Flying with a Small Dog: Misadventures with Airline Pet Policies

My dog likes to fly. 

Chicken has flown on several different airlines and has been as far north as Alaska and as far south as Puerto Rico. She has been shown preferential treatment because of her ‘cuteness’ (Alaska Airlines); she’s had her tickets revoked and non-refunded (American Airlines); and she’s even been a stowaway and gotten away with it (United Airlines). 

First off, let me tell you a little about Chicken. She’s a true lap dog—a long-haired Chihuahua/Papillon mix—weighing in around 15-pounds. She’s a healthy dog, about 4.5 years old, potty trained, has all her shots, and is good with people.

She’s never flown internationally, sat in First Class, or joined the Mile High Club. Yet. But along the way, we have learned a few lessons.

#1: Pet carriers. We’ve tried a few different kinds. Soft-sided carriers seem to be the best because the area under the seats have slight dimensional differences and the soft sides can bend to fit. The pet carriers found at Petco (Sherpa brand) are generally too small for Chicken.

We are currently using a Snoozer *link here*. We purchased the carrier on Amazon and are very happy with it.

Chicken under the seat

Even the flight attendants notice and approve of it’s size. We use it as a backpack (although it can be used as a roller cart as well) and Chicken likes it too. Before placing the Snoozer underneath the seat, I detach the hard wheel platform (picture below) which makes for an easier fit.

Detachable platform

Pro tip: Next time you visit your veterinarian, ask them to create a document stating your dog’s carry-on case is the correct size for your pet. (See why in Tip #9)

#2 Pet Policy: You’d think this might be a standardized set of rules but unfortunately this isn’t the case. Links to the different Pet Policies can be found here:

  Alaska Airlines

  United Airlines




Pet Fees. Alaska Airlines charges $100 each way, Delta $95 each way, United $125 (and an additional $125 if your layover is more than 4-hours), Southwest $95, American Airlines $125.

#3: Pet travel kit: Along with your leash and bowl; you should have poop bags, wet wipes, paper towels (for accidents), treats, and documentation of your dog’s rabies shot—which may be requested during check-in although we’ve only been asked for it when flying to and from Puerto Rico. I also bring a dog coat in case the flight gets cold.

#4: Stowaway: During the height of the pandemic you could get away with sneaking your dog on the plane because the flight attendants were busy checking for people’s masks, not dogs. Those days are now gone. You can get through security with your pet but when trying to board the plane, they will ask to see if you paid the pet fee (a tag attached to your pet carrier is required). No pay, no board. Best to reserve your pet’s spot on the plane by calling ahead of time.

#5: Sedatives: Chicken is naturally a nervous dog. I’ve found if I act confident, she will trust me. Going through TSA can be especially intimidating for pets. I hold Chicken throughout the process and she does fine. There are several reasons I disagree with sedatives. First, altitude will increase the effects of the drug (yes, even in a pressurized cabin), so it’s best to give a much smaller dose than your veterinarian suggests. Secondly, sedatives can make your pet physically sick and they might associate that feeling with air travel which will only increase the pet’s stress level on subsequent flights.  It should be noted that Chicken is very good on planes and doesn’t bark. One time, she did escape under the seat to visit the people behind me, but those nice people ushered her back the way she’d come.

Pro tip: If you have a well behaved animal, you can put them on your lap during the flight, hiding them under a blanket. 

#6: Pet Relief Areas: These can be hard to find and your pet might not know what to do when you get there. We take Chicken on a long walk just before the flight and then we don’t feed her before or during our flights. We give her water just before landing in hopes she might use the Pet Relief Areas. If there are long layovers we take her outside past security.

Would your dog know what to do here?

#7: Alaska Airlines: This is our preferred airline when flying with Chicken. The flight attendants and ticket counter folks were very sweet to her and they never weighed her or measured her carry-on case or any of that BS. However, they don’t accept certain breeds. So check their pet policy (link above)

#8: Service Animals: On my latest flight, I saw a huge K-9 service dog (German Shepherd) sitting at a guy’s feet. So apparently if you have a registered service animal you may be able to take very large breeds on the plane and don’t need to follow any of their dumb rules. I’m looking into this because Chicken can detect earthquakes.

#9:  Avoid American Airlines. Here’s why: we were on a red-eye flight to New Orleans to see family. Chicken’s $125 dollar Pet Fee was paid in advance. We went up to the desk to get our tickets and the lady there wanted to weigh Chicken. 15lbs. Then she measured Chicken from head to toe like a piece of luggage. She then deemed our carry-on case too small. We followed their online Pet Policy and have flown with this same case on several different airlines. We put Chicken in the case to demonstrate that she had plenty of room but the lady just folded her arms. So we had to cancel our tickets—and to make matters worse—they refused to refund our money.

Just 30-minutes later, I saw a lady going through security with a dog twice the size of Chicken. I asked what airline she was on and she said American! “How did you get past the check-in counter?” I asked. She had issues with American Airlines on previous visits, so she had her vet write up a document stating that her carry-on case was the correct size for her dog. Smart. After that tip, we did the same. However, once we stopped using American, we never had the issue of being denied travel again.

I’ve spoken to a few other frequent-flying pet-owners and they too have had issues with American Airlines. Anyway, avoid them and avoid a headache.

Search for the Frenchman’s Lost Cave

New Discoveries in the Dominican Republic

By Dave Weimer & Lukas Eddy

The ‘Third Nipple Formation’

We have a big problem. 

It was a text from Lukas Eddy in the Dominican Republic. He and his wife, Suhei, had scoured the country for over a month looking for some mythical ‘lost cave’ and apparently–they’d found it. We’d been invited to help with the mapping. 

I texted back: Problem??


We needed a solution fast. I suggested chemical warfare: 

    A couple cans of Raid should solve the problem, right?

   No. That would just make them angry. But, I have an idea… 

So there we were, wearing full-body bee suits while hacking through jungle in the sweltering heat of the West Indies. The humidity was stifling and the suit was like wearing a sweater in a sauna. Worse still, the screen on the hood was difficult to see through and we kept getting caught on vines and thorns, only able to free ourselves by beating the foliage with a dull machete. Lukas, who is notoriously frugal, had a slightly easier time because he had only purchased the hood part of the suit and didn’t have to deal with the ungainliness of walking like a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

Bee suit ridge-walking

   “Be careful,” he whispered. Then he gazed up into the canopy, “They’re everywhere.”

Whether these were the infamous Africanized Killer Bees, or Murder Hornets; or perhaps some undocumented species of vespid–like a ‘Screaming-Torture Wasp’ or a ‘Holocaust Hornet’–he never said. 

I looked to Suhei, who has a more level, demure nature. But she agreed with Lukas,       

   “The wasps are extremely aggressive.” 

I began to wonder if this was some kind of elaborate practical joke. But then I saw them. Blending in with the surrounding foliage were fist-sized nests covered in finger-sized wasps. They were larger than typical wasps, and yes, they looked like the type that could murder. Later, Suhei showed us one of the spots where she’d been stung. On her leg was a shockingly large, purple welt. It looked like she’d been beaned with a softball. 

   “From just one sting,” she said. “And one landed on Lukas’s eye!”

We tiptoed through the minefield of nests and down into a sinkhole. There in front of us appeared a massive, yawning cave entrance––120-feet wide by 100-feet tall.

The unmapped cave.
Ancient bat bones

“At first we thought this was the Frenchman’s ‘Lost Cave’,” Lukas said. “But it’s only about 600-feet long.” 

Finding an unmapped cave of this size is a monumental discovery in itself. But Lukas and Suhei wanted to find something even more extraordinary—perhaps the longest cave in the country, if not the entire Caribbean.

Entering the mouth of the cavern, I craned my neck to the high ceiling. There were stalactites as thick as tree trunks and several feet long.

“How the hell did you find this?” I asked.  

                                                   *       *       *

Their journey began at Phillip Lehman’s stately home on the island’s breezy north coast. Phillip is one of the few cave divers living in the DR full time and is a founding member of the Dominican Republic Speleological Society (DRSS). Lehman––who in the 1980’s was a renowned graffiti artist and later formed and headed several acclaimed record labels––had been cave diving here for over 15 years. 

The Eddys had a question they believed only an expert like Philip could answer. If most of the Caribbean islands are comprised of limestone, and Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba––even relatively small and flat islands, like the Bahamas, Turks, and Caymans––all have well documented systems; why are there so few known caves in the Dominican Republic? How could such a large country with plenty of karst, not be riddled with caves? 

Phillip explained over dinner. Indeed, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of caves. But these were of the underwater variety: extensive, flooded networks found all along the coastline. These systems generally start with a very short, dry passage, then quickly terminate in a sump. In all his years of searching, Phillip has rarely found caves that deviate from this model. He emphasized, however, that the DRSS focuses entirely on cave diving and there are virtually no active ‘dry’ cavers in the whole region.

There have been a few notable exceptions. In 1988, an Italian team descended 1200-feet into a cave in the central mountains that ended abruptly at an underground river. In 2005, another international team re-explored this same cave but like the Italians, were also repelled by the frothing, subterranean rapids. In 2017, a French team explored a 300-foot-deep sinkhole near Pedernales, unfortunately, they found no continuing passage at the bottom. Their efforts were only acknowledged by a swarm of wasps that attacked and stung one member of the team 18 times! This did not bode well for the Eddys .

 The trio sat outside in the tropical heat, well past sunset. Phillip suddenly recalled a story. It was just a rumor, and whether it was true or not—he couldn’t say. 

“Two decades ago,” he began, “An old Frenchman moved to a small town in the southeast region and started looking for caves. After several years, he confided to a friend that he’d found a 10-kilometer system.” The old man suddenly died, and the location of the cave went with him to the grave. 

 And where could this hidden gem possibly be located? 

“Head to the town of Boca de Yuma,” he said. “Look for a cross-eyed man named Cruzito. Maybe he can help you.”

 Now this is what Lukas and Suhei had come for. A good old-fashioned Indiana-Jones-type adventure. Find the man with crossed eyes, locate the Frenchman’s lost cave, map and document the longest cave in the Dominican Republic. With supreme optimism and their sights set on Boca de Yuma, they rolled down the windows on their rental car, and pulled onto the highway.

                                                 *      *      *

“He’s full of it.” I told Ashlee as I looked up from my phone. “Lukas says they found the Lost Cave. And get this––he says it’s as decorated as the wild caves we saw in Carlsbad. Ha! They must really need help with the mapping.” 

Lukas was referring to Carlsbad National Park, New Mexico, whose legendary caverns showcase some of the most beautiful, pristine formations in North America. Although I’d never known Lukas to be an exaggerator, a find of that significance seemed highly improbable. But still, the Eddys had found something and their powers of persuasion worked. With bee suits folded neatly in our luggage, we boarded the plane for Punta Cana. This wasn’t going to be your typical Caribbean holiday.

                                                   *       *       *

 Boca de Yuma is a cliffside fishing village surrounded by coconut trees. It has no beaches and therefore, no resorts. Fresh fish is brought in from the sea daily and delivered to the open-air restaurants by the wheelbarrow full. Puerto Rico rests 70-miles away, just beyond the horizon, but felt a world apart. The Dominican Republic is far less developed than its island neighbor and possesses all the rawness  and exoticism of Zanzibar.

Amazingly, the Eddys found the man with crossed eyes. Cruzito had spent his entire life in the jungle and pointed out the location of several caves.

 One of these was a small pit and a former guano collection site. Rotten canvas bags and broken, rusted shovels littered the entrance skylight room. Its location near a common thoroughfare was additionally bad news: it meant that it had probably been vandalized. Imagine my disappointment when the Eddys led us to this exact hole-in-the-ground. This was the mythical “Lost Cave” filled with “Carlsbad” formations? It was more likely to be filled with garbage and graffiti. I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of going in, but we trudged on.

Entrance chamber

Climbing down into the pit, I scanned the walls for whip scorpions, centipedes, and tarantulas. The upper section was three-tiered and mazey. Suhei was first, leading us farther away from sunlight and past the point of their original investigations. Apparently the bats didn’t like going deeper into the cave either as their guano piles receded behind us. Strangely, there weren’t any footprints. No one had come this far in recent memory; not the Eddys, not the guano miners, not even the mysterious Frenchman. 

 The passage opened into a gymnasium-sized chamber. Our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the large room. Thousands of ivory-colored stalactites oozed from the ceiling like melted wax.

There were delicate broomsticks, soda straws, and drapery. Eventually we would name this the Carlsgood Room. Proceeding down a web of subway-like tunnels, we found rimstone dams that harbored golf ball-sized cave pearls we called ‘cave marshmallows’; we ogled at teetering pillars of orange rock that resembled Dr. Seuss castles. Removing our shoes, we walked across flowstone as white and crystalline as sugar. There were gothic chambers fit for a dragon, and portholes peering into miniature worlds where an industrious gnome could find the perfect workshop. I found myself rushing forward, gripped by the intoxicating high of discovery. 

Cave marshmallows

We had heard that the island’s original inhabitants––the Taíno Indians––had once used the caves as tombs, and it was possible to find ancient artifacts and remains. I rounded each corner expecting to find a pile of fossilized skulls and bones.  If ever there was a sacred cave on the island––it was surely this one. Beautiful and pristine, it was a truly remarkable find.

Cave bacon

 In a five-day siege, we mapped 4000+ feet of passage, stopping at a tight lead that would require breaking formations to pass. Ashlee and I were thrilled with what we had seen and accomplished; but for the Eddys, this was a far cry from the fabled 10-kilometer system they’d hoped for.

 Lukas is reluctant to admit that the Frenchman’s story might have been just that—a story. But, he says, “What I do know is the DR is possibly the least-explored limestone region in North America, and the potential for numerous long, deep, decorated caves here remains high. The golden age of Dominican cave-exploration is just beginning. The future will surely bring countless entrances, passages, systems, and sumps.”

 “And,” he continues with a smile, “Probably bees and wasps, too.”

Video of our trip can be found *HERE*

Jungle Camping (Suriname)

Gear List and Lessons Learned

Lessons learned:

—Eyelash viper, Bushmaster, Coral, and other venomous snakes are mostly peaceful creatures. However, the Fer-de-lance (French for spearhead) is camouflaged and will strike unprovoked. It’s a nasty little bugger that needs to be watched out for. Never step over a log without knowing what’s on the other side and remember, they can be hiding in the trees as well. I looked into buying antivenins but they are extremely costly and you need specific concoctions for specific snakes.

—Sharp tingling sensation on the body that flares when hot or sweating is likely a byproduct of fungus growing on clothes. Washing clothes with soap and water seemed to resolve the issue. Antifungal cream (Tinactin) was applied to affected skin as well. Tinactin saved my feet in Guyana from a debilitating case of Jungle Rot. (See pic below)

Trench Foot and Jungle Rot are terms often used interchangeably but are different maladies. Trench Foot is a term coined by the men who fought in the trenches of WWI. This is an immersion issue. Wet feet kept in damp, cold environments (like combat boots) for long periods of time can cause the flesh to die and sluff off. Simply drying your feet at the end of the day will prevent this. Jungle Rot, however, is a debilitating fungal infection which drying alone won’t cure. At first it feels like a severe case of Athlete’s Foot: tingling and cracking between the toes. The issue progresses rapidly until it feels like you are walking on broken glass. Look HERE for good advice on preventing Jungle Rot.

—Rocks are a good deterrent against overly curious caiman (alligators). Carry them in your packraft while floating. Flare gun might have been useful to scare off the jaguar we encountered. Maybe. Whistles on the other hand seemed to excite him. The shrill noise may have resembled the screams of an injured animal.

—Once away from the riverbanks where foliage can grow thick, primary rainforest is fairly easy to walk through. It’s not like bushwhacking, as the shade from the canopy prevents thick undergrowth. Mostly. But it’s very easy to get turned around. On the Rewa River, Paul Smotherman and I went in circles and didn’t believe our compass. GPS doesn’t work under thick canopy so be careful. If venturing into the jungle, don’t lose sight of the river.

—Machetes are required and so is the skill to use them. A file to sharpen the blade is also a must. I’ve bought cheap machetes and the metal is worthless. Might as well bring a good one from the states. Be aware that a self-inflicted machete wound could lead to a disastrous situation in a remote environment.

—Always find camp well before dusk and the nightly feeding frenzy. Caiman are nocturnal, not a good idea to be paddling at night. Camp well away from the water’s edge. Start looking for your campsite around 4pm.

—Campsites are best found in the jungle, not on the beaches. This is opposite from what most river runners are used to. Ashlee and I used hammocks and the Eddy’s used a tent. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. It takes much longer to set up a hammock and you need to find two sturdy trees. But if the ground is sufficiently wet or it rains hard, the tent will form pools of water inside that make for an uncomfortable night. Because I am tall, I prefer a double hammock which allows me to sleep in a more horizontal position. I prefer the mosquito netting attached instead of the ‘wizard sleeve’ set up. We sprayed the bottom of our hammocks and hammock straps with permethrin to keep the mosquitos, ants, and ticks off. We found permethrin at Tomahawk (the REI of Suriname).

 At first, the jungle at night is unbearably hot. The hammock campers will be glad to have air circulating around them. At about 1am, however, the temperature drops and due to the high humidity, it becomes surprisingly cold. Then the tent campers will be glad they chose their particular shelter. Either way, everyone needs a lightweight sleeping bag. Pro Tip: Clear the leaves and foliage away from your hammock and tent. It will be easier to see creepy crawlies and ants won’t like it. Also, ants are attracted to the salt in urine, so pee well away from your camping area.

—Campfires are wonderful. But the rain and humidity can make them difficult to start. I found bringing cotton balls dipped in vaseline is a great firestarter. Don’t build your campfire directly on the ground as it will absorb the water and extinguish the flame. Instead, split a piece of dead wood and light atop the two dry halves. You will need about an hour of daylight to collect enough firewood for the night. Even with a good headlamp I found it difficult to find usable firewood at night.

—They sell a few different stoves and fuel types at Tomahawk but we found their isobutane/propane canisters were unthreaded and weren’t compatible with our Jetboil-type screw-on stoves. At the last minute we bought a large Coleman style stove, which was heavy and not fun to portage with.

—Bathing: By all means, swim in the river. But not at night! And if I were you I’d keep my trousers on. The red-bellied piranha are small and it takes a lot of them to do much damage. The black piranha, however, are conniving (and cannibalistic) and large enough to bite your dick off. I met a villager in Guyana with a baseball-sized chunk missing from his leg. He said a piranha did it. Also, women should not bathe while menstruating for obvious reasons. Also the candiru, a toothpick-sized parasitic catfish, has a fondness for swimming up an unsuspecting person’s anus, vagina, and surprisingly—even a man’s urethra. Once inside, it flares its spines and feeds on the resulting blood. The fish must be surgically removed. 

—Sunblock is a must. Large brimmed hat helps to prevent sun burns. 

—The airstrip at Raleighvallen (Foengoe/Fungu Island) is overgrown and not currently safe for landing fixed-wing aircraft. There is apparently no way to contact anyone at Raleighvallen as they do not have a satellite phone or InReach. There is no food to buy in Raleighvallen (or much of anything else) but the few locals there will sell you warm beer.

—To treat river-water, our group used a combination of SteriPEN and Aquamira. Silty water can make the ultraviolet light of the SteriPEN less effective. I’ve tried various filters (pump, gravity) to remove the silt but they clog easily. Another way to remove silt is to boil the water hard for a few minutes, then let the water cool. The silt will separate from the water as it cools. Afterwards, pour the clear water off the top into your bottle. The boiling also purifies the water. An MSR Dromedary is nice if you find a clear water stream. Fill it up and carry the silt-free water with you.

—Statistically, you are most likely to die in the jungle by being struck by a falling tree. Massive, healthy-looking hardwoods rot from the inside and can fall unexpectedly, especially after a hard rain. Choose your campsites well. Cody Dial, from Alaska, ventured into the jungle of Costa Rica and disappeared. Most suspected foul play. Two years later his skeleton was found; he’d been crushed by a falling tree.

In summation: Careful of snakes, falling trees, and dick-eating fish.


Paddle Gear 

  • Packraft
  • Paddle (four piece)
  • Bow bag
  • Twinky Tubes X2
  • Inflation bag
  • PFD 
  • Large Backpack
  • Duffel
  • Drybags

Repair kit

  • Duct tape
  • Tyvek Tape
  • Tooth floss + needles 
  • Packraft repair patches, etc.


  • Hammock w/mosquito screen attached
  • Hennessy Hex Fly
  • Hammock straps 2X10ft
  • Carabiners X4
  • MSR Ground Hog stakes X10
  • Extra parachute cord (clothes line)
  • Lightweight sleeping bag 
  • Small 2ft X 4ft ground tarp (for getting in and out of hammock)
  • Inflatable pillow (luxury)
  • Stove (could not find jetboil screw-on canisters at Tomahawk)
  • Fuel 
  • Aluminum Pot
  • Pot grabber
  • Mug X2 (used as bowl as well)
  • Spoon X2
  • Knife
  • Headlamp + Batteries (+ spare headlamp)


  • Rain jacket 
  • Long sleeve synthetic button down (primary)
  • Underware X2
  • Quick dry pants
  • Fleece Pants
  • Dry camp shirt
  • Crocs
  • Socks for river
  • Waterproof dry bagX 2
  • Buff
  • Wristwatch
  • Belt (not leather)
  • Tennis shoes for river


  • Waterproof Maps
  • Compass
  • iPhone, Gaia/Earthmate/CalTopo (CalTopo seemed to be the best)
  • iPhone case
  • InReach


  • X4 Days Dehydrated
  • Beef bullion
  • Tomato bullion
  • Spice kit
  • 8 days food
  • Variety of pre-dinner soups for each night.

Water treatment

  • 5L MSR Dromedary 
  • Aquamira 1 oz bottles (treats 30 gallons) X2
  • SteriPEN Classic w/ Nalgene bottle prefilter/adapter


  • Passport
  • Cash $300 US + $6000 SRD
  • Print out entrance waiver 
  • Wallet
  • Covid vac card
  • Yellow Fever Card
  • Masks
  • Bug repellent(Ben’s 100% Deet)
  • Headnet
  • Sunblock
  • Permethrin- bug dope applied to underside of hammock and hammock straps
  • Cotton balls dipped in vaseline (firestarter)
  • Lighter/matches 
  • Toothpaste/brush
  • Machete/file
  • Soap
  • Extra Ziplocks
  • Fishing pole + tackle 
  • Small tackle box: lures, steel leader wire, bobber, hooks
  • Leatherman
  • Toilet paper
  • Water bottle
  • Camp towel (never dried)

First Aid Kit

  • Blister kit
  • Nasal strips
  • Duct tape
  • Band aids (variety)
  • Stretch bandage
  • Aspirin/Ibuprofen
  • Antifungal-Tinactin
  • Iodine tablets 
  • Antihistamine eye drops
  • Benadryl/Loratadine
  • Tweezers
  • Neosporin
  • Imodium
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • One course of amoxicillin (antibiotic)
  • Pepto Bismol (chewable) 

Camera Gear

  • GoPro
  • GoPro batteries X3
  • iPhone/cable
  • Portable charger/cables
  • Waterproof containers


  • InReach
  • Charger cord