Tips for traveling the North Country and Alaska highways with pets. Do’s and don’ts for safe and successful travel.
For those travelers who cannot bear to leave their furry friends behind when they go on vacation, here’s some helpful advice from other pet-loving Alaska travelers.
Keep your pets on leashes whenever they are outside your vehicle. Dogs that disappear during roadside stops are usually gone for good, although sometimes there is a happy ending. A few years ago a visitor from the eastern United States let his dog out of the car north of Fairbanks, while en route to Deadhorse. The dog disappeared, and the owner camped beside the road for a few days, hoping his dog would come back. The dog owner eventually had to return home without his dog. Several weeks later, another motorist found an extremely malnourished dog along that same stretch of road, and it was the visitor’s long lost pet.
Make sure your pet is microchipped and has current ID tags on its collar, so that if you lose a pet and it is found, the rescuer knows where to find you. When a wandering dog with a Montana tag was picked up outside Homer, the well-meaning rescuer contacted the phone number in Montana, only to find out the dog lived in Anchor Point, AK. The dog’s owner had not updated the dog tags.
If you do lose your dog, check with the vet’s office or animal shelter in the next town. Animal shelters are generally found only in the larger communities and not all communities have vets, so if the town has neither one, ask around. Also ask about broadcasting a lost dog message on the local radio station.
It is important to have proper proof of rabies vaccination documentation for your pet when crossing the U.S.–Canada border. Not all customs officers will ask for documentation, but it is best to be prepared, as they can deny your pet entry without proof of rabies vaccination. Get your pet checked by a vet and obtain a health certificate no more than 30 days prior to travel as this also may be required at the border and may also be required for Alaska State ferry travel out of Bellingham, WA. You are encouraged to use a top spot treatment or flea and tick shampoo before traveling north as Alaska has no fleas or ticks: please don’t bring any with you.
There are lots of dogs and dog lovers in Alaska, but your dog may not be welcome everywhere. Please respect the highway businesses who are tired of picking up after canine visitors and have posted notices requesting that pets stay in their vehicles.
Most communities allow leashed dogs in outdoor public areas, unless otherwise posted. In Anchorage, selected city parks allow dogs off-leash if they are under voice control. Municipal laws require that you pick up after your pet.
Pet policies at hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in the North range from “no pets” to “pets okay” to “it-depends-on-the-size-and-good-manners-of-your-dog.” Check lodging advertisements in The MILEPOST® for pet policies, and check business websites for pet policies. As a rule, private RV parks generally accept pets. If in doubt, email or phone ahead of time to confirm pet policies.
Finding a place to park the pooch while you go on a day-long tour or fishing trip is not always easy. Anchorage, Fairbanks and other large communities have kennels, even “doggie day-cares.” Some RV parks and lodges may offer dog shelters or pens for limited use, especially those near major attractions like Denali National Park. Leaving your dog in the car or RV may be your only option, but keep in mind that nights can be quite cold in the North during spring and fall, and summer days can be suffocatingly hot. Cracking the windows in your car on a hot day may not provide adequate ventilation to keep temperatures down. If you are unable to locate care or a suitable arrangement, contact the nearest veterinary clinic for recommendations.
When hiking with your pet, always carry fresh water and take frequent rests. Northern summer days can be very hot, particularly in the interior. There have been numerous cases of dogs dying from heat exhaustion and stroke on what their owners thought were short, easy hikes on local trails. Keep in mind what your friend is used to and if it is a life on the couch, realize the difference in activity level and plan accordingly. Another thing to consider when hiking with your dog is bringing an insect repellent for them like “Bite Blocker,” which is made for pets and repels mosquitoes and other pests.
If you are traveling on the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry) System, your pet(s) must be transported in your vehicle on the vehicle deck. Pets are not allowed above deck. On the longer voyages, you may visit your pet only during 15-minute “car-deck calls”—which are given 2 or 3 times daily—during which time dog owners may feed and water their pets, and walk them around the car deck. (Paper towels are on hand so that you can clean up after your pet.) The dogs seem to do fine on the ferry, although some refuse to relieve themselves on the unfamiliar decking. Keep in mind that it is very close quarters on the car deck. If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, a muzzle is a good idea. The 37-hour Bellingham to Ketchikan run is the longest ferry trip without a port call. The Cross-Gulf trip has 2 long stretches—of about 20 hours each—between Whittier, Yakutat and Juneau.
Animal injuries occur in the North as they do anywhere else, but there are a few special considerations to keep in mind. Smaller communities may not have a resident vet. If your dog is injured, help may be several hours away. Bring a pet first aid kit that includes bandages, gauze, antiseptic, triple antibiotic cream, Benedryl, liquid skin and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like Rimadyl (doggie aspirin).
Small dogs are vulnerable to predation by eagles and foxes. Bears and moose will go after any size dog if provoked. Also keep an eye out for porcupines. Dog fights with loose and unfriendly local dogs are also common causes of dog injuries.
If you take your pet fishing, boat and water safety should apply to both pet and owner. Fast-moving, powerful rivers, such as the Kenai, are difficult for even strong swimmers (canine or human) to negotiate. Consider a life preserver for your dog.
For winter travel, don’t forget survival gear for both you and your animals. You can encounter -50˚F temperatures along the Alaska Highway in winter, and you want to make sure you and your pets are able to keep warm while waiting for help should you run out of gas or hit the ditch.