Sue McDonagh takes her Rhodesian ridgeback, Silva, for a quick walk outside the BC Ferries terminal in Horseshoe Bay. She's in between ferry trips, travelling with her dog from Nanaimo to the Sunshine Coast.

For nearly three hours in total, she'll hang out with Silva down below the passenger decks. 

"Sometimes I do [leave him in the car], and sometimes I don't. He's got a bit of separation anxiety," said McDonagh.

With new rules coming into effect on BC Ferries in October, passengers won't be allowed to access their vehicles on enclosed decks during the voyage. They can request a spot on the upper car deck, but vehicles may not be able to be accommodated. 

This has some dog owners concerned about their pets' experience on BC Ferries.

Ferry dog

Ferry passenger Sue McDonagh holds her dog on a leash outside the BC Ferries Horseshoe Bay terminal. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

'It's a little box'

Many passengers avoid taking their dogs into the noisy enclosure for pets on the vehicle deck, including McDonagh.

"I've been in it once, and I wouldn't take [Silva] back into it," she said. "It's too small a confined area for a big dog, so if you've got two or three big dogs in there, you're looking at some trouble."

Omid Manoucheri, travelling to the Sunshine Coast with his dog Sierra on Wednesday, agreed about the lack of comfort in the pet area.

"The rooms in there seem to be just metal benches and stuff," said Manoucheri. "It's almost like a jail cell ... It does smell, because of dogs — some dogs just pee in there."

"It's not super gross, but I don't know how often — I'm sure they hose it down once in a while," he said.

Michelle Stone was travelling with her German shepherd cross, Freyja.

"It's quite loud and you can kind of feel the vibrations of the motors," said Stone. "It's a little box. It's not very pleasant for people either."

She usually leaves Freyja in her car.

"I'll kind of run up and grab a snack and come back down and check on her. She's OK for a little bit, but I don't like leaving her for too long."

Dogs on deck

The coming restrictions on vehicle access has some dog owners looking to the example set by the Washington State Ferry system. On those vessels, people are allowed to bring their pets up to the exterior passenger deck.

"Of course we're happy to see our four-footed friends on our ferry boats here in Washington State, however they're not allowed in the passenger cabin, unless they're a service dog," said Ian Sterling, spokesman for Washington State Ferries.

Sterling said, as long as they don't linger, dogs can freely pass through the passenger cabin on their way to the exterior deck — always on a leash. And he said you have to stay with your dog; you can't tether your pet to a post or something upstairs while you go inside.

"It's not like horses outside the saloon in the old west, right? We don't have hitching posts or places to tie, or off leash areas for dogs aboard a state ferry."

The idea seemed to resonate with BC Ferries passengers preparing to sail with their dogs.

"I think that would be amazing. I think that's something BC Ferries should have done a long time ago, and the fact that that's not a thing still, I mean, it's kind of crazy," said Daniella Tsimbaliouk, travelling with Sasha, her Staffordshire terrier.

Ferry dogs

"She’s quite generally a nervous dog, right? So she generally doesn’t like [ferry rides] a whole lot," said Sasha's owner, Daniella Tsimbaliouk. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"That's what I would like to see. Yeah, it would be great. I don't understand why you can't," said McDonagh.

BC Ferries explained it can't allow dogs to pass through the passenger cabin because of the food services aboard the boats. A spokesperson said it comes down to a Health Canada regulation.

But according to Sterling, the Washington State policy has been smooth sailing.

"You know, it doesn't cause us a whole lot of trouble. Once in a while a pet will have an accident and our crew sometimes, gets involved in the cleanup process," he said. "Nobody wants to clean up after somebody else's dog."


Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker