Taking Pets on the Alaska Ferry (Part 3)

I wanted to write this to give some other pet owners a more updated perspective on taking pets on the ferry. It’s been a few years since I did it last and I haven’t seen any updated accounts since then.

To take pets on the ferry (and take them through Canada) I had to get their vet to sign off on them being healthy. He had a form for it since it’s pretty common in Alaska, but when I moved up here I was living in Georgia and had to tell the vet what I needed. Basically the form says the dogs have had their rabies shots and are healthy enough to withstand a range of temperatures. The form has to be within 30 days of the beginning of the trip, so it was plenty of time.

Zane took the ferry with me when we moved up here but this was Sophie’s first time. The dogs have to stay on the car deck while we’re underway but I could take them off for potty breaks when we docked in port. Some of those port calls were very, very quick. Like 30 minutes quick. It’s not much time to potty two dogs and also try to feed and water them. I made sure I took the dogs off the boat every chance we got. We lucked out and had a nice long port call in Sitka and the ferry docked right next to the Sitka National Historical Park and the Tongass National Forest. I took both of them for a long, long walk to tire them out since I felt bad about them having to stay cooped up in the car.


Tongass National Forest and Sitka National Historical Park just across the street from the ferry terminal in Sitka

Honestly, they slept the whole time. I’m always joking that Sophie in particular is the laziest dog I have ever met. She spends 90% of her time laying in her dog bed and sometimes won’t even pick her head up to look at you, she just rolls her eyes in your general direction. Now I joke that she was training for this trip and the ferry especially. Zane slept the whole way last time so I made sure I got them both a nice, big fluffy dog bed for both of them for this trip. They had the entire backseat of my hatchback, which wasn’t huge, but I also made sure they had all the space up front if they wanted it. They preferred sleeping in the dog bed though. Every time I came out they were fast asleep and I’d have to wake them up. Sophie would yawn and lazily get up, Zane would get up right away and start dong his excited, happy whine and herd me. I think they would rather be in the car than a crate on the car deck, too.

I mentioned before they both were anxious that I might somehow forget them if they weren’t in the car. I should mention that I have never forgotten them, but they aren’t convinced my past performance is indicative of future success. Zane in particular was really concerned and as soon as I started packing the car in Alaska he went and sat in the backseat and refused to move. So that they got to stay in the car while on the ferry I think helped assuage their worries a little.


Handling the walkway like pros

For the most part I was able to stick to their normal schedules and feed them in the morning and at night with potty breaks. I picked up some calming supplements and pheromone collars for them before we started the drive. I don’t think the collars, Adaptil, made by the same folks who make Feliway, did anything but they dogs both seemed to like the pumpkin flavored calming supplement by NuPath that also promised to deliver “greater bioavailability.” Likewise, I don’t think the calming supplements by the brand Well & Good did much and Zane mostly refused to eat them. Sophie is a pig and will eat anything. If nothing else, they liked NuPath’s pumpkin flavor and I think it helped keep them regular. Zane is prone to nervous bowels and when he’s freaked out, well, more freaked out than usual, he gets the runs. I think that he didn’t was due to the supplement this time. Also, it and his usual high-value dog treats were the only things I could count on him eating. He didn’t want to eat much unless in the car or if I hand fed him.


Waiting to go down to the car deck

While underway the ferry did deck calls about four times a day at 8:30 am, 2:30 pm, 8:30 pm and 12:30 am. They were all announced except for the 12:30 call which was a silent call so people could sleep. They’re only 15 minutes, which isn’t a lot of time, and you can walk your pets around on the car deck and encourage them to do their business. When we came up last time, Zane went a full 24 hours before he went which is pretty typical for dogs on the ferry. This time Zane peed on the ferry deck the second day while we were waiting for the ferry bridge to lower, and Sophie did her business as well. Sophie is part street rat so I figured she would likely have an easier time peeing “inside” because she does it at home whenever she doesn’t feel like the weather outside suits her.


The most full the car deck was on our trip. Our last trip it was jam-packed.

Some people kept their dogs in a crate, either on the back of their car or on the car deck itself. It also looked like the Malaspina had a couple of crates for people to use on a first come first served basis, probably for people who walk on with no vehicle. The last time I took the ferry there were even two cats who spent the trip in a big crate on the car deck; I can’t imagine what that trip was like for them. I opted not to bring my cat because he is a nightmare to drive with and I felt bad about the prospect of keeping him cooped up for several days on the ferry. Instead, P gets to fly down to Georgia with him in a few weeks.


When you smash your car in Juneau, you have to tow it via ferry to Bellingham for repairs

Overall, it really wasn’t bad. Both dogs were a little attention-starved and Zane refused to eat his regular dog food while underway but both were drinking water fine and gobbling up treats so I wasn’t worried. The worst part is the 31 hours between Ketchikan and Bellingham where the dogs can only do their business on the car deck. Since previously Zane refused to go for over 24 hours I decided to try to train them to pee on command. Whenever I’d walk my dogs and they’d potty I’d tell them “go potty” and praise them for doing it. I don’t really know if it helped, but I walked them around on the car deck urging them to “go potty” and neither of them had any issue so maybe there was some Pavlovian effect to my urging.  Some of the other dogs had a lot of trouble with going “inside” and many will just hold it.

If I did it again, I might bring along some of those dog potty pads that are supposed to encourage dogs to pee on them and possibly even mop up some dog pee from a land potty break and keep it to encourage them to pee on it during a deck call – though then I’d also have to find a place to keep a urine-soaked rag. One man had a little toy poodle and had pee pads for her, though I think he might have used them inside his car in case she just really needed to go and couldn’t wait. I’d also try to train them to drink from a roller ball bottle, like a big hamster one because although I left a small dish of water in the car but I was always afraid it would spill and I don’t know if either of them drank from it since they always accepted water when I offered it during the deck calls.

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