For pets on B.C. Ferries, a whole new leash on life

Fido and Diva have spoken — through their owners, that is — and B.C. Ferries has listened.

Feedback from pet owners has inspired B.C. Ferries to develop a higher standard for pet-friendly areas on its ferry fleet, said Corinne Storey, vice-president of customer services.

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“We recognize the importance of comfort and amenities for customers travelling with pets,” said Storey, explaining why B.C. Ferries decided to improve pet areas.

“These new upgrades will improve the travel experience, not only for our customers but for our furry friends as well.”

Upgraded pet-friendly areas, which are on car decks, will include kennels, radiant heating, comfortable benches, hygiene products and powerful new speakers to ensure safety announcements can be heard.

Kennels will give pet owners the option of remaining with their pet in the designated pet area, or leaving them in a locked kennel there during the sailing.

Walk-on passengers must currently remain with their animals in designated pet areas during the crossing.

Dogs must remain on leash and under the owners’ care in the pet area during sailings, and all other pets, including cats, ferrets and birds, must be in a carrying case.

With the exception of certified guide and service dogs, pets are not allowed in passenger areas and must remain on the car deck.

Pets belonging to customers travelling by vehicle are expected to remain in the vehicle during crossings.

They can use the pet area if space permits, and in the case of issues such as overheating.

The Society of British Columbia Veterinarians has worked with B.C. Ferries on the design and maintenance of pet-friendly areas, said spokesman Dr. Rob Ashburner.

Penny Stone, executive director of the Victoria Humane Society, applauded the B.C. Ferries announcement.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Stone, whose non-profit society uses B.C. Ferries to transport animals.

“I prefer to stay in the car now as opposed to taking animals into the animal area when I’m crossing,” she said. “It’s not a very nice place for them.”

She said “it’s a stressful time” for dogs that are being turned over to the society to go into foster care, especially when they are being transported on the ferries.

“Sometimes the pet area, as it is now, is not comfortable for them. It’s a big new world for the animals.”

The changes “will give pets a place where they are more safe and secure,” Stone said. “It makes it easier and more comfortable and anything that’s better for the animals, I love.”

B.C. Ferries also worked with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association on designing improvements being implemented during refit season.

Queen of Oak Bay, built in 1981, is back in service after completion of its “three-quarter life” upgrade at B.C. Ferries’ in-house fleet maintenance facility in Richmond, is the first vessel with an upgraded pet area.

Other improvements to the vessel that serves the Horsehoe Bay-Departure Bay route include the bridge being upgraded and the steering gear system being replaced. The gift shop was expanded with change rooms, the Coast Cafe Express received a makeover, a family room was added, and power outlets were equipped with USB ports.

B.C. Ferries also installed an induction loop hearing system on Queen of Oak Bay for customers with hearing impairments, which its says sets the new standard for the fleet.

Queen of New Westminster, Queen of Cumberland, Spirit of Vancouver Island and Spirit of British Columbia will also have upgraded pet areas by this spring.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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