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Alaska to Arizona: our first trip with our pets

By Kathy Franz and Peg Price, F282681

What do you do when you love to travel but dread the thought of leaving your pets at home? Buy a motorhome, of course.

We are full-time motorhomers who live in Homer, Alaska, and spend winters in Tucson, Ariz.

After volunteering for a few years at our local animal shelters in Tucson and Homer, we had acquired eight "orphaned" pets: a dog and seven cats.

We looked around at our expanded "family" and, after much thought, decided that motorhoming was the only way to see the United States and keep our family together.

Happy together

Our dog, Denali, is a malamute (Alaska sled dog) mix from the animal shelter. In 2002 she graduated from pet therapy school, and often visits nursing homes and hospitals.

Denali nurtures and cares for the cats: Rudy, Boey, Robie, Gigi, Sophi, Sammy and Ethel May. They're all domestics, medium- or long-haired with a variety of coloring.

We examined many motorhome brands and models, always with the question, “Would our dog and cats be happy in here?” on our minds. We planned to live and travel in the motorhome full-time.

A new home

Finally, in August 2000 we bought a 2001 31-foot National RV Sea View equipped with two slideouts. When we got it home we brought the pets out to their new, mobile dwelling, along with their litter boxes, food, treats and toys. We played with them and just hung out with them in the motorhome. They rapidly became quite at ease.

Next, we turned on one system of the motorhome at a time so they could get comfortable with the new noises. First we started the television, then the radio, followed by the engine and generator. Then we drove the motorhome on a few short trips of about a mile or less in distance.

These were crazy times, with us learning to drive a type A motorhome, moving out of a house and into the motorhome, and helping our pets adjust to their new home.

A hiding place

Our motor coach is ideal in many ways, and the slideouts are great. But the bedroom slideout, when retracted in normal travel position, presents a minor problem: It enables the cats to hide under the bed, without giving us easy access to coax them out.

The last item on our preflight checklist is to "count noses." This is often perilous when the cats are somewhere under the bed, because we have to hang upside-down while using a flashlight to look for kitty noses.

Fortunately, nowadays Rudy is the only cat who sleeps under the bed while traveling. He saunters out only when he hears the jacks come down.

All aboard: our first trip

In September 2000 we began preparing for our first substantial motorhome trip with our pets. We needed to get them ready for the long drive down the Alaska Highway to our winter home in Tucson.

For each pet, we obtained a health certificate that included the date of its last rabies shot and other vaccinations. We packed extra kitty litter and extra dog and cat food in case of an emergency. Because we were going to be traveling at the end of September, having to wait out a snowstorm was a real possibility.

Crossing U.S. and Canadian borders requires that pets have their current health certificate with all shots documented. We handed those documents and our own passports to the customs agent. Canadian customs requires only a rabies vaccination document and not an actual health certificate.

Pet ID

Other preparations included collecting our power of attorney, original and copies of living wills, and health records for ourselves and the pets. We placed these documents in an easy-to-grab place in the motorhome in case of an emergency.

We updated all of the pets’ identification tags with our current contact information. That way, if one pet became lost, we could be reached no matter where we were, day or night.

We also took current close-up pictures of them, with an emphasis on unique markings on their coats. The photos can be used in case we ever need to post “Lost Pet” posters.

Our cell phone number is embroidered on each cat's collar. As an extra safety measure, we plan to have a pet ID microchip implanted in each of our pets.

Other preparations for our trip included purchasing a kennel/carrier for each cat in case of an emergency or in case we have to spend a day in the waiting room of an RV repair shop.

Comfortable pace

During our trips to Tucson, we try to take long lunch breaks each day to give all the cats plenty of time to eat and drink. In addition to this one long stop, we take shorter stops to give our dog, and ourselves, a nice break.

It takes us about 12 days to complete the drive from Homer to Tucson comfortably. It's approximately 3,200 miles.

Our pets do wonderfully on the trip -- they’re all seasoned motorhome travelers. It’s amazing to watch them find their special places to snooze as we travel. In May 2003 all of them will be making their third trip up the Alaska Highway.

Always, our priority is to ensure the safety and comfort of our pets. Traveling with them does change what we can do at times, but we could not imagine traveling without them.


FMCA members Kathy Franz and Peg Price are co-owners of Pet Trekkers, a mobile retail business catering to the comfort and safety of the traveling pet. They live and travel in their motorhome full-time, spending summers in Alaska and winters in the Southwest. Kathy is a certified pet first-aid instructor and a retired occupational therapist. Peg is a retired school teacher. They conduct pet care seminars at FMCA rallies and other RV events, and volunteer at a local animal shelter in Tucson.

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