We human travelers have airport lounges, wine bars, massage chairs and in-terminal yoga classes. Our pets have a crate and water.
In an effort to improve equality among the species, the world’s first privately owned animal terminal and quarantine recently opened at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The ARK at JFK offers round-the-clock service to animals with flight plans. The $65 million center occupies a hulking 178,000-square-foot cargo building that is intimate enough for a munchkin kitten and roomy enough for a Belgian draft horse. The new facility’s mission is to provide a safe, healthy and Zen environment for animals on the go. To ensure the highest standards of care, Racebrook, the company behind the project, partnered with such experts as Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Agriculture Department.
“Transporting live cargo by plane can be a complex and stressful process for owners and animals alike,” said John Cuticelli Jr., chief executive of Racebrook and founder and chairman of ARK Development. “Our goal is to create a more efficient and safe process by reducing the need for additional travel and offering trained animal care staff pre- and post-flight.”
In early January, Racebrook/ARK Development unveiled the first phase of its Dr. Dolittle enterprise – the ARK Pet Oasis and the Equine and Livestock Export Center. The company, which expects the ARK to be fully operational by the second quarter, will next roll out the Equine Quarantine/Import, Grooms’ Lounge and Aviary, which are all part of the ARK Import-Expert Center.
In November, I visited the 14.4-acre facility, where workmen outnumbered animals 10 to 0. Nevertheless, Cuticelli showed me around the facility-in-progress. He explained that the ARK caters to travelers who send their animals as cargo and don’t want Precious languishing in the holding tank before or after the trip. (By comparison, owners who carry their pets onboard or check them as luggage have quick access to their animals.) He showed me the area where the majority of companion animals will stay: the Pet Oasis, an airy space with 47 kennels for dogs and a dozen spots for cats.
The Oasis welcomes pets arriving, departing or in-between flights for an accommodation fee starting at $125. Before takeoff, the owners can drop off their animal at the facility, which will prepare the pet for travel – a preflight walk and survey of the crate for airline compliance, for instance. The staff will transport the pet to the aircraft and coordinate with the airline on the departure time to minimize the wait at the boarding area.
On the arrival side, the staff picks up the four-legged traveler from the airplane and handles the customs details. Once at the Oasis, the animal receives the full-on pampering treatment: bath, meal, fur-coat brushing, stroll on a wide strip of lawn. The staff also cleans the travel crate and tucks the pup into an individual kennel until his or her ride arrives. The cats are also fed and groomed. Owners itching to see their bestie can, for an additional fee, receive a photo and update of their pet’s ARK holiday. (Feel free to share with everyone in the taxi line.)
The Equine and Livestock Export Center is dedicated to horses and livestock scheduled for transport. Who travels with their horses, you might ask? Generally, breeders, jockeys and grooms. The center serves as a rest area for inspection before horses travel internationally from the United States. The 24 covered stalls come with nonslip flooring (on certain materials, hoofs slide like skates), cushy bedding and the Veuve Clicquot of hay. Meanwhile, the Equine Import and Quarantine area will care for horses that have just landed and are subjected to a three- to seven-day quarantine, per USDA orders. Neigh-guests stay in one of 48 stalls and receive two daily feedings. In a separate section of the building, the Aviary will house birds required to undergo a 30-day quarantine. The ARK has built specialized habitats for birds of all wing stripes, such as waterfowl, gulls and parakeets.
A vet clinic is also on the horizon, as is Paradise 4 Paws, a luxury pet resort that already operates near airports in Chicago, Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth. (The latter occupants are subtenants.) At the resort prices range from $55 to $125 a night for dogs and $30 to $45 for cats. The lodging doesn’t skimp on amenities: There is an indoor grassy area, a playground for cats and a dog bone-shaped swimming pool. We human travelers don’t get such great perks.