New York City presents special challenges for transporting a pet especially if you do not have a car. Most travelers to NYC plan on relying on public transportation and cabs. So a common question is what are the rules and etiquette for moving around your pet in NYC. Certain pets, such as pets that are considered dangerous (like snakes) or illegal in NYC (like ferrets), should not go on any public transportation, under any circumstances. You will notice that most issues are caused by bigger dogs and the problems they pose. It is important to note that certified service animals have a whole different set of rules.
Subway has rules on bringing pets aboard trains. As a traveler, you do not want to run afoul of the law, even if New Yorkers sometimes ignore the rules. The penalties go from a small fine to a small jail term. Even if you were to get a small fine, you have to still go before a judge.
First off, one of the rules is that your pet does not cause an annoyance to other passengers, so high strung dogs are not good candidates for the subway. For the same reason, we would strongly urge you not to take a big animal on the subway during rush hour or when there are delays (check the MTA website). Frequently, New Yorkers have just enough room to stand. Imagine a nervous dog or passenger that is afraid of dogs with nowhere to go. You probably won’t cause upset anyone if you have a small, calm animal (unlikely to bark) in a crate that can fit under your arm or on your lap. Also, all subway lines are not equal. For example, the 4,5,6 line is the most crowded line, and the rush hours are therefore longer.
Secondly, the law for the subway is that a pet always has to be in a crate. That applies even to lap dogs. You can see this presents problem with bigger dogs. One method is carrying a collapsible kennel crate with your dog on a leash, and opening it immediately as the train arrives and putting your dog. Unless you have help, the crate will have to be collapsible and light enough to carry.
Without an animal in a crate at all times, you should avoid large stations, like the Times Square or Grand Central station, even if it means walking. Any station that is a major transfer point will irritate crowds of people and police officers. In the biggest stations, you may even run into a K9 unit; an uncrated dog will certainly anger officers with work dogs as it will interfere with their jobs.
Bus drivers will only let you carry on a pet in an enclosure that will fit on your lap. As buses have much more limited exits, they will not tolerate any pet (even if you can carry the crate) that takes up floor space and presents the possibility of tripping on the way to the bus exits
Cabs are expected to pick up all people who have kennel cases for their pets. That being said, you do not want to surprise a taxi driver with your dog, so have the dog on a leash next to you when you hail a cab. If it is a busy time of day, you should realize you are not the most attractive customer. Even though it is required, it is best to ask and not get in an argument as they may just speed off.
Of course, there are services that you can get in advance that will be more accommodating. As the longer the trip, cabbies are less likely to be accommodating so be sure to tip generously and hint that you are willing to do so beforehand.
For car services, you can call them up and inquire before. If you have an appointment or flight to make, this is your safest, although most expensive, bet. There are even some taxi services dedicated to transporting pets. Of course, you may pay significantly more, but you will not have to rush into a cab and will decrease the amount of stress on your pet. As someone unfamiliar with NYC, you may want to consult the front desk of your hotel or credible sources online.
Some would like to bring their pets on ferries and explore other boroughs. The two main ferries for out-of-towners in NYC are the Staten Island ferry (from Staten Island to Manhattan and back) and the East River ferry (from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back). The rules are the same as the subway. The animal needs to be in a kennel crate and expect the operators to enforce this. Just like the subway, the ferries have a rush hour during the week that will make it difficult to transport a larger dog.
Transporting pets around NYC is not easy, especially with a bigger animal. Though with a little savvy and know-how, the difficulties can be overcome. Be cognizant of the rules and risks of any decision you make concerning public transportation because that will make as stress-free for yourself and your pet. But above all, ask people familiar with particular situations (from what are rush hours, weekend rushes and the crowded subway trains/stations) for assistance as this can make all the difference in the world in making your trip to NYC with your (furry) best friend as enjoyable as possible.
Creative Commons Photos from Flickr