When I first brought my dog to Philly, one of the first things I wondered was whether I could take him on SEPTA. That question led to the creation of this blog in a post you can read here. In the months since, Dipper and I have taken countless bus and subway trips across Philadelphia. This is a list of some tips we’ve learned through trial and error, so you don’t have to.
Check the time for low-traffic travel
There’s nothing worse than carrying a bunch of heavy luggage onto a crowded train. That’s actually a lie—it’s a hundred times worse when there’s a live animal in that luggage. Dipper and I have boarded enough Friday afternoon trains to know that it sucks. If you can swing it, plan your travel for times when trains are likely to be less crowded and when buses are less likely to run into traffic. No traffic means less time spent sitting on a bus with an anxious dog, and fewer people means one less thing for you to get anxious about yourself. Specifically, I avoid traveling at all during the 5 o’clock rush hour, to prevent having to stand on a moving bus or sit next to someone already seated.
Ask before sitting, call before booking
When I do get on a crowded train, I always ask whoever I’m about to sit next to if it’s alright if my dog and I sit there. The worst thing they can do is say no, which hasn’t happened yet. In fact, I’ve had more conversations with people on the train thanks to Dipper in single year than I had in my three years in Philly prior. Regardless, it makes me feel better knowing that the person next to me knows my dog is there.
This isn’t as much of an issue traveling with assigned seats like on a plane, but it’s good to keep in mind, especially when you’re on your way to the airport. Carsharing services like Uber and Lyft are generally dog friendly, but both recommend that you call the driver immediately after requesting the ride to check if the driver allows dogs in their car.
Do your research
In the event that you do have a run-in with a grumpy commuter, make sure you’ve done your research. That is, don’t give them anything to legitimately complain about. Make sure whatever carrier you’re using meets with the transportation authority’s regulations, and bring all necessary vaccination documentation for your dog. SEPTA requires that all dogs and cats be transported in covered carriers, though I regularly get away with carrying Dipper in an open tote. I use his airline regulated duffel for longer train-travel, and his open tote for quick bus and subway rides. But in doing so, I recognize that someone, whether a bus driver or passenger, could have an issue with me shirking the rules a little.
This is the golden rule and what all of these tips are getting at. This doesn’t mean ignore people when they ask to pet your dog, but don’t go flouting your dog for the sake of attention. Even some small unassuming things can attract attention, like loud squeakers or smelly bones. Speaking of things that stink, give your dog a bath before travel. No one else on the train may heed this advice themselves (lookin’ at you, SEPTA), but again, it’s one less reason for complaint. Plus, a clean dog is a happy dog!