Packin’ Poodles

The pampered poodles, L to R: Looney and Tuffy.

The pampered poodles, L to R: Looney and Tuffy.

My cousin Joyce is a dedicated “doggy mom” to two adorable poodles, Tuffy and Looney. As a great mother—and daughter—to humans too, she often travels by air to visit family. Naturally the dogs come along.

Joyce has trip-preparation with her canine kids down to a science. Here’s how she does it:

Whenever possible, she chooses nonstop flights. Her airline does not require a health certificate from a veterinarian, but its rules state the dogs must be healthy in appearance.

Between one to two hours prior to the flight, she administers Benadryl to the dogs to take the edge off of any anxiety. The veterinarian has assured her it is safe, as long as she follows his recommended dosages according to each dog’s weight and age. However, Tuffy has become such a seasoned flier, he rarely needs medicinal help now to stay calm.

Joyce uses two divided pet carriers she purchased from Sturdi Products. Looney’s is an Extra Large Sturdi Bag, and Tuffy’s is a Large. Each dog rides in his own carrier on the trip to the airport and during ground travel after the flight. Joyce’s laptop fits nicely under the cushion in Tuffy’s bag. The dividers are zippered, so the bags can be transformed into single carriers, giving each dog more room when riding alone.

At the airport, both dogs wear their harnesses, and often Looney gets to walk through the concourse. Tuffy is so tiny and fragile, Joyce either holds him or puts him in his carrier so he doesn’t get stepped on. At security, Joyce carries both dogs as they pass through the metal detectors. Meanwhile the empty carriers are X-rayed. She reports that TSA agents are usually very friendly and helpful.

This carrier, with Joyce's purse, jacket, liquids bag, and laptop, goes in the overhead bin.

This carrier, with Joyce’s purse, jacket, liquids bag, and laptop, goes in the overhead bin.

For the plane, Joyce does some clever shuffling. She first puts both poodles into the Extra Large Sturdi Bag. Then she uses the Large Sturdi Bag to hold her purse, jacket, quart-size liquids bag, and laptop. The bag fits easily into the overhead bin. “Sometimes flight attendants do a double-take when they see the carrier with my stuff in the overhead bin,” she says with a chuckle.

So many fellow travelers ask Joyce about the carriers that she’s convinced she’s one of the company’s best unpaid advertisers. People often ask whether the Sturdi Bags will fit under an airplane seat. Yes, she says. Due to the carriers’ flexible construction, even the extra-large model fits easily.

The divided Extra Large Sturdi Bag easily fits under the seat with both poodles inside.

The divided Extra Large Sturdi Bag easily fits under the seat with both poodles inside.

During the flight, the poodles curl up in their divided carrier and sleep. If Looney is awake, Joyce pulls the bag out from under the seat so he, being a little taller than Tuffy, is able to stand up and turn around.

The poodle breeder had explained to Joyce that dogs, especially puppies, sleep better if they are cool. With that in mind, Joyce brings several quart-size zip-top bags to the airport. After going through security, she fills some of the bags with ice and slips each filled bag into another empty bag for double protection. Then she places the ice bags into the carriers’ outer pockets. That way, even if the plane’s air-conditioning is slow to come on, the poodles stay comfortable.

She also brings along an empty 3-ounce spray bottle and, after being cleared by security, she fills it with water. During the plane’s ascent and descent, she mists the dogs. That encourages them to lick themselves, which she believes helps relieve pressure in their ears.

One of Joyce’s favorite times is arriving back home. As soon as she and the pampered poodles get off the plane, she leashes up both dogs, and off they go, looking for “Daddy,” her husband (my cousin Mark). While they run down the concourse with Joyce trying to keep up, the dogs bark in joyful anticipation. Onlookers smile and laugh.TuffyReadyToFly

All of Joyce’s thoughtful preparation has resulted in pleasant trips for her “boys.” Not long ago she happened to mention to Tuffy that Grandma was coming on an airplane to visit them. Apparently understanding only the words grandma and airplane and determined not to be left behind, he went into the closet, planted himself in his travel carrier, and refused to come out.

I can think of no better recommendation than Tuffy’s for Cousin Joyce’s poodle-packin’ strategies.


Fiercely Frugal Savage Sister Diana has gathered packing pointers over the years on numerous domestic and foreign trips. Most recently, she travels in conjunction with the publication of her latest book, 52 Heart Lifters for Difficult Times.

© 2014 The Savage Sisters

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