By Carolyne Zinko
For nearly 30 years, journalist Kelly E. Carter has been delivering the news, and said she still gets “a high” from it. But the New York Times best-selling author and former USA Today NBA and NFL writer has shifted her attention from two-legged humans to four-legged friends with TheJetSetPets.com, a website dedicated to the latest in luxury travel with them.
Since founding the site 15 months ago, Carter, who lives in San Francisco, has made a full-time job of compiling a comprehensive resource for those seeking information on a variety of travel and service needs.
“Pets are the new kids,” Carter said. “And new pet parents are clamoring for information on how to travel with their children.”
Her site contains the good, the bad and the ugly – write-ups on luxury hotels that cater to pets on six continents (the Mandarin Orientals, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carltons of the world), lists of pet policies for 40 airlines worldwide and monthly reports on injuries or deaths in the transport of pets, and recommendations for pet fashions, food, grooming and the like.
“As much as I love writing about the hotels that have in-room dining menus for pet-setters and where your coddled canine can get a massage and blueberry facial,” she said, “nothing pleases me more than being able to deliver news to fellow pet parents who want to bring their fur babies on trips with them.”
As the summer travel season kicks off, it’s worth noting that some 36 percent of American households own one or more dogs (69.9 million total) and 30 percent of households own on average two cats (74 million total), according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, and that nearly half of all adult leisure travelers consider their pet to be a family member, and 18 percent of such travelers typically take their pets along, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Budget travelers, prepare for disappointment. Her mission is luxury travel with Fido or Fifi, and she is unapologetic about it.
Want to know about traveling outside the continental United States with pets? Hint: 120-day quarantines in Hawaii can be avoided if certain conditions are met, allowing pets to fly with their owners and be released to them at the airport, upon arrival. Many hotels have Yappy Hour, where guests can sip cocktails with their pets in town. The Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro offers turndown service for pets.
She also enjoys nothing more than trolling the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly reports of pet-related air travel incidents and “calling airlines on the carpet” for their safety records in the transport of pets. “Pet parents have to check these before they check their pets like baggage,” she said. “It is so inhumane to put your dog or cat in the belly of a plane. I really want the airlines to change.”
Carter, a 50-year-old Los Angeles native, has long been an animal lover. As a child, she wished for a cat, a dream that came true in the third grade when a feline wandered into her school’s classroom and the teacher awarded Carter the right to take it home. Its stay was short-lived – it spent much of its time on top of the curtains, to escape the family’s dogs, so she had to return it to the teacher after a few days, she recalled.
Her journalism career took her from the Iowa City Press-Citizen in 1985 to the Pittsburgh Press, the Dallas Morning News and the Orange County Register, where she was the first female reporter to cover the Los Angeles Lakers. Next, at USA Today, she covered the NBA and the NFL, and then left for People magazine, to cover Hollywood celebrities, before returning to USA Today to continue covering stars. (She should not be confused with Kelley L. Carter, who later covered celebrities for USA Today.)
While writing about the NFL, Carter had acquired a sheltie named Deana, on temporary loan from a friend, whom neighbors cared for when she traveled to cover West Coast games on weekends. Years later, on the entertainment beat, Carter bought Lucy, a long-haired Chihuahua, from a Washington state breeder. Lucy was small, like a cat, portable in a purse and proved to be a conversation-starter with standoffish celebs when toted along during interviews.
Carter left the newspaper in 2003 to live in Italy, a lifelong dream. Lucy went along for the ride. To support herself, Carter became a freelancer, doing pieces on luxury travel for a variety of publications, but ironically, found herself back where she started, when editors asked her to track down and write about stars on vacation in Europe – George Clooney in Lake Como and Tori Spelling on honeymoon in Positano, the Cannes and Venice film festivals, and even a profile, for the South China Morning Post on Marin real estate agent Olivia Hsu Decker, whose Chateau Villette outside Paris was used in “The Da Vinci Code.”
“I was running away from celebrities,” she said, “but then I learned I had to cover them anyway, to make money.”
In 2005, Carter returned stateside, to New York, and founded Kelly Carter Connects, a consulting firm that enlists sports celebrities for personal appearances at corporate events. In 2009, she moved back to Los Angeles and in 2010, Carter and tennis star Venus Williams co-wrote “Come to Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors, and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession,” which landed on the New York Times best-seller list. Carter, AOL’s pet travel expert at Paw Nation, is also penning “The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel” for National Geographic Books, to be published in May.
In 2012, she moved to San Francisco’s Pacific Heights to live with her boyfriend, commercial real estate broker Bill Smith, whom she met through a mutual friend.
Carter, who stands 6 feet 1, founded www.thejetsetpets.com after coming across the website of a woman who’d made a name for herself about being very tall and being influenced by friend Michael Martin’s www.jetsetreport.com.
“You have to use what you have,” Carter realized. “I didn’t want to be a travel writer with just another blog. I’ve written about pets, and I love to travel, so I put them together.”
Carolyne Zinko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @carolynezinko