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BC Ferries announces Fido-friendly pet pilot project

Dogs on leashes and cats in carriers will be allowed on the upper deck of ferries sailing between Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver and Departure Bay in Nanaimo under the pilot project.
Dogs will be allowed on the outer decks of some BC Ferries vessels under a pilot project announced this week.| Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd./DigitalVision/Getty Images

BC Ferries has announced it’s taking steps to become more Fido friendly.

Starting this week, the ferry corporation is expanding a pet pilot project to allow dogs on leashes and cats in carriers on areas of the upper deck on certain sailings.

The ferry corporation said the move is being made as a “paws-itive” step for passengers and their furry friends.

To start, dogs and cats will be allowed in designated deck areas on certain ferries running between Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay, Comox and Powell River and Earl’s Cove and Saltery Bay.

A 60-day survey will be available onboard those ferries for both customers and ferry employees to give feedback on the change.

Last fall, BC Ferries introduced the first pet pilot project to allow dogs and cats on the upper deck of the Malaspina Sky, which runs between Earl’s Cove and Saltery Bay, where the move was well-received.

About 1,000 pets travelled on that ship during the pilot project, according to the ferry corporation, and 90 per cent of those who responded to the survey were in favour of expanding the pet areas to outer decks of other ferries.

Owners who want to take their pets to the upper deck must keep dogs on a one-metre leash, according to the ferry corporation, while cats must be kept in a travel carrier. There’s also a limit of two dogs per owner.

Access to the upper deck will be by a designated stairway, with restricted elevator access available for those with accessibility needs.

Paw prints on the deck will mark the pet access points. Waste bags and water bowls will be provided, and the area will be regularly cleaned, according to BC Ferries.

The number of passengers travelling with pets on BC Ferries increased from 5.5 per cent in 2018 to 13.7 per cent in 2020, according to the ferry corporation.

Some pet owners have voiced concerns about how it can be difficult to deal with dogs with separation anxiety when they must leave their animals in the vehicle during the crossing.

Pets on the vehicle decks can also become anxious when a ship’s motion sets off vehicle alarms that haven’t been disabled – a regular occurrence on BC Ferries.

Currently only certified assistance dogs are permitted on the passenger decks on BC Ferries. Most dogs aren't allowed in regular passenger areas of ships, because of concerns about "cleanliness",  potential for fleas in carpeted areas and sensitivity to customers who may not want to be in a confined space with a dog, said Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for the ferry corporation.

Dogs must usually spend the sailing in vehicles or in designated pet areas on the vehicle decks.

Marshall said if the pet pilot goes well, it could be expanded fleet-wide in the future.

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