Me and Freyja on the boat to Kangaroo Island. Note the ‘pet friendly’ seating.
If you want to to go Tasmania, many people suggest taking the ferry as a pet friendly option. Taking pets on holiday is hugely popular now, as pets are considered part of the family.
We have a gorgeous, friendly and well socialised chihuahua. (I know, sometimes people don’t believe us!) We are a liiiittle obsessed with her.
A few days ago I asked my husband where we should save up to go next. We rarely get to go on holiday, and if we do it’s usually just for a night or two. We are ‘those’ people who cannot stand being away from our dog or ferrets for more than a few hours. I have only taken the ferrets on holiday once and probably won’t again, but our dog? She hates being apart from us, we hate being apart from her… it’s an easy decision to make. We even took her on honeymoon and had to choose a less than honeymoon style of accommodation so she could come with us. We took her to Kangaroo Island.
My husband suggested Tasmania, saying we could take Freyja with us on our trip since it can be by ferry, and also keep the car which will save money on any care hire. We didn’t think Freyja would like the plane very much, being put into the hold without us in a small crate. I thought that sounded great, and assumed that the ferry would be similar to that to Kangaroo Island, where as pet people we’d have to be in a pet friendly, less comfortable area, but it’d be worth it so we don’t have to be split up from our baby for a few weeks.
Yesterday the almighty and possibly stalkery TikTok algorithm showed me a video from @Therealvanwife, “My top tips for travelling on the spirit of Tasmania with Pets” (Part 1 and Part 2).
I was shocked.
The Real Van Wife suggested that the dogs are really well exercised before they board as it’s a 9-11 hour voyage. Okay, I thought. Makes sense. Dogs have to be treated for certain things like tapeworm before departure, with proof from the vet or a receipt of the purchase of the medication. Fair.
Then she says ‘The kennels do need to be booked online, make sure you book it in advance, if you want to put your dog in a kennel’, no, I thought, I don’t want to put my dog in a kennel, but fair enough you have to book in advance. Then she said
There’s no access to the pets while on the trip.
My heart dropped.
Yes, they treat the dogs like they treat the cars they have in the hold. Once the car (and pets!) are down there in the hold… no access for 9 to 11 hours.
She showed a video of her dog being put into the kennels. A bay of small cages on legs, with a big gap underneath the walls of the ‘room’ they are in. She said there’s a latch on the cages to keep them closed and the ferry says do not put a padlock on it for emergency reasons.
She had a fairly large dog. The cage he was put in was tiny. Definitely not big enough for an 11 hour trip. Nowhere to go to the toilet. According to the RSPCA and general common sense, dogs in crates need enough space to stand, turn around and lie down.
She clarified that you can leave your pet in your caravan or car and sign a waiver saying that it’s not the ferry’s responsibility if anything happens to them. She did that with her cat. However I would not want Freyja to be in the car for that long. She’s fine at home while we’re out, and doesn’t bark or cry but put her in a car or a cage, she will not be happy. Especially if there are other dogs barking nearby. She was concerned about potential gases and fumes that could be harmful to them and I would be too!
Her video shows that the ‘room’ the dog/pet cages are in isn’t a complete room. It’s just a U shaped set of walls, with cages lining them.
I was feeling very very uneasy about all of this so I decided to ask her a few questions and read the comments.
“You won’t be down on deck 5 in an emergency” – yeah. They wouldn’t let you down there to rescue your dog.
“How are they supposed to go to the toilet if they are locked up in a kennel?” Exactly. And are there even any staff looking after them or are they just left there like… bikes in a bike shed.
Someone commented “Yeah a dog got out and was never found, most likely jumped overboard. Never trust them with my dog”
I asked “So you can’t stay with your pet?”
“I did not know that. We are hoping to go next year, she’ll be so upset!” [being in a cage without us]
“Yes it’s hard, our cats were super happy in the van. It was really hard to leave our dog in the kennels. While we were over there, a girl lost her dog”
“How did she lose her dog? And is there any supervision in the kennels?”
“On the trip- it just disappeared and not sure if they found her dog. It says they check on them, not sure what happened but her dog wasn’t there when she went to collect it”
“Oh my god, that’s a nightmare. I’m not sure I can do that trip. This was on your trip?”
“No, while we were over there”
So… I did a quick google about the kennel situation. Oh no. More comments from others-
Travelling with dogs on the spirit of Tasmania
It is important to note when deciding which option is best for your dog (or pet) is that you will not be permitted to check on them at any stage of the voyage. It is stated the staff will check on those put in the kennels to ensure they have water and are generally okay. This may offer you some reassurance.
Alternatively the option of leaving them in your car, a space your dog (or pet) is familiar with could be more reassuring. It is worth considering if your dog is able to control their toileting needs for that long and the weather ie if it may become too hot in the car during the journey.”
Kennels are on decks 3 and 5 of the ship and face out towards the vehicles parked on deck. The kennels are in stacked rows with the smaller kennels above the large ones. The side and back ‘walls’ are solid metal and the door at the front is wire with a slide lock. There is also a secure metal dish for water.
Look at their photos at the link above to see what two bordercollies have space wise. (I think they’re border collies anyway).
As pictured, there are only 2 sizes of kennels. Any bigger and you’re just going to have to stuff your doberman into a medium size dog cage.
No air conditioning. In with the cars. No bigger size cages. No permission to lock the cages. Weeing on themselves/their beds as there’s no space for a toilet corner even.
Read the reviews on Trip Advisor and search pets, dogs, kennel, cats etc.
“Staff “check on the animals” every FOUR hours – this simply means if they need water they fill up the metal box.”
This is a boat that rocks a lot. Dogs get seasick. So they’re also going to be in a small cage, with water spilled from the movement of the boat, covered in vomit and urine and faeces, surrounded by other barking dogs.
“Travelled overnight with our dog. Saw on the “Travel Australia with dogs” Facebook page that you can sign a waiver and have them stay in your car. I’d highly recommend. This way you know they’re safe from overspray and the cold and are secure.”
So they get wet from overspray?? There’s no heating. Or cooling. ‘Ventilation’ only keeps them cool if the boat is moving.
Passengers report in the above linked reviews that they can hear dogs barking constantly. So not good for passengers either.
The news stories about the dog Ester who was lost in 2021 on the voyage says there are no surveillance cameras or CCTV of any kind near the kennels.
“I was so stressed out the entire journey, my heart stopped every time there was an announcement thinking something awful had happened to my boy. He had one of his favourite treats in there with him and he didn’t even eat it- that is STRANGE for him. When I finally got him out he was ecstatic and whining with joy. I thought that was a rough journey but at least he’s okay- wrong; It’s now 3am and he has been panting heavily for the past two hours, will not leave my side and just appears very distressed.”
It seems like the journey would be traumatic.
“The kennel l had on the voyage home l was not confident that the padbolt would stay closed as it was very loose and easily opened so l recommend packing a pair of strong scissors and a few strong thick cable ties or padlock. Much better peace of mind.”
So… escapability is high, one bolt across each cage, and ‘slippery’. Boat tilts, does the bolt slide open? Maybe! Who knows, and you’re not meant to do what the reviewer did above.
“We traveled on spirit of tas, late December 2019, with our cat. Amazed he survived. The conditions and level of care are horrendous. I strongly recommend you find alternative travel for your pets. Single cat surrounded by large barking, growling dogs. Floor all wet from overspray from rough seas. Why are cats and dogs not kept in separate areas.”
“I will be signing the waiver for the return journey to keep my dog in my car while it’s parked on the same deck as the tiny rattly metal cages that are provided (with no cooling/heating or noise isolation from the engines close by).”
And it continues.
I actually made a petition, with suggestions for improvements. Even if they have a plan for better pet care on a future boat (which is apparently in the works), the level of care right now makes me doubt it’ll be up to standard. They also could easily add improvements NOW, like cameras!
Apparently they need to be TOLD how people want their pets to be cared for! Please go and do it and share.
Our Wayfaring Life suggested sedating your dog for the journey.
The option to sedate your dog maybe something to consider. It is not an option all dog owners will be comfortable with and for others like it us it is.
“Our Ms Chika, bless her, is the sweetest dog but she is also an anxious dog. Her anxiety is mostly triggered by certain noises (too many to list here) and her fear of other dogs. When her anxieties are triggered she requires the trigger to either stop or be removed or to have us reassure her she is okay and remind her what behaviour is acceptable.
It is not possible to entirely control the environment for your dog while on the Spirit of Tasmania so if your dog too has an anxieties we would recommend speaking to your vet. Chika was prescribed a sedative which on our vets advice we trialled Chika a couple of days before we sailed. The result was the medication made her chilled and she laid around sleeping more than usual but she was not unresponsive and it did not turn her off her food.
On sailing day she was given the sedative 30 minutes before departure as directed by the vet. In all honesty, we cannot say for sure exactly how she went during the voyage however on collecting her at the end she was calm but very happy to see us.”
Here’s my TikTok about it.
I don’t want to put my dog on the plane, and I don’t want to take her on this ferry until things change. So I suppose we won’t be going to Tasmania.
What I’d like to see is a similar situation as on the boat to Kangaroo Island.
One of the ‘Kennels’ on the Spirit of Tasmania. Credit goes to @Vancatmeow on Facebook and Instagram.