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.