At times, Barbara DeBry is man's best friend's best friend.
As founder of Puppy Travel, a full-service travel agency for pets and people, DeBry gets motoring mutts, flying ferrets and traveling tabbies to their proper destinations.
Snips and snails aside, DeBry has plenty of puppy-dog tales.
Like those of people who study overseas but have been smitten, rather than bitten, by an animal and want to get it stateside. Or military folks or corporate executives reassigned halfway around the globe who want to take that special family member with them. Or folks looking to crisscross the country, unleashing their interest in travel while letting Fido tag along.
"Every one of them," DeBry said, "has a story."
Their stories often begin at the Salt Lake agency's Web site, www.puppytravel.com. While several Web sites offer tips and detailed information about
pet travel, Puppy Travel coordinates airline, hotel and car rental reservations; identifies pet-friendly restaurants and parks; and arranges for pet sitters and local veterinarians for both domestic and international travel.
DeBry charges a consulting fee on a scale based on complexity, but often it's about $200 for domestic travel and $300 for international. While many of her early clients were leisure travelers, she now works often with military, government or corporate types whose work has been moved offshore. That's when she taps into both her love of pets and more than two decades of experience in the travel industry.
"They don't have the time, and there are too many details," DeBry said about clients and their travel needs. "The last thing you want is for your animal to be held somewhere and you can't get it. With security the way it is, the way the world is, why even bother with it? It can either go as smooth as silk or it can be a nightmare."
The nightmares can start even before the pets board a plane. For example, try finding a grassy area at the airport if a pet needs "relief" when a flight is delayed. But the complexity of pet travel multiplies as one considers individual airlines' and countries' pet limitations and paperwork; complete blockouts during extreme temperatures; and various charges for pet accommodation.
For example, most airlines allow a canine companion or feline friend to be placed under a seat if the kennel or carrier fits there, but many limit the number to two per aircraft. All others are checked or fly as cargo don't worry, DeBry said, those compartments are pressurized and temperature-controlled.
Airlines' pet peeves and restrictions are myriad, "and they change them all the time," she said.
"It sounds all Hollywood-ish to take a trip with your dog, but most people, the reality is they don't want to bother with it. And most of the time, your dog and cat are happier at home with somebody who loves them, even if it's at a kennel where they're well-treated."
Still, for the must-go Fido, DeBry can help. She'll make arrangements for people who want to travel with their pets or for those who need to get their pets from Point A to Point B without their owners.
Sometimes the news isn't good, such as when she told a Bay Area man moving to London that he needed to wait a mandatory six months before he could bring his two beloved Cairn terriers.
"He did not know. He had called the airlines twice and nobody had said a word to him about it. Now he's not going until his dogs go," she said.
Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, encourages people to travel with their pets if at all possible.
"It's unfortunate, but on commercial flights in the United States, there are actually more than 5,000 animals a year that are either lost or killed, and many times the airlines do not respond to people because they view people's pets as mere luggage," Baierschmidt said.
For each trip requiring hotel stays, DeBry calls individual properties to ensure that claims of "pet friendly" accommodations are just that. She recently provided a fellow traveling from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles turn-by-turn directions, complete with the pet-friendly hotel stops.
"They're like family," she said of people with strong bonds to their pets. That adds to the burden of responsibility she feels with each booking.
"I feel like every single time I have an animal travel, it's like I'm giving birth. I really worry."
DeBry's career has featured stops at Eastern Airlines, Murdock Travel and FranklinCovey. In September 2001, she paid "a lot of money" to get a pet from Minneapolis to her Utah home. Oodles, a "schnoodle" a combination schnauzer and poodle flew first class because of post-9/11 restrictions on cargo. (Oodles travels some now, but another DeBry schnauzer, Soozie, does more.)
A few years ago, while traveling with a group, DeBry stopped by a New York City specialty shop to get Oodles a gift. Hand-painted bowls, special beds and matching Christmas sweaters for pets and owners surrounded her.
"At first, I was laughing, but then I thought, this is not funny to these people. They are serious, and then you see all the dog walkers in New York that people pay a fortune for and pet centers."
The idea for Puppy Travel was born. Friends and relatives thought she was barking up the wrong tree.
"And everyone laughed at me," DeBry recalled. "My mother said, 'You're going to do what?' My family was a little concerned. They thought I was going to lose so much money. It's a slow, gradual process, but every month business has just gone up."
She had Oodles and oodles of travel-business experience to tap into, making her a doggone perfect fit for the job.
"I've been there, done that. I know what works and what doesn't. I can do the travel part because of 22 years of experience, and now I've blended in the pet part."
She helps move about 15 pets in a typical month, "and that's plenty for one person." And she glows when remembering a comment from a friend about how she never lost her original vision for the business.
"Even when everyone laughed and thought it was kind of silly, I always knew there was that emotional thing people have with their pets. And I love it. I feel like it's my gift to humankind and animalkind."
Reynold Stein of North Miami Beach, Fla., used DeBry's gift to help his daughter, Orly, bring a pet home from an extended visit to Israel. She fell in love with the puppy during the yearlong trip, but her father said he was told that quarantine issues would prevent bringing the pet to the United States in a timely manner.
"She was so sweet," Stein said of DeBry. "She said, 'No problem.' Within a few hours, she called back and had made all the arrangements for my daughter."
That included flights to Switzerland, New York City and Florida, plus letting his daughter play with the dog during a stopover.
"She made it so simple. She does a tremendous service to pet owners, that's all I can say," he said. "This is our fourth dog in our house now, and it's such a beautiful dog. I couldn't imagine Orly leaving it around the other side of the world."
Sometimes pet travel stems from a desire to have fun. Pat Bentley's situation was just the opposite. A resident of rural Alabama, Bentley used Puppy Travel to get a boxer named Michelle from the deep South to Ohio. It was one of the final wishes of the dog's owner, Bentley's mother.
Just days after her father died, Bentley's ill mother said she wanted Michelle to go to an Ohio friend. But Bentley had never flown before, let alone made arrangements for an animal to fly. Frustrated by "a voice mail maze" she encountered at Continental and with a person at the Birmingham airport who told her she would need to fly the dog out of Memphis or Atlanta, she recalled seeing a magazine ad for Puppy Travel.Comment on this story
The next day, DeBry worked out all the logistics with Delta. Problem solved. The friend, Mary Lynne, picked up Michelle on a Sunday, less than four hours after the dog left Birmingham.
"I went to the hospital that night to tell my mother," Bentley said through tears last week. "My mother passed away that Wednesday morning. Michelle did get there. That was the last thing my mom had wanted. She loved her dogs very much, and she wanted Michelle to get to Mary Lynne, and she did with the help from Barbara."I'm very grateful to her. I couldn't get any help from anybody else. It took a complete stranger thousands of miles away to help me."