There are nights when Barbara DeBry is so worried about her clients she cannot sleep. Are they comfortable? Have they gotten to their destination on time? Sometimes she gets up and makes a few calls to check on the status of their trip – landed safely at Heathrow Airport in London; on a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. She’s made plans like these hundreds of times, but each four-legged client and their situation is special, demanding the kind of attention to detail that’s made DeBry’s company a principal player in the realm of pet travel.
DeBry’s company, Utah-based Puppy Travel, makes arrangements for pets traveling across the country or around the globe. Whether an owner is flying to Colorado on an extended vacation or relocating to South Africa with a new company, it’s Puppy Travel’s job to make sure that Fido gets there too. The company also makes arrangements for accommodations and transportation once the animal arrives.
And while often people are on the same plane with their pets, there are times when that’s not the case. If, for instance, a breeder is transporting a puppy to new owners in another state, they may use Puppy Travel to ensure there are no hold ups at the airport.
Many Americans love to travel with their pets. In a 2001 survey by the Travel Industry Association of America, 14 percent of those polled said they had taken their pet on at least one trip with them during the three previous years. Of people who took their pets on trips most, 78 percent, brought dogs, followed a distant second by cats at 15 percent, the survey showed. While most (76 percent) pets travel by road, 6 percent fly.
“Every single thing is do is really customized,” DeBry says. “I’ve become very connected to these people. Their pets are everything to them. Most of them treat their pets like their children. I’m making this happen for their children and that’s huge.”
DeBry began her career in travel more than 20 years ago. She started out working for an airline and later went on to a travel agency where she developed a love for international travel. After that, she got a job opening up travel departments for large corporations. But after a while, she says she grew tired of the corporate world and decided to pursue the dream of owning her own business.
DeBry knew she wanted to start a business in the industry she knew well, but she wasn’t naïve to the direction in which travel was moving. “Today everyone wants to make their travel plans on the Internet and you can do it that way,” she says. “So I knew that if I was going to have my own company I had to come up with something that you couldn’t just do online.”
It wasn’t long afterward that DeBry got a new puppy and the idea clicked. After doing a lot of research, she found that nothing really existed like the business she had in mind. “I thought to myself it’s only a reality if you make it a reality,” she says. “So I did it.”
Today DeBry and a second employee handle more than 200 different clients. She says her business has steadily increased since she launched Puppy Travel in 2003, primarily because of a growing number of new clients who learn about her services through the Internet, advertisements and word of mouth. She estimates her sales were up 20 percent last year over 2003.
DeBry says to the best of her knowledge her company is the only one in the country providing complete pet travel services. “There is no one from the animal standpoint, the regulation standpoint and the airline standpoint who puts all of those pieces together like we do,” she says.
There are plenty of Web sites and information resources around for those who want to make travel arrangements for their pet on their own, DeBry says. “What sets me apart is I do all the work,” she says. “If you’ve got the time and the patience you can dig out most of it. I’m just so much more efficient because I’ve been doing it so long. I can tap into just about every major city in the world with an email or a phone call.”
Most of the travel DeBry handles is overseas, which she says was a surprise to her. “When I first started I thought I would be doing mostly these really luxurious vacations for people and their pets; it’s not really like that,” she says. Instead, the company does a lot of work with government workers and people in the Foreign Service who travel internationally on a regular basis.
At one time, many countries including the United States mandated extensive quarantine periods for animals traveling overseas to prevent the spread of certain diseases. Today, those rules have been relaxed considerably and animals that are current on their vaccinations often do not have to be quarantined, DeBry says. “If you plan in advance and you prepare correctly you can have an automatic release, but you have to jump through all of the hoops.”
Puppy Travel charges clients based on the services provided. DeBry says for a typical client transporting one pet overseas, the cost is roughly $300, which includes consult, paperwork and all arrangements.
DeBry says when it comes to making pet travel arrangements with the airline industry success depends on the carrier, the destination and, perhaps most importantly, who’s on the other end of the phone. She says she has good working relationships with reservationists at many of the carriers and knows to always get a name and double check all information.
Putting their pets in the underbelly of a jet is a frightening prospect to most people, DeBry says. She tries to alleviate their fears. “The truth is the compartment is pressurized and completely temperature controlled.” One of the most common questions DeBry gets is whether there are any airlines that allow pets in the passenger cabin. She says the answer is no. Unless the pet can fit in a secured carry bag that can be placed in front of the passenger’s seat and is under 15 pounds, it must be placed below in the cargo hold.
At the time of the interview for this story, DeBry was working with the father of a U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan. The solider had befriended a dog and was trying to get the dog back to his family in the United States. However, DeBry was uncertain about the safety of the airlines servicing the Kabul airport and was trying to determine if she could find someone to collect the dog at another point overseas. “It’s always something different and unusual — a new story every day. My husband tells me I should write a book.”
Getting a call from a client who says the trip went off well is big for DeBry. A lot of times people are just so happy to be at their destination they don’t bother to contact her unless there’s a problem. “It just means so much to me to know that everything turned out okay,” she says.
If you’re traveling with your pet remember these things:
• Keep the animal up to date on all vaccinations. If the animal is not current on vaccines, a lengthy quarantine process may hamper travel international.
• If you’re traveling with your animal, once you board the plane do not be afraid to ask if your pet has been placed on board. Oftentimes an attendant will go down and check personally.
• Make sure the carrier you are using is airline acceptable. An airline will refuse to board the animal if the carrier does not meet certain criteria. Call the airline ahead of time to learn about their conditions.
• Avoid sedating your pet during travel. The mixture of sedatives and an unknown environment can cause the pets undue stress.
For more information on pet travel, visit www.puppytravel.com or www.pettravel.com