How to get dogs on the NYC Subway or commuter rails

Dogs on NYC Subway

The New York City subway system can intimidate people. Even those not trying to smuggle a dog. But this weekend my husband David and I got 60 pounds of dog on an E train (and LIRR train, two taxies, a bus and the Fire Island ferry) with remarkably little fuss.

Unbeknownst to many dog people, the MTA allows dogs: you can bring them as long as they are in a crate or carrier. That means if you have the right carrier, you can get your dog on a subway, Long Island Railroad, or even New Jersey Transit (not part of the MTA) train. The happy exception is Metro-North Railroad, where you don’t even need a cage.

As UrbanHound points out, there are some oddly worded rules that effectively mean you can be asked to leave. The subway bans “big dogs”; Metro North “offensive” ones; NJ transit specifies that you need “a well-secured container designed for transporting animals.”

We conquered Metro-North and New York City taxis with our last dog, Jolly, who was 75 pounds. His size intimidated some people, but he was a complete gentleman. Our beagles are small (Moxie: 25 pounds, Huckleberry 35) but they are a riot of enthusiasm. Luckily, their small, sweet, adorable beagle package means  people generally welcome them enthusiastically.

Friday we tried our first New York City transit gambit with them.  Tiny dogs travel about New York all the time; the challenge is for non-purse dogs. We got a bike stroller contraption by Aosom off Amazon for about $120. We’d previously had a larger InStep one for our senior dog Jolly to get to the park after he had vestibular syndrome. They’re built for hauling kids behind a bike, but can be converted to a stroller. The current model is fine, but not great; it tips backwards, won’t let you remove the bike attachment and has a useless handbrake instead of a much-needed foot brake. But, it folds up, comes apart and gets you and your dogs (up to 100 pounds) through spaces and places you ordinarily couldn’t go.

  • TAXI A cab was hard to find, but that had nothing to do with the dogs. One cab did say no to us, as is their right. But another came quickly behind. I carried handi-wipes and wiped off the seat as we left. An important rule of dog etiquette in Manhattan is that your dog needs to be a good tipper, especially if somebody welcomes or tolerates them who doesn’t have to. We had to totally disassemble the stroller and put it in the trunk.
  • TRAIN STATIONS Check ahead which stations have elevators and where they are. Do they get you to the tracks or just the station level? Also, know that subway elevators are notoriously unreliable. We were originally planning to take the subway from Union Square, but that elevator was broken. The Penn Station elevator is at the LIRR entrance on 34th (near Garrett’s Popcorn).
  • LONG ISLAND RAILROAD This was the segment I most dreaded, but it ended up being the easiest. The ticket agents were cheerfully helpful. One pointed us to the handicapped door that’s on each train car. It leads to a large open area to accommodate wheelchairs, but it has fold-down seats. We took one elevator to the station level and another down to the tracks. We got the dogs into the cart before we got on the train. Also, we traveled off-peak. The smaller the crowd, the less trouble you’ll cause.
  • INFLIGHT SNACK Bribe, appease and entertain your dogs. The beagles each got their own chew bones. And by the time they were done, they took a nap.
  • FIRE ISLAND FERRY The ferries to Fire Island are aggressively dog-friendly. Your dogs get their own tickets. They can sit anywhere. And why not? The boat is generally meant to be hosed down.
  • FIRE ISLAND FERRY CONNECTIONS Between the LIRR and the ferries is a gap of several miles. Whenever a train lands, there will be cabs. And if you’re connecting to a ferry, there will likely be buses. On the way out we took a cab for $10. On the way back we took the bus. There was some wrangling over which bus they should put us on with dogs, but it was fine. Cost the same for the two of us as the cab.
  • NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY The travel went so smoothly, we were feeling cocky by the time we got back to Penn Station. Also, we didn’t feel like disassembling the cart–even though it only takes a few minutes. So, we went for the subway. You have to make it through a maze of tunnels and elevators to find trains going in the right direction. The cart won’t fit through the subway turnstyle; you have to go through the gate for people who have disabilities, strollers or large packages. The city recently got rid of a bunch of the subway agents, so there’s no one to buzz you through. So, you really need two people: I swiped my MetroCard twice, went through, then opened the door to let David and the beagles in. We got a few unamused looks, but even more happy exclamations of “Beagles!” They rode quietly in their cart the whole time they were in the system. I wondered if we were just benefiting from not being seen by the authorities, but when we got to the West Fourth Street Station, the attendant buzzed us out and a cop watched as we unloaded the cart because the elevator was broken.

We now feel that we and the beagles are veteran NYC travelers.

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11 comments to How to get dogs on the NYC Subway or commuter trains

  • I have a pitbull if I get him a dog stroller can I bring him on
    mta he is a beautful wounderful sweet dog just want to be able to take him to the
    City with me to the dog parks cant afford to take taxi service please if any know info please let me know

  • mimi

    I have a 100 pound very friendly and well behaved Rotti. It’s not fair that the large dogs can’t ride the trains and subways. Boston allows large dogs to ride the subways during the off peak time. No reason why New York city can’t do the same.

  • i’ve taken the path train with the stroller, no problem. haven’t taken the bigger trains, though. good luck and let me know how it turns out.

  • Seema

    Hi! Have you ever gone with the dogs on the NJ Transit? DO you know if a dog stroller would be sufficient? Thank you.

  • grace

    i have a bunny in a dog stroller. lol. but difficult to fold up. if there is only one person

  • grace

    how about getting on the bus? in nyc. I went on one…and got kicked off, second bus came and the driver was fine with it. I tried googling it if pet strollers are allowed on mta buses but nothing useful came up. if anyone has any info please post. thanks :3

  • Alexandra

    Thanks a lot for posting this. It is really intimidating to think about bringing a pup with you but now I got some ideas for my 40lb. companion to tag along with me!!

  • Elisa

    Thanks so much for posting this information. I have a 40 lb, 3-legged dog who I adopted while in Peace Corps here in the Dominican Repubulic and am used to taking her everywhere with me. I was afraid that I would have to quit that entirely, but now I know that I don’t necessarily have to 🙂 Right now we only have the airline kennel, but I’m guessing we’ll be able to get around with that for a while before I invest in a doggy stroller.

    All the best!

  • Gary

    I have lived in NYC for the entire 13 yrs. that I have had my beagle. Have loved taking her on MetroNorth trains but just took her on the subway for the first time & since we already had experience with her riding on her stroller, was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to try it for the first time on Christmas day 2011. Thinking I was violating some rule – I now am learning how I can do this more often which is a great relief since I like taking her places with me & can’t really afford taxis or car rentals. Thank you for sharing your adventures here.

  • MW

    This is great to know but have SEVERAL questions. I’m not from the NYC area–far from it, and am used to the slow country life in the South ; ). But my husband and I will be traveling from Boston to NYC for a 5 day vacation. We’re wanting to park outside the city and ride the train in but of course we have 2 black labs that we need to get in the city and thought it was going to be hopeless until I read this. My only problem is I’m not familiar with the train system, commuter rail etc so all the info you provided was way over my head in terms of what is what. Our while trip has been planned and seems smooth all except for figuring out how to get these dang dogs into the city without costing an arm and a leg ; ). Any insight you could provide on the best dog-friendly route to take if coming from Boston to NYC on UWS would be so helpful. We don’t have the crate you mentioned and would prefer not to have to buy one if could be avoided just for this one trip. And I know of dog friendly cabs once in the city (canine cab Inc) just need to be able to get into the city hassle free with the dogs. ; )

    Thanks so much!