers can do is to be responsible. Every business is entitled to allow or not allow pets as they choose, and that decision can change over one bad experience. Keep your pets on leash, train them to have good manners, pick up after them, take responsibility if they make a mess or cause any damage – don’t be the one that ruins it for everyone else.”
Do you only cover domestic travel or have you looked into international travel too? For instance, if someone wants to take a trip to Europe, where is the best and most pet friendly spot?
“The places I’ve been in Europe take pet friendly to a new level! Pets go everywhere with their people – including restaurants – in cities like Paris. GoPetFriendly.com covers the US and Canada, because you can’t assume you’ll just stumble upon pet friendly locations and the pet policies are more difficult to track down.”
It seems you do a lot of road trips but do you ever fly with Ty and Buster? If so, which airlines make it simpler and give you better peace of mind?
“Buster and Ty are both too big to fly in the cabin on commercial airlines, so we’d have to ship them in the cargo hold and that’s not something I’m comfortable with. To make traveling long distances with them easy we’ve sold our house and live full-time in a Winnebago. The boys consider the RV “home” and love that every time we open the door there’s something new on the other side!”
I noticed that Carmel, CA recently won the Best City for Pet Travelers Tournament. What makes a city the “best?”
“Carmel is a great place to visit with pets – they have a spectacular pet friendly beach, great hotel options, and a lot of restaurants with pet friendly patios to choose from. There’s also fantastic shopping, and super hiking nearby. I love it … but the cool thing about the Best City for Pet Travelers tournament is that it is decided by our readers. Nearly 13,000 people voted in the final round and Carmel came out on top.”
Overall, what do you look for in a location, city or rural, to consider it truly pet friendly?
“That’s a great question, because everyone has a different definition of “pet friendly.” My idea is something like, “Can I take Ty and Buster to do all the things I’d want to do if I was visiting here without the dogs.” If you pull out the guidebook and have to cross out 95% of the attractions because dogs aren’t welcome, that’s not pet friendly to me. Of course, you very seldom find a place that’s perfect … there are only a handful of museums that allow dogs, for example. But, I’m not really a museum person anyway.”
So, in the end, what has been your very favorite place to travel with your pets and why?
“This is the most difficult question to answer, because we’ve been so many great places. Perhaps you’ll let me get away with picking my top three? Earlier this summer we were in Telluride and, wow! The scenery, the (free) pet friendly gondola ride, the hiking and shops – it’s pretty unbelievable. We absolutely adore Austin. There’s a general pet friendliness there that is unlike anywhere else we’ve been. In Austin you can assume you’ll bump into places that are pet friendly … it’s that cool. Washington, DC is another place where I don’t think I could ever spend enough time. There is so much history, so much that is central to who we are and the people in DC were really nice to the dogs.”