Jan Etherington, The Daily Telegraph, February 12, 2014
JJ strides up the gangplank of the Queen Mary 2 with all the confidence of a seasoned traveller. He heads for deck 12 and a warm welcome from his friend, Dennis Lorca, who greets him with a bowl of water, a biscuit treat and a pat on the head. For JJ is a 10-year-old Jack Russell crossbreed from Texas, and Lorca is an on-board kennel master.
The only ship to transport pets, with their owners, across the Atlantic, today the QM2 has a dozen kennels – six “economy size” and six “supersize” – an owner’s lounge, a walking area and all the comforts a sea dog could wish for. For $500 or more (including food) dogs can accompany their owners to New York and back in rather more luxury than an aeroplane crate would afford.
It’s a far cry from the early days when, according to the ship’s executive housekeeper Colin Watson, the first kennel master was also the ship’s butcher. Lorca has been in his post for two years. “It’s a dream job. I love dogs; I have many at home, in the Philippines, and I miss them.”
The dozen kennels on the QM2 always sell out so it’s no surprise that the kennel master’s day is a long one. “I’m here from 7.30am and bedtime for the dogs is 8.30pm.” One of Lorca’s less appealing tasks is to keep the “poop deck” spic and span.
He doesn’t let the dogs out of their kennels until their owners arrive. “We don’t allow dangerous dogs on board but I need the owners to be with their pets at first, to make sure they are happy to be handled and temperamentally safe, with people and other dogs.”
Happy to discuss any queries the owners may have, Lorca encourages them to visit every day and walk their dogs on the “walkies” deck space, which is cordoned off with the sign “Danger! These animals may bite!” There is usually a dog lovers’ meeting each sailing where owners can swap tales of travelling with their animals.
Most dogs relax on board, but, says Lorca, “we’ve had a few escape artists. I remember two huskies who were determined to see the entire ship.” He adds, “In case of an emergency we carry 50 dog lifejackets, in small and large sizes. Fortunately I haven’t had to use them yet.”
There is a procedure to be observed for all dogs travelling across the Atlantic, says chief purser Chantal Robertshaw. “The UK has very strict rules and we apply those to our crossings. Before booking, each dog must have a pet passport, be microchipped and given a rabies jab – 21 days before departure.” Flea, tick and tapeworm treatments must also be administered before boarding and a vet-signed health declaration produced. Assistance and guide dogs are allowed to stay in the cabin with their owners but cannot mix with the dogs in the kennels.
Comfortable bedding is provided but owners are encouraged to bring along any favourite toys or blankets. One kennel contained a fluffy mallard duck and a toy Cookie Monster and, as I was admiring them, the dog’s owner appeared.
Dasha is a beautiful four-month-old Taigan – a rare sighthound from Kyrgyzstan. Her owner, Julius Schwarcz, is a diplomat with the US Department of State and was travelling home with his wife. “The Taigan is known as ‘the dog that can’t be bought’ because it is so rare,” explained Schwarcz. “I did a lot of research and filled in a lot of paperwork to find her.”
In spite of Dasha’s exclusive breeding and aristocratic poise, she seems happy to play with JJ, who had a very different start in life. “JJ stands for Jumping Jack,” explained his owner, Jenna Susino. “Ten years ago we were living in rural Texas and one night I saw this small dog running frantically towards the house. His paws were bloody and raw and he was obviously escaping from something. He has been with us ever since. He spent last night in the George V Hotel in Paris, and he’s looked out over the Grand Canyon and sniffed the slots in Las Vegas.”
JJ licked her hand gratefully. He knows he's a lucky dog.
A number of dogs are seasoned sailors. Two Jack Russell terriers, Jack and Erin, have acquired Diamond Dog loyalty status after making 16 trips. Their owners, Dan and Anne Lanier, winter in Fort Lauderdale in Florida and spend the summer in Castlemaine, County Kerry, travelling to and fro on the QM2.
Cunard has always allowed passengers to bring their dogs on the non-stop trans-Atlantic route. A lower deck gallery of black-and-white photographs includes one of Elizabeth Taylor (taken just after her marriage to Conrad Hilton in 1950) carrying her poodle. Latter-day pooch “stars” include Pudsey, the 2012 Britain’s Got Talent winner, who sailed with his owner, Ashleigh Butler, last year and entertained passengers with a dancing dog performance.
It’s almost time to sail and Dasha’s owner watches as she is served fresh dog biscuits (made by the QM2’s chef) and reassured and cuddled by Lorca. “Dasha is very young and a bit nervous, but she is calm with Dennis,” says Schwarcz. We call him the dogfather.”
Fares are $500 for dogs under 25lb, $700 for larger dogs, while for cats, which need two kennels (one for the litter tray), the cost is $1,000 ( cunard.co.uk ).