Robin Boggs, a consultant in Atlanta, frequently packs her 9-pound Chihuahua in her carry-on luggage. Like an increasing number of travelers, she doesn't tell anyone. She's been caught twice, and the airline forced her to pay a $150 surcharge each time.
"When I asked why I had to pay a fee in order to stuff my dog under the seat in front of me, I was told it was their policy," she said. "I concluded that it's really just a ploy to charge another fee."
A lot of travelers have been arriving at the same conclusion, although exact numbers are difficult to come by. Instead of paying "pet fees" to hotels or airlines, they're spiriting their animal companions into their bags or under blankets.
Many airlines have raised their pet fees so high that they're more than the price of the owner's ticket. And more hotels are adding pet charges to allow dogs and cats.
Elaine Fitzgerald owns and operates a group of small inns in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She has one cat-approved unit out of 25 and dreads the visitors who secretly bring kitty along.
"I'm not concerned about damage," said Fitzgerald, who is a cat owner. "It's cat dander. One in seven people are highly allergic to it. A cat in a unit, even for a day or two, literally poisons it for future guests. It's even worse than cigarette smoke."
The airline industry's reasons for its restrictive pet policies are slightly different. They don't consider themselves in the pet transportation business and want to discourage people from bringing animals on the plane.
To be sure, some businesses have embraced pets. Pet Airways is a pets-only air carrier that launched last summer and now serves seven cities. Best Western has begun marketing itself as "pet friendly."
The question that has largely gone unasked amid the traveling-pets scuffle is this: If your animal could talk, would it ask to join you on vacation?
"Your best friend loves being able to be at your side any time," said Maria Goodavage, author of "Dog Lover's Companion to California," one of the "Dog Lover's Companion" series. "He's there for you through thick and thin. Why leave him behind when you finally have time off to relax and enjoy life?"
I can understand that sentiment as a pet owner (three Bengal cats, who are watching me as I write this). But I can't bring myself to anthropomorphize my furry friends. In fact, I think it's kind of insulting. My kitties would prefer to stay at home, where they have a predictable supply of cat food and toys. I miss them when I'm away, but that's my problem.
Many pet owners reading this will take their dogs and cats along anyway, because they believe their pets can't possibly live without them. If you do, find a pet-friendly hotel and don't hide the animal.
It's bad enough that you're taking the creature out of its normal environment. Why make it deal with the stress of your lie, too?