Pets may be part of your family, but things change when you live on a houseboat. Your first concern is safety for the pet, but dozens of other concerns apply, starting with whether or not your pet is welcome onboard, at the marina or in the community.
Illegal Dog Breeds
The pro-dog group DogPolitics.com found that 75 breeds of dogs have at some time been banned from one or more cities, counties or states. Some bans remain, some were repealed and some are yet to come. According to PetPlace.com, breeds most likely to be banned are Akita, Alaskan malamute, bulldog, bullmastiff/mastiff, chow, Doberman, German shepherd, husky, Presa Canario, Rottweiler, Staffordshire terrier (pit bull) and any combination of them. The group cites a study that found dog bites cost owners more than $16,000 per bite. That's why your liability insurer may ask what kind of dog you have. Rates could be hiked or you could be denied coverage altogether.
The breed may be banned from the city limits completely or allowed if neutered, micro-chipped, insured, muzzled and leashed. The dog must also have its shots.
Some breeds are "grandfathered" in if they were trouble-free before the ban went into effect. Because vicious dogs are often used by criminals to guard meth houses and chop shops, some municipalities prohibit convicted felons from owning certain breeds. Bans are controversial, highly emotional and a moving target. Here's one example.
Florida had a state-wide "dog profiling" law, but it was repealed in Miami and Dade County when Miami Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle found he couldn't live in some neighborhoods because the family has a rescued pit bull. Thanks to a public outcry, the ban was voted down. Bottom line: if you own a pet, stay current on how you are affected by laws and by your insurance coverage. When anchoring or docking in government parks, special rules apply.
These tips make life with pets easier.
* Order pet food online and have it delivered to your dock as needed. It's convenient and it assures continuity for pets that require a special food. Online services include PetFlow.com, PetFoodDirect.com, Mr.Chewy.com and Wag.com. All have special prices and perks.
* Before taking a pet into Canadian waters or into the U.S. from Canada, brush up on requirements and prohibitions. Go to www.inspection.gc.ca for Canadian entry laws and www.immihelp.com/immigration/pets.html for information on entering the U.S. with a pet, including birds. Before leaving Canada, discard any pet foods containing mutton, lamb, or goat meat. They aren't allowed into the U.S. In Mexico you'll need a health certificate issued by a licensed state veterinarian and proof of rabies and distemper vaccination at least 15 days old.
* Pet health insurance has gone mainstream, but it's a big, confusing puzzle. Cost is based on your "home" zip code, plus the type of pet, its age and its past health history. Types of coverage range from full medical, prescription and dental to limited services. For cruising houseboaters it's important to find a policy served by a national veterinary network, not one that is local or regional.
* Kennels have gone uptown. If you must kennel a pet, shop for one of the new pet resorts that have large exercise runs, comfortable shelters, premium food and lots of loving attention.
* Pet sitters who are members of PetSitters.org are screened, trained and well-qualified. Some may come to your houseboat by the hour; some care for pets in their homes.
* Micro-chipping is just a start. If a pet gets lost, the finder may not check for a chip or, if a valuable pet was stolen, a thief wouldn't read the chip except, perhaps, to hold you up for a reward. Many "lost pet" services come up in a Google search. Some are strictly local, which is no help if your dog has hitched a ride down the river. Some are very expensive. Some are scams. Compare.
Tragedies occur when a pet falls overboard and exhausts itself swimming to stay with the boat even though a safe shore may be nearby. Lock the pet inside while you're away and also devise a way for it to get back onboard from the water, even if you're at a dock and it usually hops off and on. Cats need only a strip of thick carpeting they can climb (unless de-clawed). Dogs need steps. A large dog may have to be hoisted onboard with a davit. Life jackets for all pets are a plus. They keep the pet afloat longer and make them more visible in the water. Too, a lifting ring on a harness lets you lift the pet safely. Yanking its collar could be harmful.