When St. Charles resident Justine Riggs rescued two sister Weimaraners four years ago, she wasn’t thinking of becoming an author. But necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and a family Thanksgiving trip showed her how difficult it can be to find hotels and restaurants that accommodate dogs. In fact, at one restaurant where the family went inside, leaving the dogs (still within eyeshot) in the car, she says, “I could see (one dog) turning around in the seat. What I didn’t realize was that she was ripping a hole in it! She really did not like that we were inside and she was out there.”
To help other families plan vacations that might run more smoothly, Riggs wrote her first book, Love Dogs, Must Travel, a guide to pet-friendly hotels, restaurants and attractions in Missouri. We caught up with her to hear about some of the highlights.
Did you visit all of the places in the book for your research?
Yes, I’ve been to all of them, and my dogs came to most of them with me. Before I went, I did a lot of research online and called on the phone to confirm. You can do a lot online these days—there’s so much information, but sometimes it was outdated. Also, sometimes when you’re traveling, you happen upon something that didn’t pull up in your search—some of the greatest little places still don’t have websites or advertise. Word-of-mouth is a great way to find places, so I included a lot of those, as well.
What were some of your favorite spots?
When I went to Fantastic Caverns near Springfield, I was surprised to find that they encourage you to bring your dog; they don’t want you to leave pet in the car. The caverns actually were discovered by a farmer’s dog. It’s very educational, and a tram takes you through the caverns and you can actually bring the dog—they have a whole system down. It stays at 60 degrees year-round, and there are trails where you can walk your dog.
Another great place is Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. It’s a beautiful place with Spanish architecture, and there’s a walking tour. You can pick up a guide at the visitors center that lists all the fountains on the plaza, as well as the art and statues. They always have musicians performing and art fairs, and there are lots of restaurants with patios outside. It’s a dog-friendly area and you’ll always find tons of people with their dogs, walking and shopping.
Innsbrook is another of my favorite places to go write and get away. It’s close, and there’s so much to do, but it’s simple, old-fashioned fun. There are lots of options for accommodations, and they have an open field with a stage where they perform music all summer long so you can take a blanket and bring your pup with you.
In the St. Louis area, I’m partial to St. Charles because I live here, but Main Street has plenty of restaurants with outdoor areas, and a lot of shop-owners bring dogs to work. There are festivals year-round, from Christmas Traditions in the winter to Music on Main in the summer. It’s right by Frontier Park, where Five Acres Animal Shelter hosts Trails for Tails in September. And there’s always something going on in Forest Park. The Boathouse is pet-friendly, and you can even take your dog in a paddle boat.
Where is the farthest you’ve taken your pets?
We went through the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee to North Carolina.
What are some tips for traveling with dogs?
I have three major tips. The first one is to be flexible. Inevitably things will happen: You’ll hit traffic or things won’t go as planned; but the more flexible you are, the more you’ll enjoy it and your pet will, too. Get off schedule, and on the way to what you thought would be the best part of the trip, you might stumble on something better. Enjoy the moment.
Second is to be prepared. The more prepared you are for any situation, the more enjoyable it will be. Finally, talk to strangers. They say don’t do that, but you’ll get some of your best info from locals, whether they have dogs or not. People will come up and talk to you because you have a dog, so take advantage of asking them what they know about the area.