Two weeks after Kim Bruno returned his rental car in San Francisco, he received a surprise $285 charge from Budget.
The reason? “Pet hair,” says Bruno, a lawyer in the District. He and his wife had visited the Bay Area with her emotional support animal, an Australian cattle dog named Sprite.
“The customer service department sent me photos of the car,” he says. “There was some pet hair below the rear passenger’s seat. It did not look excessive to me. It could be vacuumed up.”
If you don’t own a cat or dog, then you probably don’t give a second thought to pet hair when you travel. (The exception, of course, is if you suffer from pet allergies — then you’re likely to be hyperaware.) But it can be a problem for all travelers, even the ones who are without allergies or who travel without their furry companions.
After leaving a vacation rental in Arizona last year, I received a phone call from the property manager, who wanted to know what kind of dog I had. I’ve been dogless since our beloved cockapoo, Taffy, crossed the rainbow bridge years ago. And yet dark pet hair covered one of the sofas, according to the manager. She threatened to deduct even more money from my security deposit, even though I’d already paid almost $400 in routine cleaning charges.
What could have left pet hair in the living room? Had a wild animal somehow entered the rental after we checked out? But I had locked the door. Finally, after quizzing my kids, I found the culprit: The rental had supplied several fuzzy blankets, which shed on the couch during our stay.
Eventually, the manager agreed to clean the blanket residue at her expense. But for me, it was a warning about the perils of pet hair. The travel industry generally takes a hard line on fur, although it may see pets as a potential profit center.
Budget is clear about its pet policy. “Housebroken pets are invited to travel in your rental car, just as they do in your personal car,” Budget says on its website. “Although Budget doesn’t assess an extra fee for pets, pet owners will incur an additional charge for any damage caused by animals, or any special cleaning required as a result of shedding or accidents.”
Alice Pereira, a Budget spokeswoman, says that when a customer returns a vehicle with “excessive soilage,” it takes extra time to clean it. “When this happens, the car must be taken out of service to address whatever the problem is, whether it’s a stain or excessive hair on the upholstery,” she says. “So the customer is assessed a cleaning fee.”
After what Bruno describes as a “contentious” exchange with a Budget employee in San Francisco, and then several polite emails, the company dropped its $285 cleaning fee.
I asked the experts — folks who travel regularly with their pets — how they handle the hair problem.
Beware of fees, says Kathryn McGinnis, an executive assistant from New York who travels with her pug, Garp. Hotels and vacation rentals that charge pet fees — usually between $100 and $200 per stay — are more likely to charge additional fees for pet hair cleanup, she says.
She tries to find hotels without pet fees. On a recent visit to San Diego, she booked a room at the Kimpton Palomar in the Gaslamp Quarter. “They charged zero pet fees and were awesome with Garp,” she says.
Pet travelers have noticed an uptick in hotels that welcome their animal companions. Ali Jarvis, CEO of Sidewalk Dog Media in Minneapolis, a resource for pet travel, says the Twin Cities offer plenty of dog-friendly options.
“Radisson RED and Home2 Suites by Hilton both welcome our furry friends with open arms and pet-focused amenities,” she says. “Shed happens, and it’s wonderful to see more and more hotels opening up their spaces to our four-legged family members.”
How can you tell if a hotel is pet-friendly? Consider the El Portal Sedona Hotel in Sedona, Ariz. It doesn’t charge a pet fee or cleaning charge unless Rover decides to go on a rampage. The hotel is designed for pets, with wood-and-tile flooring throughout, so cleaning is easy.
“Guests are given a pet welcome basket with a blanket to put on the bed, sofa, chair to protect it from shedding,” co-owner Steve Segner says. “There are treats and poop baggies in it as well. We want guests to bring their pets on vacation with them.”
Even so, you have to be extra vigilant about hair, says Michael Cobb, an account executive based in Chicago. He travels with Roxy, an 8-year-old female boxer who “sheds a lot.”
“Be prepared to do cleaning yourself,” he says. “Your lint roller is not going to work. Get a nice dust buster to help clean up that hairy mess. An investment in a portable vacuum cleaner could save you in the long run.”
That sounds a little extreme, but if you’re driving, you might already have a handheld vacuum cleaner in the car. And Cobb makes a valid point: If you think upfront pet fees are bad, you don’t even want to know about post-stay pet-related cleaning fees.
Hotel guests, car renters and vacation rental guests can pay hundreds of dollars, even thousands, to fix the pet hair problem. And, as my experience in Arizona suggests, you don’t even have to travel with a pet.
But is the travel industry profiting from the pet hair problem? From a pet owner’s perspective, it certainly looks that way. And if you’re not a pet owner and have to pay for pet hair, then definitely.
“I think it depends,” says Amy Burkert, author of “The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip.” “When I’ve discussed this with hotel managers, they’ve indicated that the pet fee is not just about cleaning the room. Hotels also end up comping rooms for guests who are disturbed by barking dogs, for example. Gaining that perspective shed new light on the pet fees hotels charge.”
In other words, the extra fee you pay to deal with the pet hair more than covers the cost of the cleanup. In some instances, it offsets the complaints about your fur baby barking all night. As more Americans travel with pets, the problem of pet hair doesn’t belong solely to them and their dogs and cats. It’s everyone’s problem now.