How do urban dog owners handle transportation?
May 12, 2016 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I don't have a car, and I want to adopt a dog. How can that work? Can I handle having a medium-size dog?

I'm working toward a dog adoption, and of course a big part of that is figuring how to fit my lifestyle and a pup together.

A big constraint, for me, is that I live in a small urban apartment and don't have a car. I pretty much understand what dog and lifestyle qualities make the apartment part work, but I only recently realized that the car thing is almost as important.

Some of the ways I currently get around are dog-friendly (walking, which is my primary transportation), some are somewhat dog-friendly with restrictions (local transit, uber/lyft/taxi, zipcar/rental car), while others aren’t dog-friendly at all (regional buses, car2go). I know that any dog poses significant transportation challenges over no dog, and I'm definitely expecting to change my lifestyle significantly to accommodate the dog – for instance, staying closer to home on weekends and taking a rental car over regional bus. Given that I’m set on dog adoption, though, I’d like to make sure that I don't make a mistake by adopting a dog that is excessively challenging to accommodate.

I don't expect to need to transport my dog anywhere day-to-day, especially since I already walk most places and there are parks, dog parks, and vets in walking distance. But, I know there are some situations where I'd want to travel a little farther than that with a dog (day hikes, occasional regional trips) and there may also be constraints I haven’t thought of (for instance, what if the dog starts puking and needs to go to the vet?).

As best I can guess, size is the biggest constraint for travel, then. For the restricted dog-friendly services, most require a carrier (I suspect I might be able to get away with a seat cover in a zipcar/rental car, though…?) and I’m not sure how easily I could wrangle a bigger one (I’m a medium-size/medium-strength woman). Amtrak and plane cabins also have weight limits, but I don’t expect to need to travel on them with a dog – but it’d be convenient if I could.

It’s clear that a smaller dog would be easier, and a purse dog would be the easiest – but I really want a dog that’s big enough to keep up on long walks and day hikes, so I’d prefer one more in the medium range. I’m currently looking at cocker spaniels/cocker mixes in the 15-25lb range – does that seem like a good fit? How big would be too big – is 30lbs a mistake? What other factors about a dog or my lifestyle might I be forgetting?
posted by R a c h e l to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
If you have taxi/Lyft options that will take a dog, I think you are probably going to be fine. We have a car but for a while we had three large to medium dogs and no car big enough to transport them all, and it was fine. There were some things we just could not do -- fit the dogs and the kids in a car to go camping, mainly -- but it was not the end of the world.

I live in a city and have two 55 pound dogs, but I do have a yard. Many of my neighbors do not, though, and there are dogs of all sizes in this neighborhood. Most dogs are really happy with long walks and occasional visits to some green space -- and that does not need to be actual nature; a park will do just fine.

In other words, I don't think you should let the transportation issue keep you from adopting a dog. As long as you can walk them and get them to the vet, you should be fine.
posted by xeney at 10:05 AM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: Since I got rid of my car a year or so ago, I've mainly been getting by with pet taxis in the rare occasion that I can't walk somewhere. I don't know if they're a thing outside New York, but here there are several pet taxi services that are basically a dude with a van whose whole thing is driving pets around.

Most dog owners I know just take their pets in Zipcars or rental cars and vacuum thoroughly. I don't love this, in general (because the next person might have allergies) or for my pup specifically (because he is very large and sheds a lot), but nobody I know has ever gotten in trouble. If I had a smaller dog and wanted to use Zipcars or rental cars, though, I would get a collapsible soft-sided crate, especially if I could find one that could buckle into the seatbelts. Should keep the hair inside. I've found seat covers kind of tricky to install. (I am thinking of doing this anyway, it's just much harder to find one that fits a 100-pound pup.)
posted by babelfish at 10:08 AM on May 12, 2016

Dog crates are cumbersome, but not impossible to handle. They fold up when you're not using them and it's not like you ever have to carry the dog and the crate at the same time.

If the dog starts puking and you need to go to the vet, you treat it like you would if you needed to go to urgent care and couldn't drive, so you either a) call a friend with a car, b) call a cab. It might depend on where you are, but cabs might be no-pets or might just refuse to pick you up, so you will probably need a friend with a car or a zipcar you can get to quickly. It's also wise to search out local animal urgent care or local vets you can walk to in your neighborhood.

The reason I would not get a big dog is that many apartments have weight and size limits, if not breed limits, that would make renting a place and owning a larger dog very difficult. If your living situation is stable enough to get a pet and you don't think that will change, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

You'd be surprised how much stamina small breeds can have-- hounds and terriers were originally sporting dogs for hunters, so don't discount the dogs you can still pick up and carry. But if you want a bigger dog, I don't see it as a problem if you're prepared to go on a lot of long walks.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:12 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had a stray cat one winter, and when I needed to take her to the vet, I put her carrier in the back of my bike trailer. She yowled the whole way, but that had everything to do with being in a carrier and nothing to do with being in a trailer. (not just my cat: 1, 2)

Most of the people I've met who have dogs and no cars have a bike trailer for their dog. Usually it's a kid's trailer they found off Craigslist. One person told me they had their large dog trained to hop out of the trailer when they were going up a hill and to hop back in when they were going downhill.
posted by aniola at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a 13- to 15- lb. terrier mix who is mostly legs, and honestly, he's quite heavy enough. But he still easily fits in a standard "small dude" bag, which is great!

And don't discount smaller dogs on hikes: my guy does perfectly fine and is full of energy, and I've personally seen a dachshund absolutely trounce a very steep rock scramble with her owner.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2016

You should check what your public transit company says about pets. Mine will let dogs on with a muzzle. (surprising but good to know in case I ever need to go this route).
posted by Coffeetyme at 10:32 AM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: A smaller dog that you can reasonably carry, or that can sit on your lap in shared transportation situations is going to make a huge difference here I think. I have a ~18lb cocker spaniel/poodle mix, and because he's pretty little and doesn't shed, he's welcome TONS of places a bigger, shedding dog probably wouldn't be. Also, he can keep up with me walking or hiking just fine. (He's also an awesome dog. You should totally get a cocker spaniel mix)
posted by mjcon at 10:38 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Consider a backpack dog carrier: We had one sort of like this one on Amazon and it worked well for our 16 lb girl while riding a bike. (The humans rode the bike, not the dog). She liked to stick her little face over my shoulder & watch the world go by. There are lots of other designs out there too including front-carry and side-carry slings pretty similar to baby carriers that would make it easy to bring Dog along wherever you can walk or bike. Some bus lines allow dogs in carriers; you'd have to check with your local transit office.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2016

Just FYI, dogs can be carsick. Mine (despite trying so hard to behave herself) gets extremely stressed and distraught when in a moving vehicle, and starts throwing up everywhere within five minutes. Just make sure you still want a dog even if the dog can't go in a car (except in case of dog emergencies, of course).
posted by sallybrown at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the great information! Keep it coming!

Here's the thing that I probably should have been more explicit about: I realize that plenty of dogs in the 10-15lb range can probably keep up just fine (I was more thinking about toy poodle/yorkie type breeds, although they are lovely dogs), but I keep finding myself drawn to specific 25-30lb dogs and I'm wondering if it'd be a huge mistake to go that big.

I hear you on the non-shedding being an advantage - I didn't think about how that would appeal for transit, but it makes sense. Honestly an 18lb cockapoo would be my perfect pup but unfortunately they're rarely available from rescues and I'm not really looking at the breeder route right now.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:01 AM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: I have a 60lb dog and no car, and he doesn't get to leave the city very often since we have to rent a car or arrange a car service to move him. My friend with a ~30lb dog takes her in cabs, on regional train lines, and sometimes even on the subway in a bag and it's fine (this is in NYC). I think you just have to be realistic about how heavy a dog you're willing to carry in a carrier, choose a dog who won't freak out from the noise and bustle, and to think about the fact that a shelter dog will likely gain a little weight when it comes home with you and isn't so stressed so you don't want to pick a dog at the very top of your preferred weight range.
posted by snaw at 12:01 PM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: I don't have a car (I commute via subway) but I did have, until recently, use of my ex's car. Now that that's not available, I've crunched the numbers and determined that with the cost of car payments and insurance and gas, and all that, that I could take uber or lyft every day, on errands, going out, even to work if feeling lazy, etc for far less money than it would cost to own a car.

However, I also have a 50 lb dog. I am now in the midst of car shopping because I can't take her on transit (she is not super chill about new experiences), and while we can technically walk to the vet, we can't go on our weekend hikes without driving. Some of where we hike doesn't have enough cell service to get an Uber or Lyft, assuming the driver would even allow a potentially muddy dog into their vehicle afterwards.

For what it's worth however, with regard to hiking, my ex's 13-year old cockapoo, who doesn't shed and weighs about 20lb, has tons more energy for these hikes than my medium-sized, 8-year old mutt. My friends' dearly departed chihuahua mix was, until her last few months, absolutely indomitable on long, hot hikes - and if she flagged, she was light enough to easily carry - an advantage also when running errands in stores, taking taxis, even restaurants - no one minds an 8 lb dog.

Tl;dr dog size is not correlated with dog energy, and the bigger the dog, the more problems a car-free lifestyle might pose
posted by Aubergine at 12:08 PM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: For the restricted dog-friendly services, most require a carrier

Yeah, no one follows that. I and many people I know have used Zipcars and rentals from the big agencies with our dogs and we usually just lay down a blanket or something and then make sure to lint roller the seat before turning it in (obviously if the dog is muddy or soemthing you'd need to take further measures). For taxis (in NYC), you can take dogs, but not every cab will stop for you (it's up to them if they want to take the dog or not) - I haven't had too much of a problem (10lb dogs) but friends with 20-40lb dogs have a little bit of a harder time getting a cab to stop (stand just off the curb with the dog shielded by a parked car, usually if the cab stops and you open the door before they see the dog, they'll take you).

I’m currently looking at cocker spaniels/cocker mixes in the 15-25lb range – does that seem like a good fit? How big would be too big – is 30lbs a mistake?

If you live in NYC, I would get a dog that you can physically carry by yourself for the distance between your residence and a vet's office (even if it's not your vet's office).
posted by melissasaurus at 12:08 PM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: Oh one more thing I thought of: consider whether you might want to bring your dog places other than hiking and the vet. For example, if you have friends who don't mind dogs/love dogs, and you want to go hang out with them, it is great to be able to bring your dog and not feel guilty that you're leaving your dog home alone after she's been home alone while you were at work (obviously, you would walk the dog after work, but if you duck out again for a fun Friday night, it's still a long lonely day for the dog).

Having a dog small enough you can take (by whatever means) with you to these kinds of things is a big plus.
posted by Aubergine at 12:21 PM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: We have a ~40 pound mutt. She's about 10 years old, and we've lived essentially without a car that entire time. For the first 6 years of her life, we were in upstairs apartments with no yard. That turned out to be great--it got us in the habit of giving her routine walks, and hiring dog walkers whenever we couldn't be at the house in time. The adoption group through which we found her even mentioned that they love apartment-dwellers as dog caregivers--there's no tendency to just shunt the pup out to a backyard or whatever instead of engaging, active, routine walk time, park visits, dog park socializing, etc.

I take her to the vet on foot (when I have the 45 minutes each way available to do that walk) or by taxi. Our vet even has a list of recommended drivers who love helping dogs and their people get where they need to go.

We can also walk to the place where she boards when we're out of town. It's about 30 minutes away. Again, I've taken cabs with no trouble when I've been pressed for time. On a few occasions (surprise rain mostly) I've even taken her on my city's buses to get around. It's technically not a good thing to do (she's not a service dog), but people of course do it all the time and I've only heard a few stories about drivers being fussy about it (and, of course, I never would even try this on a crowded bus).

We've never felt her size to be too much for our place (and our current place is 600 square feet).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:33 PM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: We have an 80 pound dog and no car in Chicago and we do just fine. Our dog is generally pretty chill, and we've successfully taken him in a cab on a few different occasions. Rather than trying to flag one on the street, we've called the dispatcher to specifically request a cab that will transport us and our dog. This generally has resulted in getting cab drivers who love dogs, thus making it a good experience for our dog. Our vet is within walking distance, but we've also researched emergency pet transportation and have names/numbers saved in our phones just in case he's ever injured or so sick he can't make the half mile walk. Obviously, due to his size, carrying him more than a few feet is impossible. We have taken him in rental cars--the Enterprise near us does not have a specific pet policy, so we just use a seat protector (this seat protector) and vacuum the car afterwards. He has short hair and doesn't really shed, so it usually isn't too much of a problem.

I think more than size you should think about temperament. We were lucky to adopt a dog that does well with strangers, but I imagine it would be much more difficult to use any of the pet transport / public transport / taxi options with a dog that was wary, afraid of, or stressed out by strangers.
posted by cimton at 3:09 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a 50ish lb dog. We got around on the subway, streetcar and walking. He came to the office with me most days. Very occasionally (mostly because I am cheap) we would take a cab somewhere if I was running late. It really was a non-issue, but I live downtown and have no reason to take greyhound buses or such. The only cab issue I encountered was that some Muslim cab drivers don't want dogs in their cars and they're allowed to refuse for non-service dogs, so sometimes I'd hail a cab and then have to hail another one because the first one wouldn't take my dog. This happened at most 5 times in the dog's whole life.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:13 PM on May 12, 2016

Best answer: I should add, I now have a 6 lb dog. We get around the same way (subway, streetcar, foot, occasional cab) except that she travels in a bag whereas the 50lb traveled on his own feet, of course. Anyway, while in some ways this is easier, there is one thing that makes the smaller dog more difficult that you might not have thought of: While I would tie my 50-lb dog outside secure in the knowledge that he would be there when I returned (he would never go with anyone and could quadruple his weight at will, and was actually half donkey), there is no way I would ever tie the 6lb dog up outside. So while it's true that people are pretty tolerant of small-dog-in-a-bag even in places where dogs aren't normally allowed, it's also true that in those places that do enforce a no-dogs policy (i.e. the drug store is pretty hard core), you're just SOL. You have to take the dog home, drop it off, and then go back to the drug store, or wherever. With the bigger dog you can pop into the drug store or supermarket on your way home while the dog waits outside.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:34 PM on May 12, 2016

We have two 70lb Boxers in a city with no car. It isn't really a problem; our taxi service will take dogs if I specify that I have a dog as a passenger. The key to this is that I have trained each dog to sit in the passenger footwell at my feet; the dog doesn't need to be restrained, doesn't require a crate, doesn't bounce all over the back seat, and doesn't shed everywhere.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:11 AM on May 13, 2016

If you're looking for an energetic dog who would be a good hiking companion, I would avoid cocker spaniels, as they are the doggy poster children for heart murmurs.
posted by gumtree at 8:35 AM on May 13, 2016

The size question: I had a Great Dane in a small city studio apartment, no car, and it was the best roommate situation I ever had. While it's true there's a lot of landlord concerns over big dogs, what they REALLY worry about is noise and aggression. Many large dog breeds are quieter and more mellow than smaller breeds, and if you can demonstrate your dog is chill, size will be less of an issue.

For transportation, we walked most places, but also took plenty of normal people cabs. Just let them know there's a dog when you call, and they'll usually send you the most dog-loving driver they have. Pro-tip: train your dog to sit on the space behind the front seat (instead of on the back seat) to win brownie points.

Really, your main focus should be your immediate neighbourhood. As long as you have a yard/space with nearby trash disposal for business, a few good routes for daily walks, and vet/groomer/food supply within a few blocks walking distance, your need for long-distance dog transportation should be minimized.
posted by Freyja at 9:38 AM on May 13, 2016

Response by poster: Update: an big welcome home to this amazing dude.

He's sensitive to being picked up and loves to try to dig through car floors, so we're taking the transportation thing slowly, but I'm confident now that we can handle it :).
posted by R a c h e l at 5:26 AM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

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