Picture it. The SUV is packed for a family vacation. Mom and dad are up front chatting. The kids are in the back seat plugged into their iPods, along with the family cat snoozing comfortably in the latest Sleepypod mobile pet bed — which has been plugged into the cigarette lighter to gently heat its interior for extra feline comfort. Fido is sitting on a specially padded cover in the cargo section, secure in a pet harness watching the latest dog entertainment video on the car’s backseat TV screen.
No, this isn’t some ad man’s vivid imagination at work for a TV commercial, but a typical scenario focusing on some of the hottest travel accessories designed to make life on the road more comfortable for pets as they accompany their pet parents on vacations, weekends away, or simply on errands to the nearest supermarket or Starbucks for a latté.
The pet industry in America is a $40 billion business. Consequently, pet manufacturers are constantly sniffing out and digging up new ways to endorse this growing travel trend. Competition is fierce and punctuated throughout the year by huge pet expos held around the country where pet lifestyle innovators get together to unveil their latest merchandise and inventions. Last week, the industry’s movers and shakers were in Las Vegas to show off their wares at the annual Superzoo Expo.
You know it isn’t all kibble and bits when DaimlerChrysler, which produces Jeep, starts looking to get a foothold in the industry. In fact, the latest Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Rubicon to debut at the show have nothing to do with negotiating tough terrain in a 4-wheel drive that typifies life in the great outdoors. They are super-sleek pet strollers with front shock absorbers and rear safety brakes and offer pets a great view and from a bug-proof interior. They have a parent tray for keys, water bottles and other paraphernalia and are ergonomically designed for comfort for both the passenger and the pusher.
“The Rubicon is an all-terrain stroller designed for joggers with pets who can’t hold the pace,” explains Todd Jakubowski of Pet Gear, the company in West Rutland, Vt., that has the Jeep license in its pocket. It’s also great when sidewalks are slippery or covered in snow but you still want to give your pet some fresh air. Then there are bike trailers for cyclists to take Fido along too.”
The company also has a patent pending on its new auto carrier that that snaps into place in a vehicle the same way as a baby carrier is secured.
“It great for great for small dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, birds and other small domesticated animals,” confirms Jakubowski.
And just like the sleek Sleepypod carrier, with its ballistic nylon exterior and faux fur interior that converts into a personal living space at the travel destination, the latest BedPals range of pet car seats feature huge stuffed animals that also convert into comfy snooze zones. Pet lovers can choose from Matty the Monkey, Patrick the Panda and Roar the Lion.
“People are now beginning to understand the need to restrain their pets securely and buckle them in the way they protect children and themselves,” says Gordon Spater of Kurgo in Newburyport, Mass., a company that focuses exclusively on pet travel accessories such as safety harnesses and backseat barriers made with reinforced steel and designed to protect pets from shooting forward in an emergency braking situation.
“There’s easily been a 300 percent increase in the number of lodgings accepting pets throughout the U.S. in the last three years,” says Derek Welsh, president of BringYourPet.com, a Web site devoted to peripatetic pets and their humans. In fact, the Automobile Association of America alone lists more than 13,000 pet-friendly hotels around the country, not to mention restaurants, shopping malls and entertainment centers that extend their hospitality to visitors with four paws and a tail. So what could possibly come next?
Well, how about convenient pet supply vending machines at all these venues? If designer Carlotta Lennox of Hey Buddy! Pet Supply Vending in Plano, Texas, has her way, they will soon be dotted all over the country, offering pet parents everything from flea collars and poop pick-up bags, to collars and leashes, vitamin-enriched waters, treats and conveniently packaged foods such as the Doggie Vita range of fully-cooked Italian pasta meals for dogs.
Packaged to look like a Lean Cuisine meal, dogs will have a choice of such scrumptious delights as lasagna with wild boar meat, cheese tortellini pasta with walnuts or fusilli pasta with salmon.
“They don’t require refrigeration,” says marketing manager Michael Kelly, “and are ready to be served in disposable containers.”
Disposable is definitely becoming a keyword in the pet industry, as manufacturers compete to design special travel dinnerware with disposable bowl liners that insert into the bowl frame and can be tossed after a meal, giving pet owners a convenient and germ-free alternative to have to wash up after every meal.
Dogs who enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities can now to take care of their own supplies by wearing a specially designed doggy backpack, and ergonomically designed boots beat the heat on hot hiking trails and beaches in the latest designs — they even flash just like kids’ sneakers.
There’s also an excellent selection of collars, leashes, harnesses and pet vests that come fitted with the latest battery-powered illumination technology, allowing them to glow or flash in the dark. They light up in a variety of eye catching colors like neon green, yellow and hot pink and come in a great selection of fabric designs.
Apart from offering excellent visibility to both the pet and its owner, they offer added security should your pet escape by allowing you to see the direction in which to follow — some can be seen up to a mile away.
The latest tags designed specifically for travel, start off the size of luggage tags to allow you to write destination details legibly and then, when popped into a toaster oven, shrink down to a standard sized pet tag. They come in packs and are ideal when your travel plans stretch to include a number of hotels and destinations.
With so many new products designed for pet lovers to travel with their companion animals in secure comfort, the stay-at-home pet could possibly become an extinct breed.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is a member of both the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writer’s Association of America. She lives in Southern California with a menagerie of well-traveled pets.